Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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Appellant Ronda Marcy, resident of Matanuska-Susitna Borough, filed suit against the borough and citizens who had sponsored a borough ballot initiative prohibiting commercial marijuana businesses. The suit, filed 32 days before the borough election, sought declaratory and injunctive relief that the initiative was unconstitutional and unlawful and should be removed from the election ballot. Given the imminent election, the superior court ordered the case held in abeyance pending the initiative vote’s outcome. After borough voters rejected the initiative, the court dismissed the case as moot. Marcy appealed, arguing the merits of her declaratory judgment claim should have been heard under the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine and that the superior court issued procedurally defective orders, violated her due process rights, and erroneously awarded attorney’s fees against her. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court because it did not abuse its discretion in its procedural decisions; the resident’s due process rights were not violated; the Court declined to invoke the public interest exception to address the moot claims; and the resident failed to properly bring her attorney’s fees appeal. View "Marcy v. Matanuska-Susitna Borough" on Justia Law

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In 2016, a recount was ordered to settle a very close Alaska Democratic Party primary election for House District 40. Dean Westlake was declared the victor by eight votes. The defeated candidate, Benjamin Nageak, brought two legal challenges to the primary results. He and four others contested the election in the superior court pursuant to AS 15.20.540. He also filed a direct appeal of the recount with the Alaska Supreme Court pursuant to AS 15.20.510. The Supreme Court stayed the direct appeal and, after a trial, the superior court granted relief on the election contest. The court found that election officials in Shungnak, who gave ballots for both the Alaska Democratic Party and Alaska Republican Party primaries to every voter, had committed malconduct that changed the outcome of the election. The court ordered the Director of the Division of Elections to certify Nageak as the winner after proportionately reducing the votes from Shungnak. The Division and Westlake appealed the superior court’s rulings against them. Nageak cross-appealed the court’s rulings against him. The Supreme Court consolidated the appeal from the superior court in the election contest with the recount appeal from the Division, and reversed the superior court’s decision and reinstated the Director’s certification of Westlake as the winner of the election. View "Nageak v. Mallott" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Democratic Party amended its bylaws to allow registered independent voters to run as candidates in its primary elections without having to become Democratic Party members. But the Division of Elections refused to allow independent voter candidates on the Democratic Party primary election ballot, taking the position that Alaska election law, specifically the “party affiliation rule,” prevented anyone not registered as a Democrat from being a candidate in the Democratic Party’s primary elections. The Democratic Party sued for declaratory and injunctive relief preventing enforcement of the party affiliation rule, and the superior court ruled in its favor. The State appealed. Because the Alaska Constitution’s free association guarantee protects a political party’s choice to open its primary elections to independent voter candidates, and because in this specific context the State had no countervailing need to enforce the party affiliation rule, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Alaska v. Alaska Democratic Party" on Justia Law

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A complaint filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) against John Eberhart was filed when he was a city council member, alleging Eberhart had improperly used government resources in his campaign for mayor of Fairbanks. After investigating the complaint and holding a hearing, APOC fined Eberhart $37.50 for improper use of government resources in violation of a state statute. Eberhart appealed to the superior court, which affirmed APOC’s decision. Eberhart petitioned the Alaska Supreme Court to find APOC misinterpreted and misapplied relevant statutes, violated the First Amendment, and violated its own procedural rules. The Supreme Court affirmed APOC’s decision, holding that Eberhart’s arguments lacked merit. View "Eberhart v. Alaska Public Offices Commission" on Justia Law

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The Lieutenant Governor of Alaska declined to certify a proposed ballot initiative that would establish a permitting requirement for activities that could harm anadromous fish habitat, reasoning that the initiative effected an appropriation of state assets in violation of article XI, section 7 of the Alaska Constitution. The initiative sponsors filed suit, and the superior court approved the initiative, concluding that the proposal would not impermissibly restrict legislative discretion. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the initiative would encroach on the discretion over allocation decisions delegated to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game by the legislature, and that the initiative as written effected an unconstitutional appropriation. But the Court concluded the offending sections could be severed from the remainder of the initiative. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the superior court and remanded for that court to direct the Lieutenant Governor to sever the offending provisions but place the remainder of the initiative on the ballot. View "Mallott v. Stand for Salmon" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved an attorney’s fees dispute following a superior court decision upholding Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell’s certification of the “Bristol Bay Forever” ballot initiative. The initiative was approved to be placed on the November 2014 ballot. It required additional legislative approval for “a large-scale metallic sulfide mining operation located within the watershed of the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve.” Richard Hughes, Alaska Miners Association, and Council of Alaska Producers (Hughes plaintiffs) challenged the certification of the initiative. It was undisputed that this initiative, if passed, would impact the Pebble Project, a potential large-scale mining project in the Bristol Bay region. The initiative’s sponsors, John Holman, Mark Niver, and Christina Salmon (Holman intervenors), intervened on Alaska's side, and the State and intervenors moved for summary judgment to establish the legality of the initiative. The superior court granted the State’s and the Holman intervenors’ motions for summary judgment. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed on the merits. The Holman intervenors then moved for full reasonable attorney’s fees as constitutional claimants under AS 09.60.010. The Hughes plaintiffs opposed, arguing that they themselves were constitutional claimants and that the Holman intervenors were not constitutional claimants because they were intervenor-defendants. The superior court determined that the Holman intervenors were constitutional claimants. It also found that because Pebble Limited Partnership (Pebble) financed at least part of the litigation for the Hughes plaintiffs, Pebble was the real party in interest; the court further found that Pebble did not qualify as a constitutional claimant because it had sufficient economic incentive to bring the action. The court therefore awarded the Holman intervenors full reasonable attorney’s fees. The Hughes plaintiffs appealed. The Supreme Court held that because this case was fundamentally about constitutional limits on the ballot-initiative process and not whether the Pebble Project should go forward, the Hughes plaintiffs did not have sufficient economic incentive to remove them from constitutional-claimant status, and therefore reversed the award of attorney’s fees. View "Alaska Miners Association v. Holman" on Justia Law

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A self-employed real estate broker, James Studley, ran as a candidate for local elective office. The broker sought a blanket exemption from Alaska’s financial disclosure requirements to avoid reporting his clients’ identities and the income earned from them. The Alaska Public Offices Commission denied the broker’s request and assessed a $175 civil penalty for his failure to comply with the candidate reporting requirements. On appeal the superior court upheld the Commission’s ruling. The broker appealed, contending the disclosure requirements violated his duty to maintain client confidentiality, infringe his clients’ privacy rights under the Alaska Constitution, and impair several personal constitutional rights. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision upholding the Commission’s ruling. View "Studley v. Alaska Public Offices Comm'n" on Justia Law

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A group of Lake and Peninsula Borough voters filed suit against two local elected officials, alleging various violations of state and local conflict of interest laws and the common law conflict of interest doctrine. The officials moved for summary judgment on the ground that the voters failed to exhaust administrative remedies. The superior court granted the motion and stayed the proceedings so that the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) could review several of the voters’ claims. In doing so the court relied in part on case law involving the separate doctrine of primary jurisdiction, which allowed a court to stay proceedings to give the relevant administrative agency an initial pass at the claims. The matter came before the Supreme Court, and it reverse the superior court’s order after review, finding that because the voters were not required to exhaust administrative remedies and because the order staying the proceedings could not be affirmed on independent grounds. View "Seybert v. Alsworth" on Justia Law

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The Lieutenant Governor declined to certify a proposed ballot initiative that would ban commercial set net fishing in nonsubsistence areas, reasoning that the initiative was a constitutionally prohibited appropriation of public assets. The superior court approved the initiative, concluding that set netters were not a distinct commercial user group and that the legislature and Board of Fisheries would retain discretion to allocate the salmon stock to other commercial fisheries. After the Supreme Court's review of the matter, it concluded that set netters were a distinct commercial user group that deserved recognition in the context of the constitutional prohibition on appropriations. The Court therefore reverse the superior court’s judgment because this proposed ballot initiative would have completely appropriated salmon away from set netters and prohibited the legislature from allocating any salmon to that user group. View "Lieutenant Governor of the State of Alaska v. Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance" on Justia Law

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In September 2010 RBG Bush Planes, LLC (Bush Planes) allowed two candidates for public office for the Lake and Peninsula Borough Assembly to travel on a series of preexisting flights throughout the borough. Bush Planes charged the candidates a fraction of the fuel costs associated with those flights. The Alaska Public Offices Commission investigated these charges, determined that Bush Planes’ fractional fuel-cost methodology did not represent a commercially reasonable rate, and assessed a $25,500 fine against Bush Planes for making illegal corporate contributions. Bush Planes appealed to the superior court, which affirmed the Commission. Bush Planes again appealed, this time to the Supreme Court, arguing: (1) that the Commission erred when it found Bush Planes had violated Alaska law; and (2) that the fine the Commission imposed was unconstitutionally excessive. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commission. View "RBG Bush Planes, LLC v. Alaska Public Offices Commission" on Justia Law