Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

by
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

by
Williams Alaska Petroleum owned the North Pole refinery until 2004. Williams knew that the then-unregulated chemical sulfolane was present in refinery property groundwater, but it did not know that the sulfolane had migrated off the refinery property via underground water flow. Flint Hills Resources Alaska bought the North Pole refinery from Williams in 2004 pursuant to a contract that contained detailed terms regarding environmental liabilities, indemnification, and damages caps. Almost immediately the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation informed Flint Hills that sulfolane was to be a regulated chemical and that Flint Hills needed to find the source of the sulfolane in the groundwater. The Department contacted Flint Hills again in 2006. Flint Hills’s environmental contractor repeatedly warned Flint Hills that sulfolane could be leaving the refinery property and that more work was necessary to ascertain the extent of the problem. In 2008, Flint Hills drilled perimeter wells and discovered the sulfolane was migrating beyond its property and had contaminated drinking water in North Pole. A North Pole resident sued Flint Hills and Williams, and Flint Hills cross-claimed against Williams for indemnification. After extensive motion practice the superior court dismissed all of Flint Hills’s claims against Williams as time-barred. Flint Hills appealed. After review, the Supreme Court held that the superior court correctly applied the contract’s damages cap provision, but concluded that the court erred in finding Flint Hills’s contractual indemnification claims and part of its statutory claims were time-barred. The Court also affirmed the court’s dismissal of Flint Hills’s equitable claims. View "Flint Hills Resources Alaska, LLC v. Williams Alaska Petroleum, Inc." on Justia Law

by
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

by
Four Angoon fishermen challenged an Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulation that limits how many fish may be taken annually under a subsistence fishing permit on various grounds after they were charged with taking more salmon than their permits allowed. The district court agreed with their challenge and dismissed the charges. The court of appeals reversed. After its review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that these harvest limits were regulations that had to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Because the Department promulgated these harvest limits without following the requirements of the APA, the Court reversed the court of appeals and reinstated the district court judgments dismissing these charges. View "Estrada v. Alaska" on Justia Law

by
In 2009 the Department of Natural Resources issued two decisions, one removing the classification of certain lands as wildlife habitat and the other allowing for the conveyance of these lands to the Denali Borough for further development. A wildlife biologist and others submitted comments challenging the Department's actions; the biologist's comments and requests for reconsideration were denied and he filed an appeal in the superior court. While the appeal was pending, the wildlife biologist died in a plane crash and his sister, the personal representative of his estate, filed a motion to substitute an individual and an organization as appellants in this case. The court allowed for substitution of the personal representative, but prohibited the substitution of third parties; after the personal representative declined to personally continue the appeal, the superior court dismissed the case. The personal representative appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the superior court correctly articulated the proper test for substitution on appeal, but because it did not acknowledge the comments that the proposed appellant submitted during agency proceedings, the Court remanded the case for the court to consider whether these comments indicated the proposed appellant was entitled to prosecute in the review proceeding below, thereby making her a proper party for substitution. The Court affirmed the superior court's conclusion that the personal representative could not transfer or assign her right to appeal. View "Licht v. Irwin" on Justia Law

by
In 1999, the Alaska Board of Fisheries (the Board) made a use finding in the Chitina subdistrict for the first time, changing it from a "personal use" to a "subsistence" fishery. The Board reversed this decision in 2003, returning Chitina to a personal use fishery. The Alaska Fish and Wildlife Conservation Fund (AFWCF) and the Chitina Dipnetters Association, Inc., after asking the Board to reconsider its 2003 finding in both 2005 and 2008, brought this suit to challenge the Board's negative customary and traditional use finding for Chitina. They claimed that the regulation used by the Board to make such a finding was unconstitutional on its face and as applied. The superior court held that the regulation was valid and constitutional, but remanded for the Board to fully articulate the standard being used in its application of the regulation. It also instructed the Board not to consider "the per capita consumption of wild food in the home community of various users" upon remand. On remand, the Board codified a definition of "subsistence way of life," allowed the parties to submit evidence, and upheld its previous classification. Because 5 AAC 99.010(b) was consistent with its authorizing statutes, was reasonable and not arbitrary, did not violate the Alaska Constitution's equal access provisions, and was constitutionally applied when the Board made its customary and traditional use finding for the Chitina fishery in 2003, the Supreme Court affirmed that portion of the superior court's rulings. Because there was no indication that the Board actually relied on the per capita consumption of wild foods in the users' home communities when applying 5 AAC 99.010(b) and because that information could have been relevant to the subsistence inquiry, the Supreme Court reversed that portion of the superior court's ruling. View "Alaska Fish & Wildlife Conservation Fund v. Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game" on Justia Law

by
The Department of Natural Resources restricted the non-winter use of large vehicles on the Rex Trail. The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether these restrictions were within the Department's authority. Because the Department has broad authority to manage public lands in general and specific authority to manage rights-of-way such as the Rex Trail, and the restrictions did not violate any statutory limitations on this authority, the Supreme Court concluded that they were authorized. View "Caywood v. Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources" on Justia Law

by
Before 2009, the Alaska Board of Game employed a controversial scoring system in order to distribute permits to subsistence hunters in a popular caribou and moose hunting area between Anchorage and Fairbanks. In 2009, the Board amended its regulations to abolish the scoring system and replace it with two separate subsistence hunts: a community harvest hunt for groups and a separate hunt for individuals. A local tribe was subsequently granted a community harvest permit pursuant to the new rules. An individual resident brought suit challenging the new system, alleging violations of the Alaska Administrative Procedure Act, his due process rights, the Board’s governing statutes, and several provisions of the Alaska Constitution. The tribe intervened on the side of the State and a private organization intervened on the side of the individual. In July 2010, the superior court granted summary judgment and enjoined the community harvest hunt as unconstitutional. The superior court later awarded attorney’s fees to the individual and private organization. The tribe appealed both decisions to the Supreme Court. Upon review, the Court concluded that the underlying appeal was moot because the challenged regulation had been substantively changed since 2009. Accordingly, the case was dismissed. View "Nene v. Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game" on Justia Law

by
Offshore Systems – Kenai (Offshore) operates a commercial dock facility on Cook Inlet in the Kenai Peninsula Borough (Borough). Nikishka Beach Road traverses Offshore's property. The public has used this road to access the beach since the 1950s. In 2007 Offshore installed a gate blocking the road. The State and the Borough sought an injunction against Offshore, alleging a public right-of-way or prescriptive easement exists over Nikishka Beach Road. Offshore counterclaimed for a declaratory judgment quieting title to its property. The parties disputed the length and history of Nikishka Beach Road. The superior court concluded that Nikishka Beach Road provided public access to the beach on several alternative grounds. Offshore appealed the superior court's decision. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed, finding that a 1980 patent reserved a valid easement for public access to the shoreline of Cook Inlet. The Court held that the superior court had the authority to locate an easement over Nikishka Beach Road. The Court reversed the award of attorney's fees to the Borough. View "Offshore Systems - Kenai v. Alaska" on Justia Law

by
Six tribal councils, joined by two other associations, filed an action against the State of Alaska, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in the superior court seeking a declaratory judgment that the 2005 Bristol Bay Area Plan (BBAP, the Plan) was unlawful. DNR’s motion to dismiss under Civil Rule 12(b)(6) was denied and the superior court held that: (1) the BBAP is a regulation that must be promulgated under the Alaska Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and (2) Alaska Appellate Rule 602(a)(2) does not bar the Tribes’ claims. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Appellate Rule 602(a)(2) did not bar the Tribe's claims and the that BBAP is not a regulation. View "Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources v. Nondalton Tribal Council" on Justia Law