Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Contracts
Guy v. Providence Health & Services Washington
A patient sued a hospital after learning that a hospital employee intentionally disclosed the patient’s health information in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The patient alleged the disclosure breached the hospital’s contractual obligations to him. The superior court instructed the jury to return a verdict for the hospital if the jury found that the employee was not acting in the course and scope of employment when she disclosed the patient’s information. The jury so found, leading to judgment in the hospital’s favor. The Alaska Supreme Court found the jury instruction erroneously applied the rule of vicarious liability to excuse liability for breach of contract. "A party that breaches its contractual obligations is liable for breach regardless of whether the breach is caused by an employee acting outside the scope of employment, unless the terms of the contract excuse liability for that reason." The Court therefore reversed judgment and remanded for further proceedings, in particular to determine whether a contract existed between the patient and hospital and, if so, the contract’s terms governing patient health information. View "Guy v. Providence Health & Services Washington" on Justia Law
Gavora, Inc. v. City of Fairbanks
Gavora, Inc., a real estate company, acquired an existing long-term lease with a purchase option for a municipality-owned property. Dry-cleaning businesses operating on the property contaminated the groundwater both prior to and during the real estate company’s involvement. The municipality knew about, but did not disclose, groundwater contamination at nearby sites when the real estate company ultimately purchased the property. A state agency later notified Gavora and the municipality of their potential responsibility for environmental remediation. Gavora sued the municipality in federal district court; the federal court determined that the parties were jointly and severally liable for the contamination, and apportioned remediation costs. Gavora also sued the municipality in state court for indemnity and further monetary damages, alleging that the municipality had misrepresented the property’s environmental status during purchase negotiations. The superior court ruled in the municipality’s favor, finding the municipality did not actively deceive Gavora; Gavora had reason to know of the contamination; and all physical harm occurred before the sale. Gavora challenged all three findings. Finding no error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Gavora, Inc. v. City of Fairbanks" on Justia Law
In the Matter of the Estate of Alexina Rodman
After a woman died and left a will disposing of several parcels of real property and two trailers, her ex-husband — with whom she had maintained a romantic relationship following divorce — filed claims against the woman’s estate for those properties. He contended the decedent had transferred title to three of those parcels to him. He also claimed that they made an agreement about two parcels and the trailer that sat on them: he and the decedent would live there until their deaths, after which the properties would be sold and the proceeds given solely to their great-grandchild. The estate rejected these claims, invoking the statute of frauds. The superior court ruled in favor of the estate, finding that the ex-husband failed to prove the existence of contracts satisfying the statute of frauds and rejecting his alternative claims for restitution. On appeal, the ex-husband argued the proceedings were marred by procedural flaws, and challenged the superior court’s decision on the merits. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court largely affirmed the superior court’s decision, but remanded for further proceedings on the restitution claim involving one parcel. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Alexina Rodman" on Justia Law
Resqsoft, Inc. v. Protech Solutions, Inc.
The superior court dismissed a subcontractor’s claims against the contractor because a venue provision in the subcontract required that litigation be conducted in another state. The superior court also dismissed the subcontractor’s unjust enrichment claim against the project owner for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The subcontractor appealed the dismissals; finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decisions. View "Resqsoft, Inc. v. Protech Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law
Downing v. Country Life Insurance Company
In October 2015, Amy Downing purchased a life insurance policy from Country Life Insurance Company. She purchased both an “executive whole life” policy that would pay a flat amount of $500,000 to her beneficiaries upon her death and a “Paid-Up Additions Rider” (PUAR) that provided an additional death benefit and an investment opportunity. Although Amy's father Tom worked for Country, another employee, Robert Sullivan, met with Amy and Tom to describe the terms of the policy. Amy asked Sullivan why she needed one and a half million dollars in insurance coverage because it was a larger benefit than she expected to need and it required higher yearly premiums. Sullivan explained that although she might not need the large death benefit, the structure of the PUAR provided an investment opportunity because it maximized the policy’s cash value. Sullivan later testified that he never represented to Amy that the death benefit associated with the PUAR was a flat amount. After paying the premiums for a year, Amy informed her parents that she intended to abandon the policy and withdraw its existing cash value. Her mother Kathleen decided to look into the policy as an investment. Kathleen decided to take over payment of the premiums on Amy’s life insurance policy, including the PUAR, as an investment. With Tom’s assistance, Amy assigned her policy to Kathleen. Four months later, on January 27, 2017, Amy died in an accident. Her death occurred in the second year of her policy coverage. Country paid the death benefit of $500,000 on Amy’s whole life policy. Country also paid $108,855 on Amy’s PUAR. Kathleen sued, alleging that she was entitled to $1,095,741 on Amy’s PUAR, minus the $108,855 already paid. Judgment was rendered in favor of Country, and Kathleen appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the superior court did not err in its interpretation of the insurance policy at issue, and affirmed the decision. View "Downing v. Country Life Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Beardsley v. Jacobsen
Two business owners executed a series of transactions to sell a regional airline business. Within two years of the sale, one of the buyer-controlled business entities declared bankruptcy, and the seller commenced litigation to resolve disputes over their agreements. The parties settled before trial. But another buyer-controlled entity later defaulted and declared bankruptcy, and the seller reinitiated litigation. The issue presented to the Alaska Supreme Court was the extent to which the buyers personally guaranteed the obligations of the second bankrupt entity. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of the seller and held the buyers personally liable for those obligations. The Supreme Court held that whether the parties intended the buyers to personally guarantee the bankrupt entity’s obligations was a disputed material fact, making the issue inappropriate for summary judgment. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Beardsley v. Jacobsen" on Justia Law
Bachner Company, Inc. v. Alaska Department of Administration
The Bachner Company leased office space to the State of Alaska. The lease stipulated that the State would occupy 15,730 square feet of space but would not have to pay rent on 1,400 square feet of that space during the lease’s initial ten-year term. The lease further specified that if it was extended beyond the initial term the parties would negotiate a rate for the free space and the State would pay for it. Toward the end of the initial term the State exercised its first renewal option and opened negotiations with the company over the free space’s value. The parties retained an expert to value the space, but the State questioned his methods and conclusions. The State also resisted the company’s claim that the State should begin paying rent for additional space, not identified in the lease, that the company contended the State had been occupying. The parties failed to reach agreement, and the State did not pay rent for any of the extra square footage. Eventually the State executed a unilateral amendment to the lease based on the expert’s valuation and, ten months after the end of the lease’s initial term, paid all past-due rent for the formerly free space identified in the lease. The company filed a claim with the Department of Administration, contending that the State had materially breached the lease, the lease was terminated, and the State owed additional rent. A contracting officer rejected the claim, and on appeal an administrative law judge found there was no material breach, the lease had been properly extended, and the company had waived any claim regarding space not identified in the lease. The Commissioner of the Department of Administration adopted the administrative law judge’s findings and conclusions. The superior court affirmed the Commissioner’s decision except with regard to the space not identified in the lease; it directed the company to pursue any such claim in a separate action. Both parties appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the administrative law judge's findings were supported by substantial evidence, and because the lease did not terminate under the Supreme Court's interpretation of it, the Court affirmed the Commissioner's decision except with regard to the company's claim to rent for space not identified in the lease. The Court concluded that, to the extent it sought rent after the end of the initial term, it was not waived by the document on which the administrative law judge relied to find waiver. Only that issue was remanded to the Commissioner for further consideration. View "Bachner Company, Inc. v. Alaska Department of Administration" on Justia Law
Kenneth P. Jacobus, P.C. v. Kalenka
After a conflict of interest between an attorney and a long-time client arose during settlement negotiations, the attorney filed a confidential motion with the superior court criticizing his client. The client discharged the attorney and hired new counsel. But the attorney continued to control the settlement funds and disbursed himself his fee, even though the amount was disputed by the client. The court found that the attorney’s actions had violated the rules of professional conduct and ordered forfeiture of most of his attorney’s fees. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court. View "Kenneth P. Jacobus, P.C. v. Kalenka" on Justia Law
Alaska, Dept. of Transportation & Public Facilities v. Osborne Construction Co.
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
Lovely, et al. v Baker Hughes, Inc., et al.
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