Legislature funds damage award for out-of-state fishermen

Fifth Supreme Court appeal sought in long-running 'Carlson' case

Posted: Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Alaska Legislature has allocated more than $82 million to reimburse out-of-state commercial fishermen who were overcharged for licenses, but the money will only be paid if the state loses its final appeal.

Fisherman Donald Carlson sued in 1984, saying the state charged non-resident fishermen too much. Carlson and other plaintiffs were given class-action status, expanding the scope of the case to as many as 11,000 fishermen.

License fees vary by industry, and only some of those were overcharged, but the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission determined that more than 4,000 were due refunds.

Alaska is continuing to dispute the interest awarded in the case, said Bill McAllister, spokesman for the Alaska Department of Law, and is seeking Alaska Supreme Court review of the award.

Juneau attorney Loren Domke, representing the fishermen, and Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan have agreed that the $82 million should be paid into a refund trust account. If the amount is paid by June 30, interest will stop accruing on the award.

"That money would not be disbursed until the case is resolved," McAllister said.

The actual amount of the overcharge was more than $12.4 million. Domke's legal fees were set at $7.4 million, well below the $21 million that had been sought.

The largest part of the award is based on the interest that has built up over the years, at a rate usually used for delinquent taxes. Sullivan is seeking to have that reduced with an appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Any reduction in the $82 million award would mean a reimbursement to the state from the refund trust, according to the agreement.

Under the terms of the agreement, the payment of the award out of the trust could be delayed if the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear the case.

Many of the fishermen owed refunds are expecting only a small amount, but some are slated to receive tens of thousands of dollars. One is expecting more than $162,000.

Because state revenues are used to subsidize the Department of Fish and Game, which manages commercial fisheries, some discount in fees for Alaska residents is constitutional, the court decided.

After a study ordered by the court, it was determined that more than 6,000 out-of-state fishermen paid less for licenses than the state could have legally charged. Alaska decided not to pursue any additional collections, the court was told.

The $82 million appropriation still requires Gov. Sean Parnell's signature to become law, but it was requested by the governor in the final days of the recently concluded legislative session.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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