Gillis v. Aleutians East BoroughAnnotate this Case
The superior court interpreted a statutory preference for the purchase of state land in a manner that disqualified Appellant Melvin Gillis, from which he appealed. Appellant is a professional sport hunting and fishing guide. He obtained a 25-year lease of five acres of state land in April 1989. Appellant built a lodge on the land, and the operation of the lodge and his guiding business were his principal sources of income. In 2005, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conveyed lands, including the land Appellant leased, to Aleutians East Borough. DNR also transferred its interest in Appellant's lease to the Borough. Appellant offered to purchase the land in November 2005. The Borough Assembly rejected Appellant's offer but proposed a new lease agreement. Appellant did not execute the proposed lease, and in 2007 he claimed he was eligible to purchase the land under state law. The Borough then filed a declaratory judgment action, asking the superior court to determine whether Appellant qualified for a preference right to purchase the land. The issue on appeal was whether the applicable statute required an applicant to enter land while it was under federal ownership as a condition of the preference right. The superior court concluded that the plain meaning of the statute required an applicant to enter land when it was under federal ownership before the federal government conveyed the land to the state. The court entered summary judgment in favor of the Borough and DNR. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's interpretation of the applicable statute and its summary judgment decision.