Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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A public utility filed a condemnation action seeking the land use rights necessary to construct a natural gas storage facility in an underground formation of porous rock. The utility held some rights already by assignment from an oil and gas lessee. The superior court held that because of the oil and gas lease, the utility owned the rights to whatever producible gas remained in the underground formation and did not have to compensate the landowner for its use of the gas to help pressurize the storage facility. The court held a bench trial to determine the value of the storage space. The landowner appealed the resulting compensation award, arguing it retained ownership of the producible gas in place because the oil and gas lease authorized only production, not storage. It also argued it had the right to compensation for gas that was discovered after the date of taking. The landowner also challenged several findings related to the court’s valuation of the storage rights: that the proper basis of valuation was the storage facility’s maximum physical capacity rather than the capacity allowed by its permits; that the valuation should not have included buffer area at the same rate as area used for storage; and that an expert’s valuation methodology, which the superior court accepted, was flawed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err in ruling that the landowner’s only rights in the gas were reversionary rights that were unaffected by the utility’s non-consumptive use of the gas during the pendency of the lease. Furthermore, the Court concluded the trial court did not clearly err with regard to findings about valuation. View "Kenai Landing, Inc. v Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage, et al." on Justia Law

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The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT or the State) condemned a strip of property along the Parks Highway. DOT filed a declaration of taking, allowing it to take title immediately, and deposited approximately $15,000 in court as estimated compensation for the taking. The landowner challenged DOT’s estimate and was eventually awarded approximately $24,000, as well as attorney’s fees and costs. Pursuant to AS 09.55.440, the superior court awarded prejudgment interest to the landowner on the difference between the amount of DOT’s initial deposit and the amount the property was ultimately determined to be worth. The landowner appealed, arguing that the prejudgment interest should have been calculated on the difference between the deposit and his entire judgment, including significant amounts for attorney’s fees and appraisal costs. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the landowner’s argument was not supported by the statutory language, legislative history, or policy. Furthermore, the Court rejected the landowner’s arguments that the superior court applied the wrong postjudgment interest rate and abused its discretion by denying discovery of the State’s attorneys’ billing records. The trial court failed to state its reasons for excluding attorney time from its attorney's fees award, and therefore vacated that award and remanded for reconsideration only of the fees award. View "Keeton v. Alaska, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities" on Justia Law

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In 2013 and 2014 attorney Gerald Markham applied for a senior citizen tax exemption on his residential property in Kodiak, Alaska. The Borough assessor denied the applications due to Markham’s prolonged absences from Alaska. When given the opportunity to prove his absences were allowed under the applicable ordinance, Markham refused to provide corroborating documentation. He appealed the denials to the Borough Board of Equalization, which affirmed the denials. He appealed the Board’s decisions to the superior court. The superior court dismissed the 2013 appeal for failure to prosecute, denied the 2014 appeal on the merits, and awarded attorney’s fees to the Borough. Markham appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s 2013 dismissal and the Board’s 2014 denial on the merits, but vacated the superior court’s award of attorney’s fees and remanded for further findings. View "Markham v. Kodiak Island Borough Board of Equalization" on Justia Law

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Frank Griswold appealed a decision of the Homer, Alaska Advisory Planning Commission to the Homer Board of Adjustment. Griswold was a Homer resident who owned several lots within the Business District, one of which is approximately 3,280 feet from Terry and Jonnie Yager. The Yeagers applied for a conditional use permit to build a covered porch ten feet into a twenty-foot setback. Before the hearing, Griswold submitted two documents to the Commission, arguing that the setback exceptions required a variance rather than a conditional use permit and that provisions of the Homer City Code (HCC) allowing for setback exceptions by conditional use permits in the Business District conflicted with state law. After a public hearing the Commission approved the Yagers’ conditional use permit. Griswold appealed, arguing the Yeagers' permit would adversely affect the value of his Business District properties by increasing congestion in the area and that the permit would create a “pernicious precedent” for future setback exceptions in his neighborhood. Additionally Griswold said this would harm the use and enjoyment of his home. The Board rejected his appeal for lack of standing. Griswold appealed to the superior court, arguing that he had standing under the Homer City Code and alleging a number of due process violations. The superior court ruled that Griswold lacked standing as a matter of law and found any due process errors harmless. It also awarded the Board attorney’s fees on the appeal, reasoning that Griswold did not qualify for protection from attorney’s fees as a public interest litigant. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed, finding that under applicable Home City Code section, a property owner need only produce some evidence supporting the owner’s claim that the city’s action could potentially adversely affect the owner’s use or enjoyment of the owner’s property. "The individual bringing the claim must still prevail on the merits by showing that a legal remedy against such harm is available." The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Griswold v Homer Board of Adjustment, et al." on Justia Law

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Chris and Jeanne Rosauer owned a home and underlying property in Girdwood across the municipal roadway from a home and underlying property owned by Thomas Manos and Jody Liddicoat (collectively, Manos). The Municipality of Anchorage owned a right-of-way between the Rosauers’ property and the municipal roadway. In August 2015 Manos hired Greatland Tree Service, LLC to remove several cottonwood trees within the municipal right-of-way in front of the Rosauers’ property. The Anchorage Municipal Code required private entities to obtain a permit for the “use” of municipal rights-of-way, including tree removal. Neither Manos nor Greatland obtained a permit before the tree removal, but Greatland later obtained a permit in October. In April 2016 the Rosauers sued Manos and Greatland, seeking damages under Alaska’s timber-trespass statute, AS 09.45.730. The superior court granted summary judgment to the Manos and Greatland, concluding that the municipality’s subsequent permit approving the tree removal negated the neighbors’ claim. The Rosauers appealed. Because the Alaska Supreme Court agreed the municipality’s subsequent permit effectively conferred lawful authority to cut the trees, it affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Rosauer v. Manos" on Justia Law

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In April 2014 Link Fannon acquired the property at issue in this appeal, along with a well and water system, from an owner subsequent to June Scheele’s 1998 transaction. The deed to Fannon made no mention of a Greenbelt Covenant. Fannon intended to increase the well’s production to service at least another ten acres of neighboring commercial property and to “sell bulk water” to the Department of Transportation for a Parks Highway upgrade. Fannon then began clear-cutting trees on Lot 1, Block 1. June’s estate brought suit against Fannon for violating the Greenbelt Covenant’s terms; the estate sought damages, a preliminary injunction against further clear-cutting, and an affirmative injunction to restore trees. The primary issue in this appeal was whether the superior court correctly interpreted two property restrictions, one found in a subdivision declaration and the other in a deed’s greenbelt covenant, to ultimately determine that the deed’s greenbelt covenant was enforceable. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court correctly applied interpretation rules by looking at the instrument language without regard to extrinsic evidence and correctly ruled that the subdivision declaration did not preclude the deed’s greenbelt covenant. It therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Fannon v. Polo" on Justia Law

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A man sued his neighbors, alleging that an access road on their property caused flooding on his property. After he reached a settlement with the neighbors, the man stipulated to a dismissal of his claims with prejudice. Three years later the man again sued the neighbors as well as the Municipality of Anchorage, alleging that the flooding had continued and asserting new claims of nuisance, trespass, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and breach of contract. The superior court granted summary judgment for the Municipality on the basis of either collateral estoppel or res judicata. The man appealed; the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Strong v. Williams" on Justia Law

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A commercial tenant breached its lease and owed unpaid rent. The landlord sued and obtained a writ of attachment against any funds owed the tenant from Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS). DHSS replied to the writ by stating it owed nothing to the tenant because a recent audit showed the tenant owed DHSS $1.4 million. Without responding to DHSS’s reply the landlord moved for a writ of execution against DHSS, which the superior court denied after finding there were no funds to attach. The court denied the landlord’s motion for reconsideration, as well as its request for a hearing to examine DHSS. The landlord appealed the denial of its motion for reconsideration and sought a remand for a hearing to examine DHSS. In affirming the superior court, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court was correct in denying reconsideration of its order regarding the writ of execution. View "Arcticorp v. C Care Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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Landowners sued their neighbors over use of a well and an access easement, and the neighbors counterclaimed for damages caused by interference with their water rights and loss of access to their cabin. The superior court ruled in favor of the neighbors following trial and awarded them compensatory loss-of-use damages, as well as full attorney’s fees based in part on a finding that the landowners had engaged in vexatious and bad faith conduct. The landowners appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not clearly err in the findings underlying its damages award, and it did not abuse its discretion in its award of full attorney’s fees to the neighbors. View "Keenan v. Meyer" 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