Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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A mother and son disputed ownership of a house in Ketchikan. The son contended his mother gave him the property following her husband’s death, and that he spent years repairing and renovating it on the understanding that it was his. His mother argued the house was still hers, and agreed to transfer title only if her son repaired the property and paid off the mortgage, which he failed to do. Following a bench trial on the son’s quiet title claim, the superior court found that he failed to prove his mother’s intent to transfer the property. Because the superior court properly applied the relevant legal doctrines and did not clearly err in its findings of fact, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed its judgment. View "Dixon v. Dixon" on Justia Law

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Mariam Bibi and Javed Raja married and later bought a home in Anchorage with loans from IndyMac Bank, F.S.B. (IndyMac). IndyMac’s loans were secured by deeds of trust on their home. The couple later received an additional loan of around $10,000 from Kevin Elfrink. Over the course of six years, the couple made irregular payments, increased the loan balance three times until it exceeded $25,000, and eventually defaulted. Elfrink initiated foreclosure proceedings and then bought the house at his own foreclosure sale by credit-bidding all money he asserted was due to him under the modified promissory note, satisfying the couple’s debt to him. Following the foreclosure, Elfrink filed a complaint against Bibi and Raja for forcible entry and detainer to remove them from the home. Bibi moved out of her home but filed a counterclaim for usury, quiet title and possession, and surplus proceeds from the foreclosure sale. Raja confessed judgment to his removal from the home. As the lawsuit proceeded, IndyMac initiated a foreclosure on its senior deed of trust and Elfrink bought the house for a second time at IndyMac’s foreclosure sale. The superior court ultimately denied Bibi’s usury claim, determining that Bibi had no standing, her claim was time barred, and in any event, the loan did not violate Alaska’s usury statute because the funding fee was not interest and the usury statute did not apply once the loan’s principal rose over $25,000. The superior court also denied Bibi’s claim for title, ruling that the foreclosure statutes gave Elfrink clear title. Bibi appealed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court held that: (1) Bibi has standing; (2) it was error for the superior court to deny Bibi’s usury claim because the funding fee was disguised interest and violated the usury statute, which applied to at least the initial period of the loan’s life; and (3) the superior court correctly denied Bibi’s claim for title and possession of her prior home because IndyMac’s foreclosure extinguished her claim to the property. View "Bibi v. Elfrink" on Justia Law

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In 1994, Victoria Zalewski purchased a 60 foot by 90 foot rectangle of land, Lot 8A. Just south of Lot 8A was a parking lot. Although the parking lot was recorded as being part of a larger adjacent lot known as Lot 9A, no boundary line was apparent between Lot 8A and the parking lot. Zalewski never had her lot surveyed and mistakenly assumed when she purchased Lot 8A that it included the parking lot. Prospector Outfitters obtained Lot 9A (including the parking lot) in 1994, and in 2007 conveyed the lot to Glenn Prax, Phillip Prax, and Marianne Kittridge (the Praxes). Various members of the Prax family shared in the ownership and management of Prospector Outfitters and its properties before and after the 2007 transfer of Lot 9A. Zalewski had a duplex on her property. She and tenants consistently used the parking lot for parking, entry, and exit. Zalewski and her husband maintained the parking lot, keeping it graveled and clear of snow and plants. They installed electrical outlets on the lot for headbolt heaters and paid for the electricity. Zalewski built a shed on the lot in 2008; she used the shed and other parts of the lot for storage. The duplex occupants received mail at a mailbox placed within the parking lot. Zalewski consistently used the parking lot on Lot 9A, but her exclusive use ended during the summer of 2002, when the owners of neighboring Lots 10B and 11B excavated their property to prepare it for construction, and they stored their equipment and materials on the parking lot. This use of the property ended in autumn of 2002. Glenn Prax knew that Zalewski was using the parking lot and repeatedly attempted to talk to her about his family’s ownership of the lot. Between 2001 and 2003 he left two notes at the duplex explaining his family’s claim to the property and suggesting some discussion about the boundary. Around 2005 he spoke to a tenant of the building about the issue, and in 2009 or 2011 he spoke to Zalewski herself about the boundary. In 2012 and 2013 he sent letters to Zalewski outlining the Praxes’ claim to the property, but he received no response. After his last attempt in 2013 he set up sawhorses barring Zalewski from the parking lot. Zalewski removed them and filed suit in July 2013. The trial court ruled that from 2002 to 2012 the neighbor had perfected an adverse possession claim to the lot and held that amendments made to the relevant law in 2003 did not apply to the neighbor’s claim because her period of possession began in 2002. The family appealed, arguing that 2003 statutory changes should have been applied to this case. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed, reversed the trial court, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Prax v. Zalewski" on Justia Law

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This case involved a cancelled contract between Richard Feeney and Alaskan Wind Industries (AWI), a renewable energy contractor, for the sale and installation of a wind turbine on Feeney’s property in Homer. Feeney cancelled a contract to install a wind turbine on his property and sued AWI to recover his down payment. The contractor filed a counterclaim for breach of contract. The superior court concluded that the contractor was required to be licensed by the State and had misrepresented its licensing status. It also concluded that the contractor could not maintain the counterclaim because the contractor was unregistered. The court ordered the contract rescinded and the contractor to return the down payment less a setoff covering costs incurred in the transaction. The contractor failed to pay and the court amended the judgment to include the contractor’s individual owners and a successor company. The contractor’s individual owners appealed the licensing determination and the amended judgment. The property owner cross-appeals the setoff calculation. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that the court erred only in its setoff calculation. View "Daggett v. Feeney" on Justia Law

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A surveyor discovered a discrepancy between the location of a longstanding fence and the boundary between two lots. The property owners sued to quiet title to the fenced-off section of their lot. But the owners of the encroaching fence claimed adverse possession of the fenced-off section, and the superior court entered summary judgment in their favor. The property owners who brought the quiet title action appealed, arguing that the court erred in its application of procedural rules and substantive law. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Yuk v. Robertson" on Justia Law

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Tok Hwang owned a lessee interest in, and related improvements on, a commercial lot (the leasehold) near the Denali National Park entrance. Hwang leased the lot from a third party for $20,000 annually. Hwang subleased the leasehold to Alaska Fur Gallery, Inc. in April 2012. The sublease (the lease) provided that Alaska Fur would pay $55,000 annual rent for a three-summer term. The disputed provision stated, in full: “Lease includes an option to purchase premises with lease amount to be applied to negotiated purchase price.” When the sublessee attempted to exercise the option the lessee declined to sell, claiming the option was unenforceable. The sublessee sued, seeking, among other things, to enforce the option provision. The superior court held that the provision was too uncertain to enforce either as an option or as an agreement to negotiate. The sublessee appealed; but finding no reversible error in the superior court’s decision, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Alaska Fur Gallery, Inc. v. Hwang" on Justia Law

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A driver lost control of his truck and crashed into a cabin, causing property damage and personal injuries to the cabin owner. The cabin owner brought suit against both the driver and the driver’s insurance company, alleging in part that the insurance company subsequently took charge of and negligently handled the fuel spill cleanup on the cabin owner’s property. The superior court granted the insurer summary judgment, concluding as a matter of law that the insurer could not owe the cabin owner an actionable duty. The cabin owner appealed, arguing that Alaska case law did not preclude a duty in this context. The Supreme Court agreed with the cabin owner and therefore reversed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment. View "Burnett v. Government Employee Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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In September 2003, Bachner Company Inc. entered into a contract with the Alaska Department of Administration, to lease portions of the Denali Building in Fairbanks. After a ten-year lease term and a one-year renewal, Bachner alleged that the State was in default on its rent payments, and it filed suit in superior court to recover. The State moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the claim was governed by the Alaska State Procurement Code and that Bachner had failed to exhaust its remedies under the code before filing suit. The superior court agreed and granted the State’s motion to dismiss. Bachner appealed. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the procurement code covered a rent dispute over an ongoing lease, that the Bachner's claim fell under the procurement code, and Bachner had to exhaust its administrative remedies before filing suit in superior court. View "Bachner Company Incorporated v. State, Dept. of Administration" on Justia Law

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The State of Alaska and the owner of a car wash reached an agreement for the State to acquire the car wash site as part of a highway improvement project. After the State acquired the site, the owner elected not to relocate the car wash. The owner then brought an inverse condemnation suit against the State, claiming business damages resulting from the State’s acquisition. At the close of a jury trial the superior court denied the State’s motion for a directed verdict; awarded the owner $1.79 million in damages and the court awarded attorney’s fees and costs. The State appealed, arguing that the owner’s claimed damages were not compensable because it was feasible for the owner to relocate the car wash after the State acquired the original site. After review, the Supreme Court agreed with the State that feasibility was the correct standard for analyzing the owner’s decision not to relocate when deciding whether he was entitled to business damages. Accordingly, the Court reversed the superior court’s denial of the State’s motion for directed verdict, vacated the attorney’s fee and costs awards, and remanded for reconsideration of prevailing party status, attorney’s fees, and costs. View "Dept. of Trans. & Public Facilities v. Alaska Laser Wash, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the validity of an easement that Thomas Carnahan claimed extended over property owned by Keven and Marlene Windel. In addition, there were issues surrounding damage allegedly caused by improvements within that easement. Carnahan won at trial in "Windel I," but the Supreme Court remanded the case for reconsideration of attorney fee issues. On remand, the superior court awarded Carnahan feed, finding that he was the prevailing party. The Windels appealed again, arguing the superior court erred in its analysis of Rule 68 when awarding Carnahan attorney fees. Finding no reversible error in the resolution of the fee dispute, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Windel v. Carnahan" on Justia Law