Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the appraisal panel’s valuation of Calais Company, Inc. (a closely held corporation), but reversed the superior court’s denial of shareholder Deborah Ivy’s request for post-judgment interest. Ivy sued Calais in 2007 seeking dissolution of the company. The parties settled, and Calais agreed to buy out Ivy’s shares of the company based on a valuation of Calais conducted by a three-member appraisal panel. The appraisers returned an initial valuation in 2009. The superior court approved that valuation, but Calais appealed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, concluding that the appraisers had failed to understand their contractually assigned duty. The appraisal panel returned a second valuation in October 2014, which the superior court again approved. Ivy appealed again, arguing: (1) that on remand the superior court improperly instructed the appraisers; (2) that the appraisers made substantive errors in their valuation; and (3) that she was entitled to post-judgment interest. View "Ivy v. Calais Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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Recreational Data Services, Inc. (RDS) attempted to develop and market a smartphone that would come preloaded with outdoor-oriented software. RDS pursued a partnership to advance the project with Trimble Navigation Limited, through one of its divisions, Trimble Mobile Computing Services (Trimble Mobile), and Remington Arms Company. Remington withdrew from the project after about two years of research and review. Several months later Trimble Mobile left the project shortly before a different Trimble division, Trimble Outdoors, launched a similar product. RDS sued Trimble for misrepresentation, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty, alleging that Trimble Mobile intentionally delayed RDS’s project while sharing confidential information about it with Trimble Outdoors. A jury agreed with RDS and awarded it $51.3 million in lost profits. The superior court, however, concluded that RDS had not proven the amount of lost profits with reasonable certainty and granted Trimble a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. RDS appealed, arguing the superior court erroneously conflated the standards of proof for the fact of harm and the amount of damages and asks that the jury verdict be reinstated. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that it was error to grant a judgment notwithstanding the verdict because a reasonable juror could conclude that RDS proved all elements of its claims. Furthermore, the Court held that the superior court was correct to conclude that RDS failed to prove any amount of lost profits to a reasonable certainty as the law requires. The Supreme Court therefore granted remittitur, directing the superior court to make an award of nominal damages and enter judgment for RDS. View "Recreational Data Services, Inc. v. Trimble Navigation Limited" on Justia Law

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The parties in this case divorced. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on the nature of the parties' marital interest in a limited liability company. They eventually agreed that the husband would retain the ownership interest but the wife would receive 25% “of the net commission” from certain sales if they occurred within a limited time after the divorce. When a sale occurred, the parties disagreed on how to define “net commission”: the wife contended that it meant the commission received by the company, but the husband contended that it meant only his share of it. The wife sought discovery in support of her interpretation of the agreement. The husband moved for a protective order, and the parties’ attorneys compromised on some limited production. Although the husband produced information that appeared to satisfy the compromise, the wife filed a motion to compel. The court granted the motion to compel and awarded the wife attorney’s fees for having had to file it. Then, following an evidentiary hearing, the superior court agreed with the wife’s interpretation of the settlement agreement. The husband appealed both the decision on the merits and the award of attorney’s fees on the motion to compel. Because the language of the agreement and relevant extrinsic evidence favored the wife’s interpretation of “net commission,” the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision of that issue. But because the Court could not find the rationale for the superior court’s award of attorney’s fees to the wife on her motion to compel, it remanded that issue to the superior court for reconsideration. View "Gunn v. Gunn" 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

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This appeal stemmed from a 1984 gravel lease, a later sublease, and overriding royalty payments under the sublease. The Supreme Court had vacated a judgment in favor of Alicia Totaro, the sublease’s overriding royalty interest holder, and remanded for a determination whether the original gravel lease between Herman Ramirez and Bill Nelson (d/b/a Cosmos Developers, Inc.), was an exclusive lease for purposes of gravel removal. The superior court conducted an evidentiary hearing and found that Ramirez and Nelson intended the original gravel lease to be an exclusive lease. That finding led to the conclusion that the sublease from Cosmos to AAA Valley Gravel, Inc. was exclusive and that AAA Valley Gravel’s gravel extraction under the sublease triggered continued overriding royalty obligations to Totaro. Because AAA Valley Gravel had discontinued the overriding royalty payments to Totaro in 1998 when it purchased the property from Ramirez, the superior court entered judgment in favor of Totaro for nearly $1 million in past royalty payments, interest, costs, and attorney’s fees. AAA Valley Gravel appealed, arguing that the superior court erred by: (1) failing to rule that the original gravel lease’s failure to mention exclusivity rendered the gravel lease non-exclusive as a matter of law; (2) implying exclusivity in the original gravel lease as a matter of law; (3) placing the burden of persuasion on the exclusivity issue on AAA Valley Gravel; (4) finding that the original gravel lease conveyed an exclusive right to extract gravel from Ramirez’s property; (5) failing to find that the original gravel lease expired 10 to 12 years after its inception; and (6) failing to specify in the final judgment when the original gravel lease would terminate. Ramirez, nominally an appellee in this appeal, also contended that the superior court erred; Ramirez essentially joined in most of AAA Valley Gravel’s arguments. The Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s judgment. View "AAA Valley Gravel, Inc. v. Totaro" on Justia Law

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Robert Rude and Harold Rudolph were shareholders and former directors of Cook Inlet Region, Inc. (CIRI). They distributed a joint proxy solicitation in an attempt to be elected to the CIRI board of directors at CIRI’s 2010 annual meeting. Rude and Rudolph accumulated over one quarter of the total outstanding votes, but CIRI’s Inspector of Election refused to allow them to cumulate their votes. Thus, votes were split evenly between the two of them and neither was seated. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court concluded that the language of the proxy form required the shareholders’ votes to be equally distributed between Rude and Rudolph unless a shareholder indicated otherwise. Therefore the Court affirmed the superior court’s decision granting summary judgment in favor of CIRI on this issue. View "Rude v. Cook Inlet Region, Inc." 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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Elizabeth Rollins purchased a beverage dispensary license (liquor license) in late 1990. She attempted to open a bar on a property she owned but was unsuccessful. Rollins appealed the superior court’s decision upholding the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board’s determination to deny her application for a waiver of the annual operating requirement for her liquor license. On appeal, Rollins argued that: (1) the Board’s decision was not supported by the evidence; (2) she was improperly assigned the burden of proof; (3) the hearing before the administrative law judge violated her right to due process; and (4) the Board’s selective enforcement of its statutes violated her right to equal protection. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Rollins properly bore the burden of proof on the issue of whether she was entitled to a waiver, that the record supported the Board’s decision, and that the Board proceedings did not violate her constitutional rights. View "Rollins v. Alaska Dept. of Public Safety" on Justia Law