Articles Posted in Business Law

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Ronald Brooks was a director and one-third shareholder of W.B.H. Corp., a closely held Alaska corporation formed in 1991. The other two shareholder-directors were Joann Horner and Helen Warner. At the times relevant to this lawsuit, the corporation’s sole asset was a group of contiguous mining claims north of Fairbanks called Bittner Lode. Despite the parties’ agreement to share costs equally, Horner and Warner for a number of years paid Brooks’s share of the annual payments necessary to maintain the mineral leases. This case arose from a dispute over the sale of a corporate asset during the winding up of the corporation. Two of the shareholders successfully bid to purchase the asset; the other shareholder claims they failed to overcome their conflict of interest and prove that the transaction was just and reasonable as to the corporation. Following trial, the superior court found in favor of the interested shareholders, in large part because the disinterested shareholder had voted to approve the transaction with full knowledge of the material facts. The disinterested shareholder (Brooks) appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that the superior court did not clearly err in its findings of fact or err in its application of Alaska law and the corporation’s bylaws. View "Brooks v. Horner" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law

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The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board fined an uninsured employers Titan Enterprises, LLC, Titan Topsoil, Inc. and CCO Enterprises (collectively, "Titan," all owned by Todd Christanson) a substantial amount because they had operated for a significant period of time without carrying statutorily required workers’ compensation insurance. On appeal, the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed part of the Board’s decision, but it reversed the Board on the amount of the fine and remanded the case to the Board for further proceedings. The employer then asked the Commission for an award of attorney’s fees as a successful party on appeal. The State, Division of Workers’ Compensation, which had initiated the Board proceedings, opposed the award on the basis that it, too, had been successful on a significant issue. The Commission awarded the employer full fees of approximately $50,000. The Division petitioned for review of the fee award, and the Supreme Court granted review. Because the Commission failed to consider the Division’s partial success in the appeal, it reversed the Commission’s decision and remanded for further proceedings. View "Alaska Div. of Workers' Comp. v. Titan Enterprises, LLC" on Justia Law

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Williams Alaska Petroleum owned and operated a refinery, which ConocoPhillips Alaska supplied with crude oil. ConocoPhillips demanded that Williams tender a payment of $31 million as adequate assurances of Williams’s ability to perform if an ongoing administrative rate-making process resulted in a large retroactive increase in payments that Williams would owe ConocoPhillips under the Exchange Agreement. ConocoPhillips offered to credit Williams with a certain rate of interest on that principal payment against a future retroactive invoice. Williams transferred the principal of $31 million but demanded, among other terms, credit corresponding to a higher rate of interest. Williams stated that acceptance and retention of the funds would constitute acceptance of all of its terms. ConocoPhillips received and retained the funds, rejecting only one particular term in Williams’s latest offer but remaining silent as to which rate of interest would apply. Years later, after the conclusion of the regulatory process, ConocoPhillips invoiced Williams retroactively pursuant to their agreement. ConocoPhillips credited Williams for the $31 million principal already paid as well as $5 million in interest calculated using the lower of the two interest rates. Williams sued ConocoPhillips, arguing that a contract had been formed for the higher rate of interest and that it was therefore owed a credit for $10 million in interest on the $31 million principal. The superior court initially ruled for Williams, concluding that a contract for the higher rate of interest had formed under the Uniform Commercial Code when ConocoPhillips retained the $31 million while rejecting one offered term but voiced no objection to Williams’s specified interest term. On reconsideration, the superior court again ruled for Williams, this time determining that a contract for the higher rate of interest had formed based on the behavior of the parties after negotiation under the UCC, or, in the alternative, that Williams was entitled to a credit for a different, third rate of interest in quantum meruit. The superior court also ruled in favor of Williams on all issues related to attorney’s fees and court costs. ConocoPhillips and Williams both appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the superior court was right the first time and that the parties entered into a contract for the higher rate of interest under the UCC.View "ConocoPhillips Alaska, Inc. v. Williams Alaska Petroleum, Inc." on Justia Law

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When Appellant Todd Christianson was sued by a former employee for severe personal injuries suffered while working for appellant's landscaping business, appellant tendered his defense to his general liability insurer. It did not accept his tender - instead, it sent him a letter that told him he should defend himself, noting an exclusion for claims of employees. Appellant then began to incur defense expenses. No insurer on the policies obtained by appellant's insurance broker, Conrad-Houston Insurance (CHI), ever defended him in the lawsuit. Nearly four years after receiving the insurer’s letter, appellant sued CHI for malpractice. After conducting an evidentiary hearing, the superior court applied the discovery rule and dismissed the malpractice lawsuit because it was filed after the applicable three-year statute of limitations had run. The superior court ruled that because the insurer’s letter put appellant on notice he might have a claim against CHI, the statute of limitations had begun to run more than three years before appellant sued CHI. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court.View "Christianson v. Conrad-Houston Insurance" on Justia Law

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A shareholder of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation sought to exercise his statutory right to inspect books and records of account and minutes of board and committee meetings relating to executive compensation and an alleged transfer of equity in corporate subsidiaries to executives. The Corporation claimed that the materials were confidential and sought to negotiate a confidentiality agreement prior to release of any documents. When the shareholder ultimately rejected the proposed confidentiality agreement, the Corporation released to the shareholder only the annual reports and proxy statements of the Corporation and the minutes describing the subjects discussed and actions taken at the meetings. The shareholder did not receive the detailed, individualized compensation information he sought. The shareholder sued, claiming that the Corporation withheld information that statutorily it was required to release, and that the Corporation improperly insisted on a confidentiality agreement prior to releasing any of the requested documents. The superior court ruled that electronically maintained accounting records were not within the statutory category of "books and records of account"; that the Corporation satisfied the requirement to disclose "books and records of account" when it disclosed only annual reports and proxy statements; and that the Corporation satisfied the requirement to disclose meeting minutes. Furthermore, the court concluded that the Corporation could demand a confidentiality agreement prior to release of any information, and that the terms of the particular confidentiality agreement offered in this case were reasonable. The shareholder appealed, arguing that the statutory right of inspection encompasses more than what the Corporation provided and that the Corporation had no right to demand the confidentiality agreement in this case. This appeal presented several issues of first impression in Alaska. Upon review, the Supreme Court held: (1) the statutory phrase "books and records of account" includes electronically maintained books and records of account; (2) the statutory phrase also goes beyond mere annual reports and proxy statements; and (3) the statutory phrase at least encompasses monthly financial statements, records of receipts, disbursements and payments, accounting ledgers, and other financial accounting documents, including records of individual executive compensation and transfers of corporate assets or interests to executives; (4) the statutory category "minutes" does not encompass all presentations or reports made to the board but rather merely requires a record of the items addressed and actions taken at the meeting, as have been faithfully recorded after the meeting; and (5) a corporation may request a confidentiality agreement as a prerequisite to distributing otherwise-inspectable documents provided that the agreement reasonably defines the scope of confidential information subject to the agreement and contains confidentiality provisions that are not unreasonably restrictive in light of the shareholder's proper purpose and the corporation's legitimate confidentiality concerns. The Court found that the Corporation's proffered confidentiality agreement in this case was not sufficiently tailored or limited in scope and thus the shareholder's refusal to sign it could not serve as a legal basis for avoiding liability for denying his inspection claims. View "Pederson v. Arctic Slope Regional Corp." on Justia Law

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Claire Donahue broke her tibia during a class at the Alaska Rock Gym after she dropped approximately three to four-and-a-half feet from a wall onto the floormat. Before class, Donahue had been required to read and sign a document that purported to release the Rock Gym from any liability for participants’ injuries. Donahue brought claims against the Rock Gym for negligence and violations of the Uniform Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act (UTPA). The Rock Gym moved for summary judgment, contending that the release barred the negligence claim. It also moved to dismiss the UTPA claims on grounds that the act did not apply to personal injury claims and that Donahue failed to state a prima facie case for relief under the act. Donahue cross-moved for partial summary judgment on the enforceability of the release as well as the merits of her UTPA claims. The superior court granted the Rock Gym’s motion and denied Donahue’s, then awarded attorney’s fees to the Rock Gym under Alaska Civil Rule 82. Donahue appealed the grant of summary judgment to the Rock Gym; the Rock Gym also appeals, contending that the superior court should have awarded fees under Alaska Civil Rule 68 instead of Rule 82. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court on all issues. View "Donahue v. Ledgends, Inc." on Justia Law

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Schlumberger Limited conducts its business in Alaska through a wholly owned subsidiary, Schlumberger Technology Corporation. Schlumberger Technology's primary business is oilfield services, but it also owns all of Schlumberger Limited's associated companies incorporated in the United States and operates all of Schlumberger Limited’s domestic businesses. Schlumberger Technology files a consolidated federal tax return for all of Schlumberger Limited’s domestic subsidiaries. For tax years 1998-2000, Schlumberger Technology filed Alaska corporate income tax returns that included only the domestic subsidiaries working in the oilfield services business. In September 2003, a Department of Revenue auditor concluded that Schlumberger Limited was engaged in a unitary business with Schlumberger Technology. Based on these conclusions, the Department issued a notice of assessment for additional corporate income taxes of $429,739 plus interest. Schlumberger Technology argued on appeal of the assessment that under the Internal Revenue Code, domestic corporations were taxed on their worldwide income, but entitled to claim a tax credit against their United States income tax liability for taxes paid to foreign countries. Foreign corporations, on the other hand, are taxed differently. The issue this case presented to the Supreme Court centered on the application of Alaska's Net Income Tax Act (ANITA). ANITA incorporates certain provisions of the Internal Revenue Code, unless the federal provisions are "excepted to or modified by other provisions" of the act. ANITA required a corporation to report its income and the income of certain affiliates and to exclude "80 percent of dividend income received from foreign corporations." The Internal Revenue Code had a different formula; it required a foreign corporation to report only income "effectively connected with the conduct of a trade or business within the United States." Schlumberger Technology argued that since ANITA has no explicit exception for Internal Revenue Code (section 882), this sourcing rule was incorporated by reference. Thus, Schlumberger Technology argued that the foreign dividends paid to Schlumberger Limited should not have been included in its taxable income under ANITA. In response, the State argued that the provisions of ANITA applied to all business income of the taxpayer, not just income derived from sources in the United States. Upon review of the matter, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that the Internal Revenue Code provision in question here was not adopted by reference because it was inconsistent with the formula provided by ANITA. The Court affirmed the decision of the Department of Revenue. View "Schlumberger Technology Corp. v. Alaska Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law

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A mining company contracted with a consultant to help the company obtain new capital investments. The company later brought suit against the consultant, seeking a declaratory judgment that the contract violated Alaska securities law. The company also sought equitable rescission of the contract and cancellation of shares of stock and royalty interests granted under the contract. The superior court granted summary judgment to the consultant on two grounds: (1) the company’s suit was barred as a matter of law by AS 45.55.930(g); and (2) the company’s suit was barred as a matter of law by res judicata in light of a prior suit instituted by the consultant against the company in which the company did not raise its present claims defensively. Upon review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment on both grounds, finding questions of fact still existed. View "Girdwood Mining Company v. Comsult LLC" on Justia Law

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A state agency issued a request for proposals for legal services. A law firm delivered its proposal after the submission deadline, but the procurement officer accepted the proposal and forwarded it to the evaluation committee. After the agency issued a notice of intent to award that law firm the contract, a second law firm protested, alleging that the evaluation committee made scoring errors and that consideration of the late-filed proposal was barred by a relevant regulation and the request for proposals. The procurement officer sustained the protest, rescinded the original award, and awarded the second law firm the contract. The first law firm then protested, claiming: (1) the second law firm’s protest should not have been considered because it was filed after the protest deadline; (2) the first law firm’s proposal was properly accepted because the delay in submission was immaterial; and (3) the second law firm’s proposal was nonresponsive because that firm lacked a certificate of authority to transact business in Alaska. The procurement officer rejected that protest and the first law firm filed an administrative appeal. The administrative agency denied the appeal, and the first law firm appealed the agency decision to the superior court, which affirmed the administrative agency ruling. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the administrative agency acted reasonably in accepting the second law firm’s late-filed protest and deeming that firm’s proposal responsive notwithstanding its lack of a certificate of authority. Furthermore, the Court concluded the agency’s interpretation that its regulation barred acceptance of the first firm’s late-filed proposal is reasonable and consistent with statute. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s decision upholding the final agency decision. View "Davis Wright Tremaine LLP v. Alaska, Dept. of Administration" on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, the issue before the Supreme Court concerned the attorney’s fees and costs awarded in the 2006 Trans-Alaska Pipeline System tax assessment case. The superior court decided that the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the City of Valdez, and the North Slope Borough were prevailing parties for purposes of attorney’s fees and costs because they had prevailed on the main issues of the case. The superior court also applied the enhancement factors to raise the presumptive award from 30 percent to 45 percent of the prevailing parties’ reasonable attorney’s fees. The owners of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System appealed, arguing the superior court should have applied Alaska Appellate Rule 508 instead of Civil Rules 79 and 82. In the alternative, they contended: (1) that the three municipalities did not prevail as against the owners; (2) that fees should have been allocated between separate appeals; (3) that none of the prevailing parties were entitled to enhanced attorney’s fees; and (4) that the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s award should have been reduced as recommended by a special master. The Fairbanks North Star Borough and the City of Valdez cross-appealed, arguing that the superior court should have viewed this case as one involving a money judgment for purposes of an attorney’s fees award under Rule 82(b)(1) and, in the alternative, that they were entitled to a greater enhancement of their fees. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "BP Pipelines (Alaska) Inc. v. Alaska, Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law