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Weekly Summary of Alaska Supreme Court Opinions

While some members of Atkinson Conway & Gagnon have been using this blog to get their name in the paper, others, namely your humbled writer, have fallen by the wayside, as has been so directly (and unnecessarily) pointed out. That trend ends now, in large part because of Ayuluk v. Red Oaks Assisted Living, Inc., in which the Alaska Supreme Court expanded the scope of vicarious liability in Alaska. Under the normal rules, an employer is legally responsible for any harm caused by an employee only if that employee was acting within the “course and scope” of his or her employment. In Ayuluk v. Red Oaks Assisted Living, Inc., the Alaska Supreme Court held that an employer could be legally responsible for the acts of an employee, even if those acts are clearly outside the course and scope of their employment, if (1) the employee had, by reason of their employment, “substantial power or authority” over the victim, and (2) that power or authority played a “substantial factor” in bringing about the tort. While this holding is a logical extension of the Court’s previous decisions in the cases involving sexual harassment, it is a significant expansion of an employer’s possible liability. Although the “course and scope” of employment test will continue to be the predominate test for vicarious liability, there is now the possibility that an employer can be liable for even egregious torts (or crimes) committed by an employee, if that employee was able to commit that tort because of the power and authority granted to him by his employer.

The other decisions issued by the Alaska Supreme Court on February 20th and 27th do not, however, break any new ground. addresses a dispute arising out of the sale of a business and an “overbroad financing statement,” and stands for the rather unremarkable position that a court should not enforce a contract against just one of the parties, absent unconscionable terms. Alaska Exchange Carries Association, Inc. v. Regulatory Commission of Alaska applies the rules governing intervention, while State v. Smart held that the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Blakely v. Washington did not apply to persons convicted prior to the issuance of that opinion.