Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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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

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The Supreme Court issued an order remanding a proposed redistricting plan to the redistricting board with instructions to formulate a new plan in compliance with state case law. Upon remand, the board was instructed to follow a certain process so that the Court could appropriately judge whether its violations of the Alaska Constitution were absolutely necessary for compliance with federal law. The board then submitted a modified plan to the superior court that changed four of forty house districts from the original plan. The amended plan was rejected by the superior court because the board failed to follow the process mandated by the Supreme Court. The board petitioned the Supreme Court for review of the superior court's conclusion on the amended plan. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the board again failed to follow the process the Court ordered on remand, and affirmed the decision of the superior court and required the board to draft a new plan for the 2014 elections. View "In Re 2011 Redistricting Cases" on Justia Law

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In an October 2007 election, Kenai Peninsula Borough voters approved local initiatives establishing term limits for members of the Borough Assembly and the school board. But voters also reelected five incumbents who, by the terms of the initiatives, would be ineligible to serve an additional term. The Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers (ACT) filed a lawsuit against the Borough requesting a court declaration that the initiatives applied to candidates chosen in the October 2007 election and that the seats held by the five incumbents were vacant. The Borough argued that the initiatives were invalid. The superior court granted partial summary judgment to ACT and partial summary judgment to the Borough and, therefore, did not designate either as the prevailing party. ACT appealed the superior court's decision not to name a prevailing party and argued that ACT should have been named the prevailing party. After its review of the case, the Supreme Court concluded that ACT and the Borough both prevailed on distinct issues central to the case. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the superior court’s decision not to name a prevailing party or award attorney's fees and costs to either party. View "Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers, Inc. v. Kenai Peninsula Borough" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case concerned the validity of two 2005 Kenai Peninsula Borough (Borough) ordinances: one enacted by the Borough Assembly and the second enacted by voter initiative. The Borough Assembly enacted an ordinance in June 2005 that increased the sales tax rate from two percent to three percent. In an October 2005 election, Borough voters passed an initiative that required prior voter approval for all Borough capital projects with a total cost of more than one million dollars. The Alliance for Concerned Taxpayers (ACT) challenged the sales tax increase and sought to enforce the capital projects voter approval requirement. The superior court granted summary judgment to the Borough on both matters: on the sales tax issue, reasoning that a 1964 voter action allowed the increase and the 2006 referendum defeat ratified it; and on the capital projects voter approval issue, reasoning that Proposition 4 was an unconstitutional use of the initiative power to appropriate a public asset. ACT appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's grant of summary judgment on the sales tax issue and the capital project voter approval issue, concluding the 1964 voter authorization of a three-percent sales tax preserved the Borough's right to raise the rate to three percent, and that the 2006 defeat of the referendum to repeal the rate increase constituted a ratification of the increase. On the voter approval issue, the Court concluded that allowing voters to veto any capital improvement projects of over $1 million had the effect of diluting the Borough Assembly's exclusive control over the budget and was therefore an impermissible appropriation. View "Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers, Inc. v. Kenai Peninsula Borough" on Justia Law