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DBAA: Alaska Case Law Service

Today’s Alaska agency database from the Alaska page of State Agency Databases Across the Fifty States is:

  • Alaska Case Law Service – This database provides opinions and some supporting documentation for cases decided by Alaska’s appellate courts since 1960. It is searchable by keyword, citation, decision date, party name, judge and opinion type and by docket number or counsel. This service is operated by Westlaw on behalf of the Alaska Court System.

Users familiar with Westlaw need to know that these court opinions do not have the West “key numbers” or other annotations. These are just the unadorned opinions. I’m ok with that. I think it’s great to have complete appellate (appeals) opinions for free from 1960 searchable from my desktop.

Aside from locating case law, I think this database has potential for historians. Knowing that fish traps were a controversial item around the time of Statehood, I went into “search by decision date” and looked for pre-1965 cases mentioning “fish trap.” I found these four cases:

1. State v. A. J. Industries, Inc., 397 P.2d 280, Alaska, December 09, 1964 (NO. 477)

2. Snug Harbor Packing Co. v. Schmidt, 394 P.2d 397, Alaska, July 24, 1964 (NO. 452)

3. Metlakatla Indian Community, Annette Island Reserve v. Egan, 362 P.2d 901, Alaska, June 02, 1961 (NO. 21-23)

4. Oxenberg v. State, 362 P.2d 893, Alaska, May 16, 1961 (NO. 19)
Snug Harbor Packing Co. v. Schmidt made for interesting reading as it was about someone who was arrested for continuing to fish with a net after a company had built a fish trap within 600′ of his location.
Because the search in this database is by keyword, not every decision you come across will be directly related to your search subject. This happened in my search where the only mention of  “fish trap” in State v. A. J. Industries, Inc., was a quote from a statute. But I struck serendipitous gold from a history standpoint. The case was about the AJ mine’s lease of tailings built land in downtown Juneau. The decision contained this lengthy quote about who built what on these formerly submerged lands:
Since the decision in this case will be determined to a large extent by the uses made of the property after its creation, we shall recount the facts pertaining to usage in some detail.
In 1937 appellee leased portions of the property to Union Oil Company for docking purposes and a tank farm. Another portion of the area was leased to radio station KINY in 1948. During World War II approximately twelve acres were leased to the Corps of Army Engineers for ten dollars per acre per year. Between 1946 and 1951 an Alaska Coastal Airlines beam station occupied a portion of the property under lease. In 1947 part of the area was leased by appellee to the Juneau Spruce Corporation for storage and shipping purposes. From time to time portions of the premises were leased to persons who worked the tailings to reclaim gold on a royalty basis. In 1948 warehouses which were left on the property by the Army Engineers were leased to a construction company. The warehouses and surrounding area were later leased by appellee to Juneau Motors for the storage of automobiles. Another part of the area was rented by the Lemon Creek Sand & Gravel Company as a storage area. Appellee had regularly used a portion of the property for the storage of mining and electrical distribution equipment. On occasion, rock and sand from the fill were sold. Another portion was leased for boat storage and a boat ramp. Still another portion was leased to Southeastern Salvage Company for the leading and unloading of barges at a barge ramp. Many of the above uses, which are the subject of this appeal, were still in effect as of the date of the hearing.

The case also involved the State of Alaska’s statehood act related claims to submerged lands, something which was a source of controversy at least as recently as the Knowles administration.

Next week we’ll cover another Court System database, the Alaska Appellate Courts Case Management System.

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