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Skudrzyk v. University of Alaska (7/23/93), 856 P 2d 462
Notice: This is subject to formal correction before
publication in the Pacific Reporter. Readers are
requested to bring typographical or other formal errors
to the attention of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts,
303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501, in order that
corrections may be made prior to permanent publication.
THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA
FRANK J. SKUDRZYK, )
) Supreme Court No. S-4465
) Trial Court No.
v. ) 4FA-90-1150 Civil
MS. JANICE REYNOLDS, MR. ) O P I N I O N
PATRICK O'ROURKE, MR. DONALD )
O'DOWD, UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA, )
and Mr. Gordon E. Evans, Mr. )
Robert F. Williams, Ms. Susan )
A. Stitham, Mr. Mark H. )
Helmericks, Ms. Virginia W. )
Breeze, Ms. Ruth E. Burnett, )
Mr. Eric Forrer, Mr. Roy M. )
Huhndors, Ms. Ann T. Parrish, )
Mr. Morris Thompson, Mr. Jack )
VanHatten, REGENTS OF THE )
UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA, in )
their Official Capacity, )
Appellees. ) [No. 3983 - July 23, 1993]
Appeal from the Superior Court of the
State of Alaska, Fourth Judicial District,
Jay Hodges, Judge.
Appearances: James M. Hackett,
Fairbanks, for Appellant. Paul H. Cragan,
Hughes, Thorsness, Gantz, Powell & Brundin,
Fairbanks, for Appellees.
Before: Moore, Chief Justice,
Rabinowitz, Burke, Matthews and Compton,
Frank Skudrzyk filed suit against the University of
Alaska, challenging its denial of his tenure application almost
thirteen months before. The superior court ruled that Skudrzyk's
suit was an administrative appeal and refused to relax the Alaska
Appellate Rule 602(a)(2) limitations period.1 We reverse.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Skudrzyk began employment as full professor in the
School of Mineral Industry (later renamed the School of Mineral
Engineering) at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF), in
1982. He received a series of one-year reappointments from 1983
until 1988. On each of these reappointments he held the rank of
full professor in a tenure-track position.
The underlying dispute in this case centers on
Skudrzyk's unsuccessful application for tenure and its aftermath.
Skudrzyk applied for tenure in September 1988. On March 29,
1989, UAF Chancellor O'Rourke denied Skudrzyk tenure. Skudrzyk
then appealed this decision to University President O'Dowd. In
his letter to O'Dowd, Skudrzyk complained that "substantial
unfairness took place in my tenure review process."
President O'Dowd replied on June 13, 1989. His letter
briefly restated Skudrzyk's concerns, then reported that in spite
of a "thorough review"he had not found "sufficient evidence"to
support Skudrzyk's charges. He therefore denied Skudrzyk's
appeal for a reversal of the tenure decision. O'Dowd's letter
neither advised Skudrzyk that this was the final decision in his
tenure review process nor informed him that any appeal of the
decision would have to be made within thirty days in order to be
On May 9, 1989, Skudrzyk signed a terminal one-year
contract with UAF. During that last year, he sought review of
his denial of tenure from the newly-constituted Faculty Appeals
Committee and from the Board of Regents. Both attempts were
unsuccessful. Skudrzyk's employment with UAF ended on June 30,
1990. On July 6, 1990, Skudrzyk filed this suit.
UAF moved to convert Skudrzyk's suit into an
administrative appeal. The University argued that President
O'Dowd's letter was the final determination in Skudrzyk's tenure
review, with the result that his suit was untimely under
Appellate Rule 602(a)(2). The superior court granted UAF's
motion. Skudrzyk then appealed to this court.
In the proceedings below Skudrzyk argued that even if
the Rule 602 deadline applied, the court should use its
discretion under Alaska Appellate Rule 521 and dispense with or
relax the deadline.2 The superior court declined to exercise its
We have recently held that "[f]or Appellate Rule
602(a)(2) to apply, an agency must clearly indicate that its
decision is a final order and that the claimant has thirty days
to appeal." Manning v. Alaska Railroad, ___ P.2d ___, Op. No.
3968 (Alaska, June 11, 1993). As we noted in Manning, where an
administrative agency's decision is communicated in a letter that
fails to do either of these things, it is an abuse of discretion
not to relax Rule 602(a)(2)'s thirty-day appeal deadline. Id. at
President O'Dowd's letter to Skudrzyk neither indicated
that his decision was the final order in Skudrzyk's tenure review
nor advised Skudrzyk that he had thirty days to appeal. This
case therefore falls squarely within the scope of the Manning
Accordingly, the superior court's order is VACATED and
this case is REMANDED to the superior court for further
1 Alaska Appellate Rule 602(a)(2) provides:
An appeal may be taken to the
superior court from an administrative agency
within 30 days from the date that the
decision appealed from is mailed or otherwise
distributed to the appellant. If a request
for agency reconsideration is timely filed
before the agency, the notice of appeal must
be filed within 30 days after the date the
agency's reconsideration decision is mailed
or otherwise distributed to the appellant, or
after the date the request for
reconsideration is deemed denied under agency
regulations, whichever is earlier.
2 Alaska Appellate Rule 521 provides:
These rules are designed to
facilitate business and advance justice.
They may be relaxed or dispensed with by the
appellate courts where a strict adherence to
them will work surprise or injustice.
3 We review the denial of an Alaska Appellate Rule 521
motion to relax the thirty-day time limit of Rule 602(a)(2) under
the abuse of discretion standard. Anderson v. State, Commercial
Fisheries Entry Comm'n, 654 P.2d 1320, 1322 (Alaska 1982).