Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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Kevin Patterson has been incarcerated since 2013, having been convicted after a bench trial of seven counts of possession of child pornography. In May 2015 Patterson filed a 121-page civil complaint in superior court in Juneau. The complaint named as defendants the governor and his predecessor, the Alaska Legislature, a state senator, the then-current and two former attorneys general, an assistant attorney general, an attorney with the Office of Public Advocacy, and the State of Alaska. The complaint alleged that these state officials and entities had “directly harmed . . . Patterson in numerous ways and [had] violated his Constitutional Rights over and over.” It sought damages for Patterson’s incarceration, violence and emotional distress he allegedly suffered while in prison, and the alleged denial of medical care. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of Patterson’s complaint, holding a civil suit for damages allegedly caused by a criminal conviction or sentence may not be maintained if judgment for the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of the conviction or sentence, unless the conviction or sentence has first been set aside in the course of the criminal proceedings. The Court also rejected Patterson’s claim that the superior court demonstrated an unfair bias against him. View "Patterson v. Walker" on Justia Law

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The Lum family sued two police officers and the North Slope Borough for trespass and invasion of privacy after an allegedly unlawful entry into the Lums’ home. The superior court dismissed both claims on summary judgment, reasoning that the officers were protected by qualified immunity under state law because the Lums had not produced sufficient evidence that the officers acted in bad faith. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s decision because there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether they acted in bad faith. View "Lum v. Koles" on Justia Law

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Alaska inmate David Simmons refused to provide a DNA sample for Alaska’s DNA identification registration system pursuant to a statutory requirement that persons convicted of certain crimes provide a DNA sample for the system. Refusal to submit a sample constituted a felony; for refusing the sample, he was charged with an infraction in a prison disciplinary hearing and found guilty. He appealed to the superior court, which affirmed. Simmons appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, arguing primarily that the crimes for which he was found guilty and incarcerated occurred before the effective date of the DNA identification registration system, and the DNA sample requirement either was not retrospective or, if it was, violated the ex post facto clauses of the Alaska and U.S. Constitutions. A secondary issue raised by Simmons' appeal pertained to counsel in disciplinary proceedings. Because the inmate was charged with a disciplinary infraction constituting a felony, under Alaska case law he had the right to counsel in his disciplinary hearing. The Department of Corrections refused to provide him counsel for his hearing. The superior court ruled that although the denial of counsel violated the inmate’s constitutional rights, the violation did not prejudice his ability to have a fair hearing. Rejecting Simmons' contentions with respect to the sample-felony, and finding no other reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decisions. View "Simmons v. Alaska, Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Commission for Human Rights is responsible for enforcing Alaska’s anti-discrimination laws. The Commission’s staff is authorized by regulation to use a variety of investigative methods. These include witness interviews, “inspection of documents and premises,” and “examination of written submissions of parties and witnesses.” The focus of this appeal was the Commission’s unwritten policy, followed for at least 27 years, barring third parties from investigative interviews with “certain limited exceptions.” As the Commission described its policy, third parties may be present if the interviewee is “the respondent named in the complaint, or is a member of the respondent’s ‘control group’ management, or has managerial responsibility.’ ” The Commission also allowed witnesses to be accompanied by their own attorneys and, if necessary, an interpreter or a guardian. The investigation at issue began when an employee filed two complaints against her employer, the State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), in August 2014 and February 2015. The Commission opened an investigation headed by investigator Patricia Watts. Watts contacted Dori Anderson, the complainant’s supervisor, to schedule an interview. A question was raised over whether Greta Jones, a program manager for the complainant’s agency, was requested to attend Anderson’s interview. The Commission issued a subpoena to interview the complainant’s supervisor, who refused to be interviewed unless an employer representative was also present. On the Commission’s petition, the superior court issued an order to show cause why the supervisor should not be held in contempt. The supervisor moved to vacate the order and dismiss the contempt proceeding; the superior court granted the motion on the ground that the Commission lacked the legal authority to exclude third parties from its investigative interviews. The Commission appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the statutory requirement of a confidential investigation, with its specific limits on a respondent’s access to investigative materials, clearly authorized the Commission to exclude third parties from investigative interviews. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the superior court’s order dismissing the Commission’s petition and remanded for further proceedings. View "Alaska State Commission for Human Rights v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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The City of Houston, Alaska fired its police captain shortly before disbanding its police department. The captain claimed he was terminated in bad faith in order to stop ongoing investigations into city leaders. He challenged: (1) the superior court’s refusal to allow his claim under the Alaska Whistleblower Act; (2) a jury instruction stating that termination for personality conflicts did not constitute bad faith; and (3) an award of attorney’s fees and costs. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that the court’s refusal to allow his claim under the Whistleblower Act, its decision to give the personality conflict instruction, and its award of attorney’s fees and costs were not erroneous and therefore affirmed. View "McNally v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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Appellant Sean Wright, a former inmate of the Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) who was incarcerated at an out-of-state correctional facility under contract with DOC, filed a medical malpractice and 42 U.S.C. 1983 civil rights action against officials employed by the out-of-state correctional facility and by DOC. The civil rights claims alleged that the corrections officials were deliberately indifferent to Wright's medical needs. The superior court granted summary judgment dismissing the medical malpractice action as barred by the two-year statute of limitations. Subsequently the court granted summary judgment on the deliberate indifference claims against the inmate. In the course of the proceedings, Wright unsuccessfully sought to have the superior court judge removed for alleged bias. Wright appealed these decisions. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Wright v. Anding" on Justia Law

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A student was dismissed from a Ph.D. program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks after several years of poor performance and negative feedback. She claimed that her advisors discriminated and retaliated against her, that she was dismissed in violation of due process, and that the University breached duties owed to her under an implied contract. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's decision to uphold the University's action because the student was dismissed based on her poor research performance and the dismissal was conducted under adequate procedures and within accepted academic norms. View "Horner-Neufeld v. University of Alaska Fairbanks" on Justia Law

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The Anchorage Police Department identified Joshua Richardson as a suspect in a shoplifting incident. When the police went to Richardson’s home to make an arrest, Richardson hid in a crawlspace and allegedly incurred injuries from a police canine. The misdemeanor theft charges against Richardson were dismissed shortly after his arrest. About two years after these events, Richardson filed two civil suits against the Anchorage Police Department, various police officers, the State of Alaska, Best Buy (the store in which he was alleged to have shoplifted), and the Best Buy employee who reported the theft. In separate proceedings, one before Judge Catherine Easter and one before Judge Mark Rindner, the superior court dismissed both complaints as untimely under the two-year statute of limitations. Richardson appealed these dismissals. In the suit before Judge Easter, Richardson argued that the statute of limitations should have been tolled due to his alleged mental incompetency and separation from his legal documents during unrelated incarceration. The Supreme Court concluded there was no genuine dispute of material fact as to these issues, and affirmed the Superior Court as to this issue. In the suit before Judge Rindner, however, there was credible evidence that Richardson filed his complaint before the statute of limitations ran. This created a genuine issue of material fact. The Supreme Court therefore vacated the dismissal in that case and remanded for further proceedings to determine when Richardson commenced his suit. View "Richardson v. Municipality of Anchorage" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Workers' Compensation Board denied a death benefit claim filed by the decedent's same-sex partner because the death benefit statute grants benefits only to a worker’s "widow or widower" as defined by statute. The Board construed these terms by applying the Marriage Amendment to the Alaska Constitution, which defined marriage as "only between one man and one woman," thus excluding a decedent's same-sex partner. Because this exclusion lacked a fair and substantial relationship to the purpose of the statute, the Supreme Court concluded that this restriction on the statutory definition of "widow" violated the surviving partner's right to equal protection under the law. View "Harris v. Millennium Hotel" on Justia Law

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In 2011 the superior court entered a 30-day involuntary civil commitment order for Mark V. after the court conducted an evidentiary hearing and found that Mark posed a "substantial risk . . . of harming others." Mark argued on appeal that the court erred in that finding. Because his period of commitment under that order has expired and Mark was soon released from custody, his appeal was technically moot. But he argued that the collateral consequences exception to the mootness doctrine nonetheless justified appellate review of the commitment order. The circumstances (including four civil commitment orders entered against Mark earlier in 2011 and the absence of any indication that the November 2011 commitment will result in any additional adverse collateral consequences) convinced the Supreme Court that the exception was not satisfied. The Court therefore did not reach the merits of Mark's appeal and dismissed it as moot. View "In Re Necessity for the Hospitalization of Mark V." on Justia Law