Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court
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A business owner formed a brewing company with plans to open a brewpub. He signed a lease that provided rent-free access to a commercial unit for a period of time to allow him to prepare the rental space prior to opening for business. But the brewing company encountered numerous delays during construction and did not open for business as planned. It also did not pay rent once the rent-free period ended. After the property owner received no rent for several months, it entered the property and changed the locks. The business owner then sued, claiming the property owner breached the lease, tortiously interfered with a business relationship, and breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The property owner counterclaimed that the brewing company breached the lease. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the superior court dismissed all claims against the property owner and ruled in the property owner’s favor on its counterclaim. The court also denied the business owner’s request to compel discovery and awarded the property owner over $200,000 in damages. The business owner appealed the superior court’s grants of summary judgment, its denial of his motion to compel discovery, and its award of damages. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. View "Kimp v. Fire Lake Plaza II, LLC" on Justia Law

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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

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After an Anchorage strip club applied to have its liquor license renewed the Alcohol and Beverage Control Board received multiple objections to the renewal. Former employees, the Department of Labor, and the Municipality of Anchorage each alleged wage law violations, untrustworthy management, and unsafe policies. After three hearings before the Board and one before an administrative law judge, the Board denied renewal because it was not in the public interest. The club appealed to the superior court, which affirmed the Board’s decision. The club appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, arguing it was unreasonable to find that renewal was not in the public interest and that the club was denied due process in the administrative proceeding. After review, the Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the superior court’s decision to uphold the Board’s determination. View "Fantasies on 5th Avenue, LLC. v. Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board" on Justia Law

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Two federal district courts certified questions of law to the Alaska Supreme Court involving the state’s “mineral dump lien” statute. In 1910, the United States Congress passed Alaska’s first mineral dump lien statute, granting laborers a lien against a “dump or mass” of hard-rock minerals for their work creating the dump. The mineral dump lien statute remained substantively unchanged since, and rarely have issues involving the statute arisen. The Supreme Court accepted certified questions from both the United States District Court and the United States Bankruptcy Court regarding the scope of the mineral dump lien statute as applied to natural gas development. Cook Inlet Energy, LLC operated oil and gas wells in southcentral Alaska. In November 2014, Cook Inlet contracted with All American Oilfield, LLC to “drill, complete, engineer and/or explore three wells” on Cook Inlet’s oil and gas leaseholds. All American began work soon thereafter, including drilling rig operations, digging holes, casing, and completing the gas wells. When All American concluded its work the following summer, Cook Inlet was unable to pay. In June 2015 All American recorded liens against Cook Inlet, including a mine lien under AS 34.35.125 and a mineral dump lien under AS 34.35.140. In October, after its creditors filed an involuntary petition for relief, Cook Inlet consented to Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. In January 2016 All American filed an adversary proceeding in the bankruptcy court “to determine the validity and priority of its secured claims.” The bankruptcy court found that All American has a valid mine lien against the three wells. But the court denied All American’s asserted mineral dump lien against unextracted gas remaining in natural reservoirs. The court also concluded that All American’s mine lien was subordinate to Cook Inlet’s secured creditors’ prior liens, which would have consumed all of Cook Inlet’s assets and leave All American with nothing. All American appealed to the federal district court, which, in turn, certified questions regarding the Alaska mineral dump lien statute. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the statutory definition of “dump or mass” reflected that a mineral dump lien could extend only to gas extracted from its natural reservoir, that the lien may cover produced gas contained in a pipeline if certain conditions are met, and that to obtain a dump lien laborers must demonstrate that their work aided, broadly, in gas production. View "In re: Cook Inlet Energy, LLC, Gebhardt, v. Inman" on Justia Law

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Johnny Williams worked for Violeta Baker and her home healthcare services company, Last Frontier Assisted Living, LLC (Last Frontier), from 2004 to 2009. Baker hired Johnny to provide payroll, tax-preparation, bookkeeping, and bill-paying services. She authorized him to make payments from her accounts, both for tax purposes and business expenses, such as payroll. She also gave him general authority to access her checking account and to execute automated clearing house (ACH) transactions from her accounts. In addition, Baker allowed Johnny to write checks bearing her electronic signature. Johnny did not invoice Baker for his labor; rather he and Baker had a tacit understanding that he would pay himself a salary from Baker’s payroll for his services. In 2009 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) notified Baker that her third-quarter taxes had not been filed and she owed a penalty and interest. Baker contacted Johnny to find out why the taxes had not been filed. When he could not produce a confirmation that he had e-filed them, Baker contacted her son for help. Baker’s son discovered that several checks had been written from Baker’s accounts to Personalized Tax Solutions (a business he maintained) and Deverette. A CPA audited the books and found that Johnny’s services over the time period could be valued between $47,500 and $55,000. Subtracting this from the total in transfers to Johnny, Deverette, and Personalized Tax Solutions resulted in an overpayment to the Williamses of approximately $950,000. A superior court found Deverette and Johnny Williams liable for defrauding Baker, after concluding that both owed her fiduciary duties and therefore had the burden of persuasion to show the absence of fraud. The court totaled fraud damages at nearly five million dollars and trebled this amount under Alaska’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act (UTPA). After final judgment was entered against Deverette and Johnny, Johnny died. Deverette appealed her liability for the fraud. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed Deverette’s liability for the portion of the fraud damages that the superior court otherwise identified as her unjust enrichment. But the Court reversed the superior court’s conclusion that she owed Baker a fiduciary duty, and reversed the UTPA treble damages against Deverette. The Court vacated the superior court’s fraud conclusion as to Deverette and remanded for further proceedings. View "Williams v. Baker" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Lorna Weston was seriously injured when she slipped and fell on ice in a hotel parking lot. Medicare covered her medical expenses, settling the providers’ bills by paying less than one-fifth of the amounts billed. When she later sued the hotel for negligence, the hotel sought to bar her from introducing her original medical bills as evidence of her damages, arguing that only the amount Medicare actually paid was relevant and admissible. The superior court agreed and excluded the evidence. The Alaska Supreme Court granted Weston's petition for review the following questions: (1) whether evidence of medical expenses was properly limited to the amounts actually paid, or whether the amounts billed by the providers - even if later discounted - were relevant evidence of damages; and (2) whether the difference between the amounts billed by the providers and the amounts actually paid was a benefit from a collateral source, subject to the collateral source rule. The Supreme Court concluded that the amounts billed by the providers were relevant evidence of the medical services’ reasonable value. Furthermore, the Court concluded the difference between the amounts billed and the amounts paid was a benefit to the injured party that was subject to the collateral source rule; as such, evidence of the amounts paid was excluded from the jury’s consideration but was subject to post-trial proceedings under AS 09.17.070 for possible reduction of the damages award. View "Weston v AKHappytime, LLC, d/b/a Alex Hotel & Suites" on Justia Law

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In this case, an adult cabaret featuring nude dancing challenged a municipal code provision prohibiting adult-oriented establishments from operating during early morning hours, arguing that if the provision applied to adult cabarets, it was unconstitutional under the federal and Alaska constitutional free speech provisions. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the current municipal closing-hours restriction applied to adult cabarets, but, applying strict scrutiny, that it could not be enforced against adult cabarets in light of the Alaska Constitution’s free speech clause. The Supreme Court left open the possibility that local governments might enact constitutional closing-hours restrictions for adult cabarets, but the Court prohibited enforcement of this particular restriction because the municipal assembly failed to appropriately justify its imposition. View "Club Sinrock, LLC v Municipality of Anchorage" on Justia Law

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After a limited liability company and its individual members failed to make payments on a real estate loan, the lender sued. One member, Kenneth Duffus, cross-claimed against a second member, Lee Baker, Jr., alleging breach of contract and tort claims related to the management of the business. Baker counterclaimed against Duffus, also alleging breach of contract and tort claims. After several years of litigation, only the claims by and between Duffus and Baker remained; the superior court granted partial summary judgment to Duffus, finding that the statutes of limitation barred Baker’s counterclaims. A trial jury found against Baker on Duffus’s breach of contract and tort claims, and awarded damages to Duffus. Baker appealed the grant of summary judgment and a number of procedural issues from the trial. Because the Alaska Supreme Court determined it was error to conclude that Baker’s claims were not compulsory counterclaims, thus changing the statutes of limitation analysis, it reversed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment, vacated the judgment, and remanded for a new trial on both Duffus’s cross-claims and Baker’s counterclaims. View "Baker v. Duffus" 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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A commercial tenant breached its lease and owed unpaid rent. The landlord sued and obtained a writ of attachment against any funds owed the tenant from Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS). DHSS replied to the writ by stating it owed nothing to the tenant because a recent audit showed the tenant owed DHSS $1.4 million. Without responding to DHSS’s reply the landlord moved for a writ of execution against DHSS, which the superior court denied after finding there were no funds to attach. The court denied the landlord’s motion for reconsideration, as well as its request for a hearing to examine DHSS. The landlord appealed the denial of its motion for reconsideration and sought a remand for a hearing to examine DHSS. In affirming the superior court, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court was correct in denying reconsideration of its order regarding the writ of execution. View "Arcticorp v. C Care Services, LLC" on Justia Law