Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court
by
Petitioner Lorna Weston was seriously injured when she slipped and fell on ice in a hotel parking lot. Medicare covered her medical expenses, settling the providers’ bills by paying less than one-fifth of the amounts billed. When she later sued the hotel for negligence, the hotel sought to bar her from introducing her original medical bills as evidence of her damages, arguing that only the amount Medicare actually paid was relevant and admissible. The superior court agreed and excluded the evidence. The Alaska Supreme Court granted Weston's petition for review the following questions: (1) whether evidence of medical expenses was properly limited to the amounts actually paid, or whether the amounts billed by the providers - even if later discounted - were relevant evidence of damages; and (2) whether the difference between the amounts billed by the providers and the amounts actually paid was a benefit from a collateral source, subject to the collateral source rule. The Supreme Court concluded that the amounts billed by the providers were relevant evidence of the medical services’ reasonable value. Furthermore, the Court concluded the difference between the amounts billed and the amounts paid was a benefit to the injured party that was subject to the collateral source rule; as such, evidence of the amounts paid was excluded from the jury’s consideration but was subject to post-trial proceedings under AS 09.17.070 for possible reduction of the damages award. View "Weston v AKHappytime, LLC, d/b/a Alex Hotel & Suites" on Justia Law

by
In May 2009 Jesse Collens, then 21 years old, was permanently injured in a bicycle accident that left him a C-1 quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down, and dependent on a ventilator to breathe. In December 2009 he contracted with Maxim Healthcare Services, a national healthcare corporation with a home healthcare division, to provide his nursing care. In late 2011 issues arose between Collens and Maxim over the company’s management of his care. These issues escalated, and in early March 2012, Alaina Adkins, Maxim’s Alaska office manager, met with Collens to discuss his main concerns with Maxim’s services. The following business day, Adkins emailed various members of Maxim’s legal and administrative staff about one of the issues Collens had raised. Internal concerns surfaced about the legal compliance of the staff working with Collens. In an email responding to the report, Maxim’s area vice president wrote, “We are in dangerous territory right now with the liability of this case and we are going to have to seriously consider discharge.” Collens’s care plan was subject to routine recertification every 60 days; Maxim’s Alaska Director of Clinical Services visited Collens’s house to complete the review necessary for this recertification, noting “discharge is not warranted.” Concurrent to the recertification, Adkins requested Maxim’s legal department provide her a draft discharge letter for Collens. The draft letter stated the discharge had been discussed with Collens’s physician and care coordinator and that they agreed with the discharge decision. But in fact neither approved the discharge. The draft letter also included a space for names of other entities that could provide the care needed by the patient. Adkins noted in an email to the legal department, “We already know that there are no providers in our area that provide this type of service.” The discharge letter she eventually delivered to Collens filled in the blank with four agency names. Adkins delivered and read aloud the discharge letter at Collens’s home on March 30. Collens sued Maxim and Adkins for breach of contract, fraudulent misrepresentation, unfair and deceptive acts and practices under Alaska’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act (UTPA), and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). The superior court ruled for Collens on all his claims and entered a $20,379,727.96 judgment against Adkins and Maxim, which included attorney’s fees. Maxim and Adkins appealed, arguing that: (1) they were not liable under the UTPA; (2) the superior court erred in precluding their expert witnesses from testifying at trial; (3) the court’s damages award was excessive; and (4) the court’s attorney’s fee award was unreasonable. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed the superior court’s attorney’s fee award was unreasonable, but on all other issues it affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Maxim Healthcare Services, Inc. v. Collens" on Justia Law

by
This recount appeal arose out of the 2018 Alaska House of Representatives race for District 1. Following a recount the election was certified, with Kathryn Dodge receiving 2,662 votes and Barton LeBon receiving 2,663. Dodge filed this recount appeal pursuant to AS 15.20.510, arguing: (1) one ballot, excluded as “overvoted” because it contained markings in more than one oval, should have been counted for her; (2) two counted ballots should have been excluded because they had been cast by individuals who were not residents of the district; and (3) one ballot, excluded due to the voter’s registration in another district, should have been counted because the voter’s registration in the other district was inadvertent. LeBon challenged the same overvoted ballot as Dodge, but he argued it should have been included as a vote for him. LeBon also challenged five additional ballots. The Director maintained her original vote-counting decisions in the face of these challenges. At a hearing on December 20, 2018, a superior court issued a recommendation to uphold the Director of the Division of Elections’ vote-counting decisions. On January 4, 2019, the Alaska Supreme Court issued an order affirming the recount decision and indicated that this opinion would follow. View "LeBon v. Meyer" on Justia Law

by
An employer disputed liability for attorney’s fees the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission awarded an employee, contending that the employee was not a successful party in the appeal and that the amount awarded was unreasonable. The Alaska Supreme Court found the Commission’s underlying decision on the merits included a remand on one issue; the Supreme Court asked the parties to provide supplemental briefing on the question whether the attorney’s fees order was final for purposes of appeal. The Supreme Court held that such orders were not final for purposes of appeal, but it treated the putative appeal as a petition for review, grant review, and affirmed the Commission’s attorney’s fees award. View "D&D Services, LLC d/b/a Novus Auto Glass & Ohio v. Cavitt" on Justia Law

by
In these separate but consolidated appeals, the issue common to both cases presented to the Alaska Supreme Court for review centered on whether new federal regulations materially changed the qualifications required of an expert testifying in a child in need of aid (CINA) case involving children subject to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). To support the termination of parental rights, ICWA required the “testimony of qualified expert witnesses . . . that the continued custody of the child by the parent or Indian custodian is likely to result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child.” Under the new federal regulations, experts who formerly could be presumptively qualified, based on their ability to testify about prevailing cultural and social standards in the child’s tribe, for example, had to also be qualified to testify about the “causal relationship between the particular conditions in the home and the likelihood that continued custody of the child will result in serious emotional or physical damage to the particular child who is the subject of the child-custody proceeding.” The Supreme Court concluded the federal regulations had materially changed an expert’s qualifications, and in these two cases, the challenged expert witnesses failed to satisfy this higher standard imposed by controlling federal law. For this reason the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the orders terminating the parents’ parental rights and remanded for further proceedings. View "L.B. (Mother) v Alaska, DHSS, OCS" on Justia Law

by
John Buckley started working for Labor Ready, Inc., a temporary employment service, in 2009. He was injured on assignment for a shipping company. At the time of injury he was performing a task prohibited by the contract between the temporary employment service and the shipping company. The injury resulted in loss of the worker’s hand and part of his arm. After getting workers’ compensation benefits from the temporary employment service, the worker brought a negligence action against the shipping company and one shipping company employee. The superior court decided on cross-motions for summary judgment that the exclusive liability provision of the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act (Act) barred the action. The Alaska Supreme Court reverse, finding material issues of fact precluded disposition by summary judgment. View "Buckley v. American Fast Freight, Inc." on Justia Law

by
In late April 2018, 15-year-old Jessica J. traveled from Iowa to Alaska to spend the summer with family friends. Jessica’s divorced parents shared legal custody; her mother, who retained primary physical custody, gave Jessica permission. Jessica’s mother then changed her mind and told Jessica to return home. Jessica’s mother booked several return flights for Jessica, the final on May 30. On May 30 Jessica’s mother reported to Iowa police that the Alaska family friends refused to send Jessica home; the police treated Jessica as a missing person. Alaska police located her at the family friends’ home and indicated she was “safe until [her] mother c[ould] pay for plane fare out of Alaska.” But the Iowa police still considered Jessica a missing person, and a week later Alaska police located her at a shelter, where she apparently had gone to avoid getting “the family that she was staying with in trouble if there were legal repercussions . . . for staying in Alaska.” Police transported her to a youth facility pending further legal proceedings. The Interstate Compact for Juveniles (ICJ) governed the return of juveniles who have left their home states without permission. The home state sought her return under the ICJ, and the Alaska superior court complied. The superior court found that it was not authorized to consider the juvenile’s best interests and that the requisition paperwork demonstrated proof of entitlement for her return. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s order, holding that the ICJ authorized only the home state to consider a juvenile’s best interests in this context and that proof of entitlement was established in this case. View "Jessica J. v. Alaska" on Justia Law

by
A self-represented litigant appeals from the dismissal of his complaint against Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Because the superior court gave the litigant multiple opportunities to amend his complaint before it correctly concluded that all of his claims were either time-barred, subject to a res judicata defense, or inadequately pleaded, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Robinson v Alaska Housing Finance Corporation" on Justia Law

by
The father in this case had not been a substantial part of his daughter’s life when the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) took custody of her from her mother. The father was coping with his own mental health, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) issues when this case began, and was receiving services to address those issues. OCS facilitated some visitation between the father and the daughter, encouraged the father to continue participating in the services he was already receiving, and added parenting classes to the regimen. By all accounts, the father was making progress. But while the case was ongoing, OCS received a report that the father had sent nude photos of his genitals to a minor female. OCS referred the father for a sex offender assessment and his history of other sexual misconduct came to light. Upon receiving the assessing psychologist’s conclusions that the father was a risk to his daughter’s safety, OCS moved forward with terminating his parental rights. The superior court terminated the father’s rights after a two-day trial. He appealed, arguing only that OCS failed to make active efforts. Because the record demonstrated OCS made active efforts to reunify the father and his daughter, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s termination of the father’s parental rights. View "Sam S. v. Alaska, Department of Health & Social Services, Office of Children’s Services" on Justia Law

by
Sabrina V. was the mother of Kaleb D., born 2005. By 2016 Kaleb was living in Wasilla with his father, now deceased. Sabrina had been living outside of Alaska for some years; the parents did not have a court order regarding Kaleb’s custody. Sabrina also had an older daughter, Lizzie, from a previous relationship. Lizzie was committed to the custody of the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) in September 2014 in an earlier child in need of aid (CINA) case. In February 2016, after a successful six-month home visit with Sabrina in Montana, OCS released Lizzie to Sabrina. The Alaska Office of Child Services filed an emergency petition for temporary custody of Kaleb, and to adjudicate him as a child in need of aid. The petition listed Kaleb’s father as the sole caregiver, and claimed to not have current contact information for Sabrina despite her having released Lizzie roughly two months earlier. Sabrina later testified her residence had not changed between her reunification with Lizzie and the initiation of CINA proceedings for Kaleb. At the emergency probable cause hearing an OCS caseworker testified that Kaleb had told OCS he had not seen Sabrina in roughly two years and that she “wasn’t a good mom.” The court granted OCS temporary custody. Sabrina appealed the ultimate termination of her parental rights to Kaleb after it was determined she signed and then attempted to withdraw a voluntary relinquishment of parental rights. At the time she signed the relinquishment, her child was living with his paternal grandmother, who hoped to adopt him. When it later became clear that the grandmother would not be able to adopt the child, Sabrina signed a notice of her withdrawal of relinquishment despite a ten-day window for do had passed. Three days later she filed the notice in superior court. That same day, apparently without being aware of the withdrawal notice, the court issued an order terminating the mother’s parental rights. Because, assuming the superior court had discretion to allow the untimely withdrawal, the Alaska Supreme Court found it did not abuse its discretion by declining to do so, so the Court affirmed termination of Sabrina’s parental rights. View "S.V. (Mother) v. Alaska, DHSS, OCS" on Justia Law