Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court
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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

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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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In May 2009 Jesse Collens, then 21 years old, was permanently injured in a bicycle accident that left him a C-1 quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down, and dependent on a ventilator to breathe. In December 2009 he contracted with Maxim Healthcare Services, a national healthcare corporation with a home healthcare division, to provide his nursing care. In late 2011 issues arose between Collens and Maxim over the company’s management of his care. These issues escalated, and in early March 2012, Alaina Adkins, Maxim’s Alaska office manager, met with Collens to discuss his main concerns with Maxim’s services. The following business day, Adkins emailed various members of Maxim’s legal and administrative staff about one of the issues Collens had raised. Internal concerns surfaced about the legal compliance of the staff working with Collens. In an email responding to the report, Maxim’s area vice president wrote, “We are in dangerous territory right now with the liability of this case and we are going to have to seriously consider discharge.” Collens’s care plan was subject to routine recertification every 60 days; Maxim’s Alaska Director of Clinical Services visited Collens’s house to complete the review necessary for this recertification, noting “discharge is not warranted.” Concurrent to the recertification, Adkins requested Maxim’s legal department provide her a draft discharge letter for Collens. The draft letter stated the discharge had been discussed with Collens’s physician and care coordinator and that they agreed with the discharge decision. But in fact neither approved the discharge. The draft letter also included a space for names of other entities that could provide the care needed by the patient. Adkins noted in an email to the legal department, “We already know that there are no providers in our area that provide this type of service.” The discharge letter she eventually delivered to Collens filled in the blank with four agency names. Adkins delivered and read aloud the discharge letter at Collens’s home on March 30. Collens sued Maxim and Adkins for breach of contract, fraudulent misrepresentation, unfair and deceptive acts and practices under Alaska’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act (UTPA), and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). The superior court ruled for Collens on all his claims and entered a $20,379,727.96 judgment against Adkins and Maxim, which included attorney’s fees. Maxim and Adkins appealed, arguing that: (1) they were not liable under the UTPA; (2) the superior court erred in precluding their expert witnesses from testifying at trial; (3) the court’s damages award was excessive; and (4) the court’s attorney’s fee award was unreasonable. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed the superior court’s attorney’s fee award was unreasonable, but on all other issues it affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Maxim Healthcare Services, Inc. v. Collens" on Justia Law

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Two debtor limited liability companies (LLCs) executed security agreements in favor of two creditor LLCs, giving the creditor LLCs security interests in three airplanes. Disputes arose when the creditor LLCs, considering the debtor LLCs in default, took possession of two airplanes and removed and retained parts of a third airplane. After a bench trial the superior court entered judgment against the debtor LLCs and an individual associated with both of them. The debtor LLCs and the individual appealed, raising issues about default, seizure of collateral, and post-seizure notice; the individual also questioned the judgment against him personally. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s finding that failure to give Knik Aircraft Leasing notice of default prior to repossession of the Cessnas was harmless; the Court also affirmed the superior court’s interpretation of the text messages between Helmericks and the individual, Brett Crowley. The Court reversed the superior court’s decision that Northern Aviation’s failure to provide notice of disposition of the Cessnas was harmless. The Court vacated the superior court’s decisions about the repossession of the Mooney, its entry of judgment on the Mooney-secured loan, and its entry of judgment against Crowley in his individual capacity. The matter was thereafter remanded to the superior court for further proceedings. View "Crowley, et al. v Northern Aviation, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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In early 2016 Jet Commercial Construction, LLC (Jet), an Oklahoma corporation, entered into a contract with Kona Grill, Inc., for the construction of a restaurant in Honolulu, Hawaii. In May, Jet entered into a subcontract with SMJ General Construction, Inc. (SMJ), an Alaska corporation, “to supply the materials and labor for the construction of the building and other improvements.” When disputes arose, the parties engaged in mediation as their subcontract required, reaching a settlement agreement by which they each “absolutely release[d] the other of and from any and all claims, demands and obligations of any kind arising from [the subcontract].” The settlement agreement, unlike the subcontract, contained no dispute resolution provision. Two weeks after settlement the subcontractor filed suit against the contractor in Alaska superior court, seeking damages and an order setting aside the settlement agreement on grounds that the contractor had concealed facts that made it difficult for the subcontractor to obtain releases essential to the settlement. The contractor moved to dismiss, arguing that the subcontractor’s claims were subject to the subcontract’s dispute resolution provision. The superior court granted the contractor’s motion and awarded it attorney’s fees. The subcontractor appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the case should not have been dismissed because the parties, by the express language of their settlement agreement, released each other from “any and all” obligation to engage in dispute resolution as required by the subcontract. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "SMJ General Construction, Inc., v. Jet Commercial Construction, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case concerned the interpretation of Alaska’s usury statute and whether it provided for a maximum interest rate on contract or loan commitments in which the principal amount exceeds $25,000. William Cox argued the statute provided for a maximum interest rate of 10.5% on all loans in which the principal exceeds $25,000. The Estate of Steve Cooper and Dorothy Cooper (collectively “the Coopers”) argued that parties could contract for any interest rate if the principal of the contract or loan commitment exceeded $25,000. The superior court initially agreed with Cox that loans over $25,000 had a maximum legal interest rate of 10.5%, but the Coopers moved for reconsideration and provided the court with statutory history. This statutory history convinced the court that the Coopers were correct and that AS 45.45.010 did not limit the interest rate for contract or loan commitments over $25,000. Cox appealed, challenging the superior court’s decision to consider statutory history when ruling on the Coopers’ motion for reconsideration and the superior court’s decision to grant the Coopers reasonable attorney’s fees under Alaska Civil Rule 82. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's ruling in all respects. View "Cox v. Estate of Steve Cooper" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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