Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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Kelly Dickson and Donna DeFusco owned adjacent parcels of land near Big Lake. The property’s original 160 acres were homesteaded in 1958 by their father, Benjamin Cowart, who received a patent from the federal government in 1965. He later purchased two 40-acre tracts that bordered his acreage to the southeast. Dickson and DeFusco inherited the property upon their mother’s death in 2007. At issue in this case are two easements the superior court found to exist across Dickson and DeFusco’s property. The first involved the Historic Iditarod Trail that was first surveyed in the early 1900s. The second easement was for part of Homestead Road and was created in 1958 when a neighbor, Charles Sassara, Sr., used a D8 Caterpillar to improve access to his and other homesteads in the area. The owners appealed a decision in favor of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR), that recognized an RS 2477 right of way over their property for the Historic Iditarod Trail and a prescriptive easement for public use of a road. The owners argued the evidence did not support the court’s findings of the right of way and the easement; that the court made a number of procedural and evidentiary errors that collectively deprived them of procedural due process; and that the large attorney’s fees award in favor of the State was excessive in light of its likely deterrent effect and the State’s decision to vigorously litigate this case for its precedential effect. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not clearly err in its findings of fact, and affirmed its decision recognizing the RS 2477 right of way for the Historic Iditarod Trail and the prescriptive easement for the road. The Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion in the court’s procedural and evidentiary rulings. However, the Court concluded there may have been a compelling reason to vary the presumptive attorney’s fees award under Alaska Civil Rule 82(b)(3), and remanded for the superior court’s further consideration of this issue. View "Dickson v. Alaska, Dept. of Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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Frank Griswold twice appealed the Homer Advisory Planning Commission’s approval of a conditional use permit to the Homer Board of Adjustment and later appealed the Board’s second decision to the superior court, which sua sponte dismissed his appeal for lack of standing. Because Griswold did not have notice that his standing was at issue, his due process rights were violated. The Alaska Supreme Court therefore reversed and remanded for the superior court to decide his appeal on the merits. View "Griswold v. Homer Board of Adjustment" on Justia Law

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Homeowners Brooke and Patrick Corkery appealed the denial of their application of a variance by the Anchorage Zoning Board of Examiners and Appeals. The homeowners’ house exceeded the 30% lot coverage limit for their zoning district by over 10% due to a renovation performed in 1983 by a prior owner. The Board denied the variance application because it concluded that three of the seven standards required to grant a variance had not been satisfied. On appeal, the homeowners challenged the Board’s interpretation of the variance standards. They also argued the equitable doctrine of laches barred the Board from denying their variance request. Furthermore, the homeowners argued the Board’s consideration of a memo written by a Municipality attorney violated their due process rights and that this violation warranted a trial de novo at superior court. After independently interpreting the variance standards, the Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the Board’s interpretation. In light of the Court's de novo interpretation of these variance standards, any error in the memo’s legal advice or in the process of the Board’s consideration was deemed harmless and did not warrant trial de novo. The Court also concluded the homeowners could not invoke the defense of laches because, in the zoning context, this defense was available only to defendants in a zoning enforcement action. View "Corkery v. Municipality of Anchorage" on Justia Law

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Property Owners appealed special assessments that the Anchorage Municipal Assembly levied on their lots to pay for recently constructed road, water, and sewer improvement projects benefiting the lots. The Property Owners claimed the special assessments improperly included nearly $1 million in costs from another municipal utility project unrelated to the improvements built for the benefit of their lots. They also claimed the special assessments exceeded limits set by ordinance and that the assessed costs were disproportionate to the benefits provided by the improvements, violating municipal ordinance, charter, and state law. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the Assembly’s allocation of costs among these projects was supported by substantial evidence and that the ordinance limit the Property Owners relied on did not apply to these assessments. Furthermore, the Court concluded the Property Owners did not rebut the presumption of correctness that attached to the Assembly’s proportionality decisions. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s decision affirming the Assembly’s special assessment determinations. View "Fink v. Municipality of Anchorage" on Justia Law

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An undeveloped greenbelt buffer runs between Bill Yankee’s property and the back of Chris and Ann Gilbertos’. The two properties are in different subdivisions and therefore subject to different covenants: Yankee’s property is in the Nunatak Terrace Subdivision whereas the Gilbertos’ is in the Montana Creek Subdivision. Yankee complained about the fence to the Director of Juneau’s Community Development Department, but the Director responded that the fence was allowed, citing longstanding policy. Yankee then appealed to the Planning Commission, which affirmed the Director’s decision. Yankee next appealed to the Juneau Assembly, which rejected his appeal for lack of standing. Yankee appealed this decision to the superior court, which affirmed the Assembly’s reliance on standing as grounds to reject the appeal. Yankee then appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, which concluded the Director’s decision was an appropriate exercise of his enforcement discretion, not ordinarily subject to judicial review. On that alternative ground the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s dismissal of the appeal. View "Yankee v. City & Borough of Juneau" on Justia Law

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Property owners granted a utility easement to the City of Wasilla in exchange for the City’s promise to build an access road across their property, subject to obtaining permits and funding. The access road was not built, and the property owners sued the City, claiming that it fraudulently induced them to sign the easement agreement, breached the agreement, and breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. After trial the superior court made findings of fact and conclusions of law about the parties’ negotiations, their reasonable expectations, the key provisions in the easement agreement, and the City’s efforts to satisfy the agreement’s conditions, and it ruled against the property owners on all their claims. The property owners appealed and the City cross-appealed, contending that the property owners’ claims should have been dismissed on statute of limitations grounds. After review, the Supreme Court found no reversible error with the superior court's findings of fact or final judgment. View "Laybourn v. City of Wasilla" on Justia Law

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In April 2011 the City of Petersburg petitioned the State of Alaska's Local Boundary Commission to dissolve the City and incorporate a new borough. In August the Boundary Commission accepted the petition and published notice. In October the City and Borough of Juneau notified the Boundary Commission "of its intent to file an annexation petition that will pertain to some of the same boundaries as are at issue in the petition recently filed by the City of Petersburg." Juneau intended to annex almost half of the area sought for the Petersburg Borough. Juneau requested that the Boundary Commission postpone the Petersburg proceedings to allow for concurrent consideration of the two petitions. Boundary Commission staff recommended denying Juneau’s consolidation request, explaining that the Boundary Commission would have Juneau’s annexation petition, Juneau’s responsive brief in the Petersburg proceedings, and Juneau’s comments, and that during the final hearing the Boundary Commission could amend the Petersburg petition. The Boundary Commission ultimately denied Juneau’s request for consolidation or postponement, with one commissioner noting that "Juneau . . . will have opportunities to comment and [provide] testimony at the hearing." The primary issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether the Boundary Commission violated the Alaska Constitution when it approved the incorporation of the new borough over the objection of the existing borough. After review, the Court concluded that the Boundary Commission’s decision complied with constitutional requirements and therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision upholding the Boundary Commission’s incorporation decision. View "City & Borough of Juneau v. Alaska Local Boundary Comm'n" on Justia Law

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The Nancy Lake State Recreation Area's ("the Park") governing regulations prohibit the use of motorized vehicles off of the Park's paved roads. However, the Park issues special use permits to owners of private property abutting the remote boundary of the Park that grant them the right to use all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) along the Butterfly Lake Trail to access their private property. The ATVs have damaged the Butterfly Lake Trail and the surrounding wetlands. SOP, Inc. sued to enjoin the Park from issuing these ATV permits. SOP moved for summary judgment, and the Park filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. The trial court denied SOP?s motion and granted the Park's motion, concluding "there [was] nothing in the statutes or regulations that justifies court intervention and invalidation of the permits." SOP appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the permits created easements because the Park could not revoke the permits at will. The Court therefore found the permits were illegal and accordingly reversed. View "SOP, Inc. v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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When passing a 1997 ordinance, the Anchorage Municipal Assembly amended the boundaries of a proposed Downtown Improvement District to exclude some properties on K and L Streets. The building at 420 L Street, the property owned by appellant L Street Investments, was in the original proposal but was subsequently carved out by the Assembly. In 2000 the Assembly extended the life of the District for ten years. Beginning in 2009, the Anchorage Downtown Partnership canvassed businesses hoping to extend the term of the District and expand it to include businesses between I and L Street. After the majority of business owners in the proposed District approved the extension and expansion, the Assembly extended the term of the District and expanded it to include businesses between I and L Streets, including the building at 420 L Street. L Street Investments filed suit, arguing: (1) Section 9.02(a) of the Municipality of Anchorage's Charter did not authorize the Municipality to finance services within the District by an assessment; and (2) the District is a "service area," and AS 29.35.450(c) prohibits the expansion of a service area unless a majority of voters in the area to be added vote in favor of expanding the service area. The Anchorage Downtown Partnership intervened, and all parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The superior court granted summary judgment to the Municipality and the Anchorage Downtown Partnership. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment. View "L Street Investments v. Municipality of Anchorage" on Justia Law

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The issue on appeal before the Supreme Court in this case was the validity and interpretation of a roadway easement granted to meet a borough's subdivision plat-waiver requirements. The borough approved a nearby subdivision project contingent on upgrading the easement roadway. The owners of the servient estate first insisted that the developer maintain his roadway upgrade within the original easement. After the work was completed the owners sued the developer for trespass, alleging implicitly that the original easement grant was invalid because it was not properly executed and acknowledged, and asserting that there might be public prescriptive easement across their property. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of the developer on the validity of the easement, holding that any acknowledgment deficiencies were cured. The Supreme Court agreed with the landowners that the superior court misapplied the statute, but affirmed the grant of summary judgment on other grounds. View "Windel v. Mat-Su Title Insurance Agency, Inc." on Justia Law