Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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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

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This case involved a three-way transfer of boat tie-up spaces in a recreational subdivision. The principal issue before the Supreme Court was whether the trial court erred in requiring the joinder of one of the people involved in the transfer as an indispensable party. Upon review, the Court concluded that the trial court did not err because appropriate relief could not be afforded in the absence of the person in question. The Supreme Court also concluded that the case was properly dismissed because the plaintiff refused to comply with the court's order requiring joinder. View "Weilbacher v. Ring" on Justia Law

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In 1961, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a right-of-way grant to the Alaska Department of Public Works conveying a "road building material site" along the Denali Highway with no expiration date and no rental fee. After the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was enacted in 1971, the United States conveyed the surface and subsurface estates encompassing the State's material site to Ahtna, Inc., an Alaska Regional Native Corporation. The conveyance was "subject to" the "[r]ights-of-way for Federal Aid material sites." ANCSA allowed the federal government to waive administration of the rights-of-way, which BLM did in 1984. The BLM waiver stated that the State was the grantee of the right-of-way at issue, and instead of providing an expiration date the waiver described the term of duration of the right-of-way as "[p]erpetual." The waiver entitled Ahtna to "any and all interests previously held by the United States as grantor," but the waiver explicitly stated there were no rental or other revenues associated with the right-of-way. The State removed material from the site until 1988, but the State did not use material from the site for the next 20 years. The State began using the site again in 2008. Ahtna demanded compensation for the removal of gravel from the material site and directed the State to cease and desist further entry onto Ahtna lands. The State responded that its right to remove the gravel pre-existed Ahtna's title interest. The State filed suit against Ahtna, and the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The superior court granted summary judgment to the State, concluding that the State had a valid interest in the material site right-of-way under the Federal-Aid Highway Act, and that Ahtna could not cancel the right-of-way for nonuse or abandonment so long as the State operated and maintained the Denali Highway. Ahtna appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that under the assumption that BLM's waiver transferred administrative authority to Ahtna, that authority did not include the right to cancel the State's interest in the material site for nonuse or abandonment without consent from the State. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the superior court's grant of summary judgment to the State. View "Ahtna, Inc. v. Alaska Dept. of Trans. & Public Facilities" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Sherman "Red" Smith built and operated a sawmill on 14 acres of land under a special-use permit from the U.S. Forest Service. He alleged that Alaska acquired title to the land and conveyed it to a third party without acknowledging his claim or compensating him for his improvements. The last disputed conveyance of the land took place in 1983. The superior court dismissed Petitioner's claim, finding it to be time-barred under any applicable statute of limitations. The superior court also ruled in favor of the State on two alternative grounds: first, concluding that sovereign immunity bars fraud actions against the State and second, determining that res judicata bars the relitigation of a claim the superior court previously dismissed in 2007. Petitioner appealed, arguing that statutes of limitations cannot bar claims brought for the vindication of constitutional rights. Because statutes of limitations do apply to constitutional claims, and because Petitioner did not allege harm amounting to a continuing violation, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's dismissal of Petitioner's claim as time-barred. The Court also affirmed the superior court's alternative finding that the 2007 dismissal of Petitioner's previous claim bars his current action. View "Smith v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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Citizens sought a ballot initiative to eliminate the special regulations that govern real property transactions in a local economic development area. After the municipal clerk twice denied their petition for a ballot initiative, the sponsors sued for an order placing the initiative on the ballot. Finding the petition to be both contrary to existing law and misleading, the superior court upheld the municipal clerk's denial. The sponsors appealed. Because the Supreme Court concluded that the petition is neither contrary to existing law nor misleading, it reversed. View "Sitkans for Responsible Government v. City & Borough of Sitka" on Justia Law