Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Contracts
Ball v. Allstate Insurance Company
Allstate Insurance Company denied underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage to Nathan Ball for an accident involving his own vehicle after determining he was not an insured person under his then-fiancée’s parents’ Allstate automobile insurance policy. Ball contended that his fiancée was a “policyholder” for purposes of her parents’ policy, a necessary predicate to his argument for UIM coverage under the policy. But the policy declarations page did not list “policyholders,” it listed only “named insureds” and “drivers.” The superior court granted summary judgment on grounds that the policy language was not ambiguous because “policyholder” referred only to the parents, the “named insureds,” that the fiancée as only a listed driver, had no objectively reasonable expectation that she was a policyholder, and, therefore, that Allstate did not have a duty to provide Ball UIM coverage. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed “policyholder” encompassed only the named insureds, not listed drivers, and therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Ball v. Allstate Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Pederson v. Arctic Slope Regional Corporation
A corporate shareholder sought a shareholder list to mail proxy solicitations for an annual director election. The corporation required a signed confidentiality agreement in exchange for releasing the list. After obtaining and using the list, the shareholder later declared the agreement unenforceable, and refused to return or destroy the list. The corporation sued, seeking to that the shareholder had breached the confidentiality agreement and that the corporation was not obligated to provide the shareholder access to its confidential information for two years. After the superior court refused to continue trial or issue written rulings on the shareholder’s two pending summary judgment motions, the shareholder declined to participate in the trial. The court proceeded, ruled in favor of the corporation, and denied the shareholder’s subsequent disqualification motion. The shareholder appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the superior court did not err in determining the shareholder had materially breached a valid, enforceable contract and did not err or abuse its discretion in its pretrial decisions or in denying the post-trial disqualification motion. But because the declaratory relief granted by the superior court regarding the shareholder’s statutory right to seek corporate information no longer pertained to a live controversy, the Court vacated it as moot without considering the merits. View "Pederson v. Arctic Slope Regional Corporation" on Justia Law
Merdes & Merdes, P.C. v. Leisnoi, Inc.
An attorney represented a Native corporation in litigation nearly three decades ago. The corporation disputed the attorney’s claim for fees, and in 1995, after the attorney’s death, the superior court entered judgment on an arbitration award of nearly $800,000 to the attorney’s law firm, then represented by the attorney’s son. The corporation paid eight installments on the judgment, but eventually stopped paying, citing financial difficulties. The law firm sought a writ of execution for the unpaid balance, and the writ was granted. The corporation appealed but under threat of the writ paid $643,760 while the appeal was pending. In a 2013 opinion the Alaska Supreme Court held the writ invalid and required the firm to repay the $643,760. The corporation was never repaid. The original law firm moved its assets to a new firm and sought a stay of execution, averring that the original firm now lacked the funds necessary for repayment. The corporation sued the original firm, the successor firm, and the son for breach of contract, fraudulent conveyance, conspiracy to fraudulently convey assets, violations of the Unfair Trade Practices Act (UTPA), unjust enrichment, and punitive damages. The firm counterclaimed, seeking recovery in quantum meruit for attorney’s fees it claimed were still owing for its original representation. The superior court granted summary judgment for the corporation on the law firm’s quantum meruit claim and, following trial, found that the son and both law firms fraudulently conveyed assets and were liable for treble damages under the UTPA. The son and the law firms appealed, arguing the trial court erred by: (1) holding that the quantum meruit claim was barred by res judicata; (2) holding the defendants liable for fraudulent conveyance; (3) awarding damages under the UTPA; and (4) making mistakes in the form of judgment and award of costs. The Alaska Supreme Court found no reversible error with one exception. The Court remanded for reconsideration of whether all three defendants are liable for prejudgment interest from the same date. View "Merdes & Merdes, P.C. v. Leisnoi, Inc." on Justia Law
Bibi v. Elfrink
Mariam Bibi and Javed Raja married and later bought a home in Anchorage with loans from IndyMac Bank, F.S.B. (IndyMac). IndyMac’s loans were secured by deeds of trust on their home. The couple later received an additional loan of around $10,000 from Kevin Elfrink. Over the course of six years, the couple made irregular payments, increased the loan balance three times until it exceeded $25,000, and eventually defaulted. Elfrink initiated foreclosure proceedings and then bought the house at his own foreclosure sale by credit-bidding all money he asserted was due to him under the modified promissory note, satisfying the couple’s debt to him. Following the foreclosure, Elfrink filed a complaint against Bibi and Raja for forcible entry and detainer to remove them from the home. Bibi moved out of her home but filed a counterclaim for usury, quiet title and possession, and surplus proceeds from the foreclosure sale. Raja confessed judgment to his removal from the home. As the lawsuit proceeded, IndyMac initiated a foreclosure on its senior deed of trust and Elfrink bought the house for a second time at IndyMac’s foreclosure sale. The superior court ultimately denied Bibi’s usury claim, determining that Bibi had no standing, her claim was time barred, and in any event, the loan did not violate Alaska’s usury statute because the funding fee was not interest and the usury statute did not apply once the loan’s principal rose over $25,000. The superior court also denied Bibi’s claim for title, ruling that the foreclosure statutes gave Elfrink clear title. Bibi appealed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court held that: (1) Bibi has standing; (2) it was error for the superior court to deny Bibi’s usury claim because the funding fee was disguised interest and violated the usury statute, which applied to at least the initial period of the loan’s life; and (3) the superior court correctly denied Bibi’s claim for title and possession of her prior home because IndyMac’s foreclosure extinguished her claim to the property. View "Bibi v. Elfrink" on Justia Law
Comsult LLC v. Girdwood Mining Company
Girdwood Mining Company transferred stock and mineral royalty interests to Comsult LLC pursuant to a contract between the parties. Girdwood Mining later refused to perform its obligations with respect to the stock and royalty interests, arguing that the contract transferring the stock and royalty interests was illegal. The superior court ruled that because the contract was illegal, it would not grant relief to either party. Comsult appealed seeking enforcement of its stock and royalty interests. the Alaska Supreme Court held that Comsult’s stock and royalty interests and its rights to enforce them remained valid, and therefore reversed the superior court’s decision. View "Comsult LLC v. Girdwood Mining Company" on Justia Law
Daggett v. Feeney
This case involved a cancelled contract between Richard Feeney and Alaskan Wind Industries (AWI), a renewable energy contractor, for the sale and installation of a wind turbine on Feeney’s property in Homer. Feeney cancelled a contract to install a wind turbine on his property and sued AWI to recover his down payment. The contractor filed a counterclaim for breach of contract. The superior court concluded that the contractor was required to be licensed by the State and had misrepresented its licensing status. It also concluded that the contractor could not maintain the counterclaim because the contractor was unregistered. The court ordered the contract rescinded and the contractor to return the down payment less a setoff covering costs incurred in the transaction. The contractor failed to pay and the court amended the judgment to include the contractor’s individual owners and a successor company. The contractor’s individual owners appealed the licensing determination and the amended judgment. The property owner cross-appeals the setoff calculation. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that the court erred only in its setoff calculation. View "Daggett v. Feeney" on Justia Law
Alaska Fur Gallery, Inc. v. Hwang
Tok Hwang owned a lessee interest in, and related improvements on, a commercial lot (the leasehold) near the Denali National Park entrance. Hwang leased the lot from a third party for $20,000 annually. Hwang subleased the leasehold to Alaska Fur Gallery, Inc. in April 2012. The sublease (the lease) provided that Alaska Fur would pay $55,000 annual rent for a three-summer term. The disputed provision stated, in full: “Lease includes an option to purchase premises with lease amount to be applied to negotiated purchase price.” When the sublessee attempted to exercise the option the lessee declined to sell, claiming the option was unenforceable. The sublessee sued, seeking, among other things, to enforce the option provision. The superior court held that the provision was too uncertain to enforce either as an option or as an agreement to negotiate. The sublessee appealed; but finding no reversible error in the superior court’s decision, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Alaska Fur Gallery, Inc. v. Hwang" on Justia Law
Burton v. Fountainhead Development, Inc.
A tour company hired an Ronald Burton ("employee") to work the tourist season as one of its representatives at a Fairbanks hotel where he had worked seasonally in the past. During training, hotel management recalled that the employee had been difficult to work with. They told the tour company they did not want him working at their hotel and, in explaining their decision, made several unfounded statements about him. When the tour company was unable to place the employee at a different hotel because of his limited transportation, it terminated his employment. The employee sued the hotel for defamation and for tortious interference with his prospective business relationship with his employer. Following a bench trial the superior court rejected the tortious interference claim based on lack of causation but found that several of the hotel’s statements were defamatory per se, justifying an award of general damages but not special or punitive damages. The court also denied the employee’s motion to amend his complaint to add a new defamation claim based on events that arose mid-trial. The employee appealed. After its review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded: (1) the superior court did not abuse its discretion in denying the employee’s post-trial motion to amend his complaint; (2) the court did not clearly err in its application of a conditional business privilege or in its finding that the defamation did not cause the employee’s damages; and (3) the court did not clearly err in its award of damages. View "Burton v. Fountainhead Development, Inc." on Justia Law
Thomas v. Archer
A woman was admitted to a hospital emergency room with pregnancy-related complications. The attending physician recommended that she be transported by medivac to a different facility. The woman and her husband informed the physician that they needed their insurer’s preauthorization for that course of action or they could be personally liable for the costs. The physician allegedly promised to call the insurer and, if it would not approve the medivac, have the hospital bear the costs itself. But the physician failed to contact the insurer until much later, and the insurer declined coverage. The couple sued the physician and the hospital, alleging that the physician breached her fiduciary duty by failing to obtain preauthorization as promised; that her promise created an enforceable contract, which was breached; and that if there was no contract the physician’s promise should be enforced through the doctrine of promissory estoppel. The superior court granted summary judgment to the physician and hospital. The couple appealed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court held that the superior court did not err when it ruled in favor of the physician and hospital on the claims for breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract, but that genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment on the claim for promissory estoppel. The Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Thomas v. Archer" on Justia Law
Flint Hills Resources Alaska, LLC v. Williams Alaska Petroleum, Inc.
Williams Alaska Petroleum owned the North Pole refinery until 2004. Williams knew that the then-unregulated chemical sulfolane was present in refinery property groundwater, but it did not know that the sulfolane had migrated off the refinery property via underground water flow. Flint Hills Resources Alaska bought the North Pole refinery from Williams in 2004 pursuant to a contract that contained detailed terms regarding environmental liabilities, indemnification, and damages caps. Almost immediately the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation informed Flint Hills that sulfolane was to be a regulated chemical and that Flint Hills needed to find the source of the sulfolane in the groundwater. The Department contacted Flint Hills again in 2006. Flint Hills’s environmental contractor repeatedly warned Flint Hills that sulfolane could be leaving the refinery property and that more work was necessary to ascertain the extent of the problem. In 2008, Flint Hills drilled perimeter wells and discovered the sulfolane was migrating beyond its property and had contaminated drinking water in North Pole. A North Pole resident sued Flint Hills and Williams, and Flint Hills cross-claimed against Williams for indemnification. After extensive motion practice the superior court dismissed all of Flint Hills’s claims against Williams as time-barred. Flint Hills appealed. After review, the Supreme Court held that the superior court correctly applied the contract’s damages cap provision, but concluded that the court erred in finding Flint Hills’s contractual indemnification claims and part of its statutory claims were time-barred. The Court also affirmed the court’s dismissal of Flint Hills’s equitable claims. View "Flint Hills Resources Alaska, LLC v. Williams Alaska Petroleum, Inc." on Justia Law