PFD denials argued all the way to court

Five lawsuits over dividend checks go to Alaska Supreme Court

Posted: Monday, May 22, 2000

For most Alaskans, getting a permanent fund dividend takes a few minutes of paperwork and a postage stamp.

For Bradley Esary, the application is costing more than $10,000 in legal fees and an appearance before the Alaska Supreme Court.

Esary, denied a $1,540.88 dividend in 1998 because he worked outside the state for more than 180 days the year before, has one of five lawsuits before the state's highest tribunal seeking to reverse a dividend denial.

State and federal employees are allowed to work outside the state and still be eligible for dividends. Esary, an Anchorage computer worker, said the Permanent Fund Dividend Division should make the same exception for employees of private companies.

``I didn't go in for the money,'' Esary said of his lawsuit. ``The way they treat people, that I don't like. We have to see what the Supreme Court thinks.''

More than 3,300 people appealed division denials last year as the state disbursed just more than $1 billion in earnings from the Alaska Permanent Fund, an oil-royalty savings account. Hearing officers upheld the denials in two-thirds of the cases, leaving applicants the option of going without a check or appealing to the state and the court system.

Chief of Operations Paul Dick said the division follows parameters approved by the Legislature.

``The Legislature drew a line in the sand, so to speak, as to who is a bona fide Alaskan,'' Dick said.

State statutes require Alaskans to be out of state for no more than 180 days if they want dividends. At just under half the year, that's long enough to escape bad winter weather but keep Alaska as a principal residence, Dick said.

Esary said it's shameful that the dividend division can reject eligibility because of an applicant's employer.

His lawyers said he is exactly the sort of person for whom dividends are intended. He moved to Alaska in 1975 and his family followed a year later. He bought a home and registered to vote in 1976. He worked for the same company, Western Atlas, from 1979 through October 1997.

Esary was absent about 200 days in 1997, mostly in stretches of a month or less. He lived in hotel rooms while his wife remained in Anchorage. He served on a jury, paid property taxes and voted in Alaska. Denying him a dividend was bad enough, his attorney said.

``To then provide an exception for state employees working outside at the behest of their employer, but not provide the same exception for private employees, simply runs afoul of equal protection principals,'' his attorney said.

Other cases before the Supreme Court include:

A Coast Guard officer who argued he should continue receiving dividends more than five years after he left Ketchikan because he considers himself an Alaskan, has tried to get assignments in the state and plans to move back after retirement.

A Homer couple with six children denied dividends in 1997 because they were out of Alaska for more than 180 days in 1996, in part to be with ill relatives.

A Fairbanks man, a resident since 1945, who left for more than 180 days in 1991 and 1992 to pursue investment opportunities in Mexico.

An Anchorage man who claimed his paperwork was sent to the wrong address.



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