Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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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

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The respondent in this mental health commitment proceeding argued that the delay between his detention and his involuntary commitment hearing violated time limits imposed by statute and due process of law. After review of the case, the Supreme Court concluded that the relevant statutory time limit began upon a respondent’s arrival at an evaluation facility, that there was no obvious or prejudicial statutory violation in this case, and that the delay in this case did not violate due process. Furthermore, the Court concluded that the respondent’s appeal of his involuntary medication order was moot. View "In Re Necessity for the Hospitalization of Gabriel C." on Justia Law

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Daniel G. appealed an ex parte order authorizing a 72-hour psychiatric evaluation issued after his emergency detention. The evaluation personnel determined that Daniel did not meet the statutory criteria for involuntary commitment, and he was released before the expiration of the 72-hour period. He argued the evaluation order violated his constitutional right to due process because it was issued on an ex parte basis, without notice and a hearing, while he was safely in protective custody. The superior court denied the motion to vacate the evaluation order as moot in light of Daniel’s release. After careful consideration of the circumstances of this case, the Supreme Court concluded that although Daniel's appeal was moot, the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine applied. The Court therefore reached the merits of his due process claim: the 72-hour evaluation order and the statutory evaluation procedures did not violate due process, and the Court affirmed the evaluation order. View "In Re Necessity for the Hospitalization of Daniel G." on Justia Law

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Stephen O.'s parents were concerned that he had suffered a possible psychotic break. They reported his behavior to a mental health clinician. The clinician obtained an ex parte order to take Stephen into custody and transport him to the hospital in Juneau for examination and treatment. The police took him into custody, but due to bad weather he remained in jail for six days before he was transported for evaluation. After a contested hearing, the superior court found by clear and convincing evidence that Stephen was gravely disabled under AS 47.30.915(7)(B) and issued an order for a 30-day involuntary commitment. Stephen appealed that order. Because the superior court’s conclusion that the man was gravely disabled was not supported by clear and convincing evidence, the Supreme Court reversed and vacated the superior court’s 30-day involuntary commitment order. View "In Re Necessity for the Hospitalization of Stephen O." on Justia Law

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The Alaska State Commission for Human Rights dismissed Gregg Conitz's complaint against his employer, Teck Alaska Incorporated. In his complaint, Conitz alleged the company discriminated in its promotion decisions. The superior court dismissed Conitz's appeal as moot, finding that the same claims had already been decided by a federal court and that the doctrine of res judicata precluded further claims if remanded to the Commission. Conitz appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior courts decision. View "Conitz v. Alaska State Commission for Human Rights" on Justia Law