Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Construction Law
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In August 2013 the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT) entered into a contract with Osborne Construction Company to upgrade the Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting building at the Fairbanks International Airport to withstand damage in the event of an earthquake. The DOT appealed a superior court decision reversing the agency's decision in an administrative appeal. The agency denied a contractor’s claim for additional compensation because the claim was filed outside the filing period allowed by the contract. After applying its independent judgment to interpret the contract, the Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the DOT that the contractor failed to file its claim within the period allowed. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the superior court’s decision and reinstated the agency’s. View "Alaska, Dept. of Transportation & Public Facilities v. Osborne Construction Co." on Justia Law

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A construction contractor’s employees were injured on the job and received workers’ compensation benefits from their employer. The workers later brought a negligence suit against three other corporations: the one that had entered into the construction contract with their employer, that corporation’s parent corporation, and an affiliated corporation that operated the facility under construction. The three corporations moved for summary judgment, arguing that all three were “project owners” potentially liable for the payment of workers’ compensation benefits and therefore were protected from liability under the exclusive liability provision of the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act. The superior court granted the motion, rejecting the workers’ argument that status as a “project owner” was limited to a corporation that had a contractual relationship with their employer. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded a project owner, for purposes of the Act, "must be someone who actually contracts with a person to perform specific work and enjoys the beneficial use of that work." Furthermore, the Court found the workers raised issues of material fact about which of the three corporate defendants satisfied this definition. Judgment was therefore reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Lovely, et al. v Baker Hughes, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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An insolvent subcontractor failed to pay its sub-subcontractor, and the sub-subcontractor sought payment directly from the general contractor through arbitration. The general contractor declined to participate. The arbitrator awarded damages to the sub-subcontractor, who filed an action to confirm the award with the superior court. The sub-subcontractor also brought a negligence claim, contending that the general contractor knew of its subcontractor's financial instability and negligently failed to ensure that the sub-subcontractor would be paid. The superior court granted summary judgment to the general contractor on both the enforceability of the arbitration award and the viability of the negligence claim. The sub-subcontractor then appealed. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the superior court correctly decided that whether the general contractor effectively exercised its contractual right to decline arbitration is an issue of arbitrability, and that the general contractor had no extra-contractual duty in tort to guarantee its subcontractor's payment obligations. View "GeoTek Alaska, Inc., v. Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Construction Law
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The issue on appeal before the Supreme Court concerned a contract dispute between Appellant North Pacific Erectors, Inc. and the Alaska Department of Administration. North Pacific and the Department contracted for a renovation and asbestos removal project in a State office building. After work began, North Pacific requested additional payment for the asbestos removal, claiming there was a differing site condition that made the project more labor-intensive than it had expected. The Department denied the differing site condition claim, and North Pacific filed an administrative appeal. A hearing officer recommended that North Pacific was entitled to additional compensation. But the hearing officer's recommendation was rejected, and a final agency decision was issued denying North Pacific's claim for additional compensation. North Pacific challenged the agency decision in superior court, arguing that the agency decision was procedurally flawed and incorrectly resolved the contract issues. The superior court affirmed the agency decision. North Pacific appealed. The Supreme Court concluded that even if North Pacific could prevail on its differing site condition claim or its procedural claims, its failure to comply with express provisions of the contract would have barred recovery. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court's decision affirming the agency decision. View "North Pacific Erectors, Inc v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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Appellant Ryan Nelson agreed to perform an errand for his employer, a subcontractor, on the Appellant's day off. While on in the errand, the Appellant was injured at the job site. His employer filed a "notice of controversion" on the basis that Appellant was intoxicated at the time of the injury and his injuries were proximately caused by his intoxication. Appellant sued the general contractor and the Municipality of Anchorage (the owner of the job site) for negligence. The defendants asked the superior court to dismiss the action under the exclusive remedy provision of the Alaska Workers' Compensation Act. The superior court granted summary judgment to the general contractor and the Municipality. Appellant appeals, arguing that lack of a workers' compensation remedy permits him to bring a common law negligence action or, alternatively, that the exclusivity provision of the Alaska Workers' Compensation Act denied him due process. He also argued as a matter of statutory construction, that the Municipality could not be a project owner. Because the worker has not shown that the employer’s controversion of benefits left him to his common law remedies, the Supreme Court determined Appellant's statutory construction and constitutional claims were not ripe. The Court also held that the Municipality could be a project owner. View "Nelson v. Municipality of Anchorage" on Justia Law

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This case arose from an award by Golden Valley Electric Association (GVEA) of two competitively bid construction contracts on its Northern Intertie Project. In November 2001 GVEA awarded Global Power & Communications, LLC (Global) a $39.4 million contract (Contract NI-8) for construction of the Northern Intertie’s Tanana River flats section. Later GVEA awarded Global an approximately $5.3 million contract (Contract NI-9) for construction of the Northern Intertie’s Tanana River crossing and Fairbanks sections. Subsequently, after Global had been awarded NI-9 and before it had completed work on NI-8, Global presented GVEA with requests for additional compensation (RFIs) totaling approximately $2.4 million in connection with NI-8. GVEA responded that it found "no legitimate basis" to justify Global’s RFIs and rejected Global’s request for additional payment. Global also notified GVEA that Global would submit more RFIs, arising out of both NI-8 and NI-9. In all, Global sought additional compensation totaling $5.7 million under the two contracts. GVEA responded to Global denying most of the RFIs but indicated that it would approve a few and consider partial payment for a few others. Global sued, and a trial court ultimately held in GVEA's favor, awarding it costs under both the contract and the applicable state law. Global appealed, arguing among other things, the trial court abused its discretion in ruling in favor of GVEA. Upon review of the lengthy record from the trial court, the applicable legal authority and legislative history, and the two contracts in question, the Supreme Court partly affirmed and partly vacated the trial court's decision. The case was remanded for: (1) a fee determination regarding GVEA’s "UTPA" claim against Global and (2) a new trial on causation and damages relating to GVEA’s breach of NI-9. View "ASRC Energy Services Power v. Golden Valley Electric" on Justia Law

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A construction company solicited a bid from a subcontractor to perform concrete work. The construction company provided a plan and bid schedule. The subcontractor responded with a proposal, which the construction company accepted. The subcontractor carried out the subcontract as it understood the terms. After the work was completed, the subcontractor discovered it had inadvertently underbid on the project. In the ensuing lawsuit, the superior court granted partial summary judgment to the construction company with respect to all damages claimed in relation to the bidding error. The subcontractor appealed the partial summary judgment order, claiming breach of an implied warranty that the plans and specifications would be sufficient, and arguing that the superior court erred by applying the theory of unilateral mistake to the case. Because the construction company did not breach the implied warranty and the subcontractor committed a unilateral mistake for which it bore the risk, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Handle Construction Co., Inc. v. Norcon, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellant Shabd-Sangeet Khalsa bought a home kit from Mandala Custom Homes in 2003. The house was assembled and Appellant moved in. Shortly thereafter, the house developed various problems. Appellant climbed a ladder to inspect a leak in the ceiling and fell, injuring herself. Appellant sued Mandala and other parties in 2006, alleging that the house was defective and that the defects in the home caused a host of other damages, including those related to her fall. The superior court set a discovery schedule. When discovery did not proceed smoothly, the court ordered Appellant to sign medical releases, present herself for deposition, and submit to medical testing, cautioning her that if she did not comply with discovery orders, the court would impose sanctions against her. When Appellant refused to sign the medical release forms, the court found her in contempt and dismissed her fall-related claims. Proceeding with Appellant's other claims, the court turned to Appellant's deposition which had been delayed multiple times. The superior court concluded that Appellant's conduct when she eventually did appear constituted a willful refusal to comply with its orders. The court then dismissed Appellant's entire case with prejudice. Appellant argued on appeal that the trial court abused its discretion. Finding no abuse, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's dismissal. View "Khalsa v. Chose" on Justia Law

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In 2006, Appellant Yvan Safar contracted with developer Per Bjorn-Roli to construct a 12-unit condominium project. Appellee Wells Fargo agreed to finance the project. By early 2007, the developer paid Appellant the entire amount of his contract, and Wells Fargo disbursed the entire loan, but the units were not complete. Appellant allegedly used his own funds to meet his payroll needs on the project. The project overran its budget, and Wells Fargo had to foreclose. Appellant contended that the bank promised to reimburse him for monies he spent in contemplating the completion of the project. After trial, the superior court found that Wells Fargo made no enforceable promise to Appellant to reimburse him. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the bank did not make any promise or commitment to Appellant sufficient to meet the "actual promise" element of promissory estoppel. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the lower court's dismissal of Appellant's case. View "Safar v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law