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Alaska Supreme Court denies PFD claim by long-absent Marine

Becky Bohrer

JUNEAU -- The Alaska Supreme Court on Friday upheld a lower court ruling that a Marine who did not live in the state for years but maintained residency is not eligible for a Permanent Fund dividend.

Brian Ross sued the state over a 1998 law stating that anyone who was allowably absent for education, military or other reasons for 10 straight years would no longer be eligible for dividends that are paid to nearly all Alaskans annually as their share of the state's oil wealth.

The ruling states that Ross has been absent from the state since 1990, first as a student and later as a Marine Corps officer. However, he maintained residency and received a dividend until 2009, when he and his children were denied because of the time limit in the law.

The law does not apply to members of Congress, their staffs or their families.

Ross argued, among other things, that the 10-year rule violated equal protection clauses of the state and U.S. constitutions because it applied to members of the military but not to members of Congress. He also argued it added new consequences to a decision he had made before the rule was created.

A Superior Court upheld the denial of the payment, and the high court affirmed that decision.

The opinion, written by Chief Justice Dana Fabe, notes this isn't the first time the court has heard equal-protection challenges to dividend requirements.

The ruling refers to a prior case that set out the court's basis for decisions on the issue. The ruling found that Permanent Fund dividends "are not basic necessities or a fundamental right. Instead, a PFD is merely an economic interest and therefore is entitled only to minimum protection under our equal protection analysis."

Fabe wrote the application of the rule might seem harsh in the case of a lifelong Marine who, in the words of the lower court judge, had demonstrated his passion for retaining residency in Alaska.

But, quoting from a past case, she said, "the possible exclusion of one deserving recipient does not make the regulation unreasonable."

Since Ross isn't eligible for a dividend, his children aren't either, the ruling states.

Ross' attorney and father, Anchorage attorney Wayne Anthony Ross, said Brian Ross is currently stationed in Okinawa. He considers the state's denial of dividends for his son "terrible."

"It's a helluva way to treat a military (member) -- that's all I have to say," he said.

PDF: Read the Supreme Court decision
By BECKY BOHRER
Associated Press