Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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The Alaska Supreme Court disagreed with the probate master and superior court’s underlying conclusion that a paternity determination could not be made in estate proceedings, or that a laches defense could apply in this context. A decedent left a will stating he had no children. But during probate proceedings a man in his early 30s claimed to be the decedent’s son, requested genetic testing on the decedent’s cremated remains, and filed numerous motions in an attempt to share in the decedent’s estate. The man’s mother also filed numerous motions in the proceedings, claiming to be a creditor of the decedent’s estate and seeking recovery of child support from the man’s birth to his 18th birthday. After previously signing orders denying the motions based on the probate master’s reasoning that paternity determinations may not be made in estate proceedings, the superior court ultimately ruled that: (1) laches barred the man’s and his mother’s efforts to establish paternity; and (2) because paternity had not been established, neither the man nor his mother had standing to pursue a claim in the estate proceedings. Despite disagreeing with these findings, the Supreme Court nonetheless affirmed the superior court’s decision with respect to the man’s mother on the alternative ground that her putative creditor claim: the only basis by which she could be an interested person in the estate proceedings unquestionably was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. But if the man proved to be the decedent’s son he had, at a minimum, certain statutory rights that: (1) may be established through declaratory judgment in the probate proceedings; and (2) might not be barred by a statute of limitations. Because the statute of limitations defense to the man’s claim was briefed only in limited fashion in the superior court and was not ruled on by that court, and because the issue has not been adequately briefed to the Supreme Court, the Court asked for supplemental briefing be filed to assist it in resolving whether a statute of limitations may bar the man’s recovery from the estate. View "Estate of Seward" on Justia Law

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Two co-conservators filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit involving their ward in order to seek relief from a judgment based on a settlement agreement. The superior court denied the motion, and the co-conservators appealed. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the co-conservators were entitled to intervene as a matter of right under Alaska Civil Rule 24 and that the denial of their motion to intervene was not harmless error. Accordingly, the Court reversed the superior court's order denying the motion to intervene and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hopper v. Estate of Goard" on Justia Law

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The sole question on appeal in this matter was whether the decedent's handwritten name at the beginning of the document was a "signature" as contemplated by AS 13.12.502(b). This was an issue of first impression, and the Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the superior court’s conclusion that a testator’s handwritten name in the exordium clause of a purported holographic will was sufficient to satisfy the signature requirement in AS 13.12.502(b) unless the instrument was otherwise incomplete. View "In Re Estate of Baker" on Justia Law

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The State Office of Public Advocacy (OPA) filed a petition for an ex parte protective order on behalf of an elderly woman against her adult daughter and caregiver, after receiving allegations of financial abuse made by the elderly woman’s other family members. The superior court found those allegations to be unfounded and denied the protective order. The elderly woman’s estate and the caregiver daughter sought attorney’s fees against the State in connection with both the protective order and conservatorship proceedings. The superior court awarded full reasonable fees arising from the denial of the protective order, finding that OPA’s protective order petition was brought without “just cause,” under the fee-shifting provision of AS 13.26.131(d). The superior court declined to award attorney’s fees arising from the proceeding to establish a conservatorship because the State had not “initiated” the conservatorship proceeding as required for fees under AS 13.26.131(d). The State appealed the first award, and the caregiver daughter and the estate of the woman cross-appealed the denial of the second award. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that AS 13.26.131 did not apply to elder fraud protective order proceedings; nor did Alaska Civil Rule 82. Instead, AS 44.21.415 contained a cost-recovery mechanism that allowed private parties to recover attorney’s fees against the State in such proceedings. So the Supreme Court vacated the superior court’s fee award in the elder fraud protective order proceeding. And because the State did not initiate the conservatorship proceeding here, no attorney’s fees are available against the State in that proceeding. View "Alaska Office of Public Advocacy v. Estate of Jean R." on Justia Law

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T.V., a minor, was struck by a car in 2012. T.V.’s father, Jack Vinson, hired counsel and petitioned the superior court on T.V.’s behalf for approval of insurance settlements related to that accident. Jack advised the court that the funds from the settlements would be placed in a special needs trust administered by the Foundation of the Arc of Anchorage for T.V.’s care. The superior court approved the settlements on the recommendation of a magistrate judge. Slightly more than one year after the approval of the petition, Jack filed a motion requesting that the settlement funds be removed from the trust and returned to him. The magistrate judge overseeing the matter recommended that the superior court deny the motion because the trust was not a party to the minor settlement proceeding, but the court did not rule on the magistrate judge’s recommendation. A second magistrate judge conducted a hearing and made another recommendation to deny Jack’s motion. The superior court approved the denial, and Jack appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found that Jack’s precise claims were unclear: his underlying motion to the superior court sought to have the Arc provide the settlement money to him with interest. But Jack’s notice of appeal stated that he was appealing the order approving the petition for minor settlement. Thus, the question Jack presented was whether the superior court properly denied his motion. After review, and construing Jack's pro se claims liberally, the Court concluded that the superior court did not err in denying Jack’s motion to remove the settlement funds from the trust and return them to him. Because the gravamen of Jack’s motion was a claim against the Arc of Anchorage and because the Arc of Anchorage was not a party to the minor’s probate case, the superior court did not have jurisdiction over the Arc and correctly denied Jack’s motion. View "In Re T.V." on Justia Law

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The Dennis P. Hutchinson, Jr. Trust held two residential properties; Appellee Wells Fargo Bank administered the trust. The beneficiary's mother and guardian, Appellant Jean Schultz, learned that insurance premiums on the properties in trust had increased significantly. She discovered that the insurance had not been purchased through local insurance markets, but purchased through the bank. The trust attorney unsuccessfully tried to contact the bank to discuss the increase in premiums, and resorted to suing the bank to force it to disclose documents and other information regarding the trust's administration. The superior court granted the trust approximately half of what it asked for, and declared neither side as the prevailing party, so no one was awarded attorney's fees. The trust appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing the superior court misinterpreted the statutory authority belying its decision regarding the fees, and therefore abused its discretion. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed. View "Schultz v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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The issue presented to the Supreme Court in this case involved a dispute over the disposition of a deceased Alaska attorney's interest in attorney's fees from his participation, through a joint venture, in the Exxon Valdez oil spill litigation. The attorney's sister, individually and on behalf of their mother's trust, asserted claims to the attorney's fees, and the attorney's estate opposed those claims. The parties settled the dispute by agreeing that the right to attorney's fees was an estate asset, and the settlement was approved by the Alaska superior court in the deceased attorney's probate proceedings. The attorney's fees were ultimately paid to the joint venture. Both the estate and the sister then sought the deceased attorney's interest in the joint venture's attorney's fees. The estate requested that the superior court enjoin the sister's claims as violations of the settlement agreement. Around this time, the joint venture deposited what it calculated as the deceased attorney's share of the joint venture's attorney's fees in a federal interpleader action in California. The superior court ruled that under the settlement agreement, as between the estate, the sister, and the mother's trust, the estate had the right to the deceased attorney's share of the attorney's fees held by the joint venture. The superior court therefore enjoined the sister from pursuing claims to the deceased attorney's share of the joint venture's attorney's fees. The superior court later modified the injunction to allow the sister's participation in the federal interpleader action. The sister appeals, arguing that the superior court exceeded its jurisdiction, issued its judgment without proper procedures, improperly interpreted the settlement agreement, prohibited her from pursuing contract claims against third parties, and entered a vague and ambiguous judgment. She also argues that the superior court's ruling was improperly expanded to allow her participation in the federal interpleader action. Because the Supreme Court concluded that the superior court acted within its jurisdiction, followed adequate procedures, did not prevent the sister from pursuing her individual contract claims against the joint venture, was not vague and ambiguous in its ruling, and did not expand the ruling's substance when modifying it, the Court affirmed the superior court's orders and judgment. View "Dimeff v. Estate of Robert Merle Cowan" on Justia Law

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Jason Coday shot and killed Simone Kim with a rifle obtained from Ray Coxe’s gun store. Kim’s Estate brought a wrongful death action against Coxe, alleging that Coxe negligently or illegally provided Coday the rifle. Coxe defended in part by asserting immunity under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). The Estate argued against applying the PLCAA and alternatively that it was unconstitutional. The superior court ruled that the PLCAA was constitutional and, interpreting and applying the PLCAA’s immunity provisions to the facts of this case, granted summary judgment dismissing the Estate’s claims against Coxe. The Estate appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s ruling that the PLCAA was constitutional and its interpretation of the PLCAA, but because it was unclear whether certain evidence before the superior court actually was or should have been considered when granting summary judgment dismissing the Estate’s claims, the Court vacated the summary judgment ruling and remanded the case for further consideration. View "Estate of Simone Young Kim v. Coxe" on Justia Law

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This appeal concerned a dispute between three daughters regarding the administration of their deceased mother’s estate. The dispute centered around three documents: (1) a will executed in 1987; (2) a revised will the decedent allegedly executed in 2007 or 2008, which contained a clause revoking all prior wills; and (3) an exhibit that was allegedly an accurate (but unsigned) draft of the revised will. After an evidentiary hearing, the superior court found that: (1) the decedent executed a valid will in 1987; (2) the decedent subsequently executed a revised will, but that will was lost; and (3) the revised will had revoked the 1987 will. Because an executed version of the revised will was never located, the superior court concluded it had been destroyed by the decedent, leaving her estate to be administered under Alaska’s statutory scheme for intestate succession. On appeal, one daughter challenged the superior court’s conclusion that the 1987 will was properly revoked. The Supreme Court remanded the case for the superior court to determine whether its finding that the revised will was properly executed is supported by clear and convincing evidence. The Court also remanded for the superior court to determine whether the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to overcome the presumption that the decedent destroyed her will. View "Dan v. Dan" on Justia Law

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Two nieces, acting as co-guardians for their elderly uncle, sued their uncle's former caregiver for misuse and misappropriation of his assets; the caregiver counterclaimed for compensation for services rendered. After a bench trial, the superior court: (1) determined the caregiver had committed fraud and breached fiduciary duties; (2) awarded damages against the caregiver for her misuse and misappropriation of the uncle’s assets; (3) awarded the caregiver some compensation for her services in quantum meruit; and (4) ordered the caregiver's name removed from title to the uncle's house. The caregiver appealed. Because the superior court's findings of fact were well supported, and its application of equitable considerations was well within its discretion, the Supreme Court affirmed its decision. View "Shears v. Myers" on Justia Law