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You can search the entire site. or go to the recent opinions, or the chronological or subject indices. Christensen v. Alaska Sales & Service, Inc. (10/10/2014) sp-6959

Christensen v. Alaska Sales & Service, Inc. (10/10/2014) sp-6959

         Notice:  This opinion is subject to correction before publication in the PACIFIC  REPORTER .  

         Readers are requested to bring errors to the attention of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts,  

         303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501, phone (907) 264-0608, fax (907) 264-0878, email  

                                                                                      

         corrections@appellate.courts.state.ak.us.  



                   THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA  



RAMONA CHRISTENSEN and                                     )  

JACK SCOTT,                                                )  

                                                           )    Supreme Court No. S-14963  

                           Appellants,                     )  

                                                           )    Superior Court No. 3AN-10-07948 CI  

         v.                                                )  

                                                           )    O P I N I O N  

ALASKA SALES & SERVICE, INC.,                              )  

                                                           )    No. 6959 - October 10, 2014  

                           Appellee.                       )  

                                                           )  



                  Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third  

                                                                                   

                  Judicial District, Anchorage, William F. Morse, Judge.  



                  Appearances:  A. Lee Petersen, Petersen Professional Corp.,  

                  Willow, for Appellants.  Terrance A. Turner and Natalie A.  

                  Cale, Turner & Mede, P.C., Anchorage, and Edward A. Gray  

                                                  

                  and Heather Russell Fine, Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott,  

                  LLC, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for Appellee.  



                  Before:  Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and  

                                       

                  Bolger, Justices.  



                  WINFREE, Justice.  



I.       INTRODUCTION  



                  Four years after a couple purchased a new car, it collided with two moose  

                                                                     



on the Parks Highway.  The couple sued the car dealership for product liability, alleging  

                                                                  



that the car's seat belt failed to restrain the driver  in the accident.  The superior court  

                                                                           



granted summary judgment to the dealership, concluding that "no reasonable jury could  

                                                                                


----------------------- Page 2-----------------------

                                                                                               

find that the Plaintiffs have proven that the seat belt . . . was defective."  The couple  



                                                                                         

appeals, arguing that the superior court applied an incorrect summary judgment standard  



                                                          

and that genuine issues of material fact made summary judgment inappropriate.  Because  



                                                                                                                          

we conclude that the couple has raised genuine issues of material fact regarding a seat  



                                                                                                            

belt defect and causation of the driver's injury, we reverse the superior court's grant of  



summary judgment.  



II.       FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS  



                               

          A.        Facts  



                                                                                                                    

                    In spring 2004 Ramona Christensen and Jack Scott purchased a new 2004  



                                             

Buick from Alaska Sales & Service, Inc.  In June 2008 Christensen was driving the  



                                                                                                 

Buick on the Parks Highway when she collided with two moose. Other than Christensen,  



there were no witnesses to the accident.  Photographs taken after the accident show  



damage to the Buick's front driver's side.  



                                                                                             

                    After the collision Christensen called the police to report the accident and  



                                                                      

called Scott to come pick her up at the scene.  When Scott arrived Christensen said she  



felt nauseated, and Scott noticed a red mark on her forehead.  Christensen could not  



                                                            

remember many details of the collision, including whether she hit her head on something  



inside the car.  



                    During the days following the accident, Christensen reported feeling light- 



                                                                                                                       

headed  and  dizzy.            Christensen's  speech  became  disfluent  and  broken,  and  her  gait  



             

became unsteady, causing her to fall repeatedly.  About one week after the accident,  



                                                                                              

Christensen sought medical attention to address her worsening symptoms.  A neurologist  



examined Christensen and ordered an MRI spectroscopy.  The spectroscopy showed  



                                           

evidence of bilateral frontal lobe brain damage.  Since 2008 numerous other physicians  



                                                    

and  psychiatrists  have  examined  and  treated  Christensen  for  her  continuing  speech,  



short-term memory, and mobility problems.  



                                                               -2-                                                         6959
  


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                     Shortly after  the accident Scott took the Buick to a repair shop.  Scott  



                                                                       

suspected that Christensen's seat belt failed to work properly during the crash.  Prior to  



                                                                 

the accident Scott had noticed that the seat belts in the Buick seemed different than what  



                                                                                                                      

he was accustomed to - the Buick's seat belts sometimes had not retracted on their own  



                                                                                  

or locked when suddenly pulled forward. When Scott asked the repair shop to repair the  



                            

driver's seat belt, the repair shop responded that both the driver's and passenger's seat  



                                                                                                      

belts were not working properly. The repair shop contacted Alaska Sales & Service, but  



                                                                                             

it refused to pay for seat belt replacements. Scott's insurance company agreed to pay for  



       

the replacements, and the repair shop replaced both seat belts.  The original seat belts  



were not returned to Scott.  



          B.        Proceedings  



                    In 2010 Christensen and Scott filed suit against Alaska Sales & Service,  



                

claiming  that  the  Buick's  seat  belt  failed  to  work  properly  during  the  crash.    After  



receiving answers to interrogatories, taking depositions of Christensen and Scott, and  



obtaining  an  expert  affidavit,  Alaska  Sales  &  Service  filed  a  motion  for  summary  



                                                      

judgment.  Alaska Sales & Service argued that Christensen and Scott had not presented  



                                                                                                

enough evidence that the Buick's seat belt was defective or that a seat belt failure caused  



                                                                                                             

Christensen's injuries.  The superior court granted summary judgment to Alaska Sales  



                                                                          

& Service.  Christensen and Scott filed a motion to reconsider; the superior court denied  



reconsideration and set out its reasons for granting summary judgment to Alaska Sales  



& Service.  The court described the evidence presented, including the absence of the  



original seat belts, and concluded that "no reasonable jury could find that [Christensen  



and Scott] have proven that the seat belt . . . was defective."  



                     Christensen and Scott appeal.  



                                                                -3-                                                        6959
  


----------------------- Page 4-----------------------

III.       STANDARD OF REVIEW
  



                                                                                                1  

                     We review grants of summary judgment de novo.   



IV.       DISCUSSION  



          A.         The Summary Judgment Standard In Alaska  



                     The superior court dismissed Christensen and Scott's case on the ground  



that "no reasonable jury could find that [Christensen and Scott] have proven that the seat  



                 

belt . . . was defective."  Christensen and Scott argue that to survive the motion for  



                                                 

summary judgment, they only had to show they could present admissible evidence to  



                                                                       

raise a genuine issue of material fact for trial.  Alaska Sales & Service responds that the  



                                                                                                                     

correct summary judgment test is whether "even if everything [Christensen and Scott]  



                                                                       

said was true . . . a reasonable jury . . . could find in their favor," and that the superior  



                                                                                            

court actually meant and used this standard.  (Emphasis in original.)  Christensen and  



                                                                     

 Scott are more correct:  a non-moving party does not need to prove  anything to defeat  



                                                                                  

summary judgment.  But a non-moving party cannot create a genuine issue of material  



                                                                                                                           

fact merely by offering admissible evidence - the offered evidence must not be too  



                                                                                                    

conclusory,  too  speculative,  or  too  incredible  to  be  believed,  and  it  must  directly  



                                                               

contradict the moving party's evidence. We take this opportunity to clarify and reaffirm  



Alaska's longstanding summary judgment standard.  



                     Alaska Civil Rule 56 provides for judgment to be granted to a party where  



                                                                                                                     

"there is no genuine issue as to any material fact" and "the moving party is entitled to  

                                            2  One of our earliest cases involving Rule 56 illustrated the  

judgment as a matter of law."                                               



meaning of "genuine issue" by affirming a grant of summary judgment against a party  

                                                                    



           1        Hurn v. Greenway , 293 P.3d 480, 483 (Alaska 2013) (citing                                    State, Dep't  



of Health & Soc. Servs., Div. of Family & Youth Servs. v. Sandsness                                     , 72 P.3d 299, 301  

(Alaska 2003)).  



          2          Alaska R. Civ. P. 56(c).  



                                                                -4-                                                             6959  


----------------------- Page 5-----------------------

who had pointed to no evidence supporting his position.                              Gilbertson v. City of Fairbanks  



involved a dispute over unpaid utility bills between the city-owned utility and a hotel  



                                                                         3  

owner whose hotel had been destroyed in a fire.   The city filed a motion for summary  



                                   

judgment, submitting an affidavit from the city comptroller detailing the hotel owner's  



                                                                              4  

                                                                                   The  hotel  owner  responded  by  

unpaid  heat,  electric,  water,  and  telephone  bills.                                            



submitting his deposition testimony:  " 'I am sure my bills w[ere] paid as my cancelled  

                                                           

checks show . . . .  [S]o far as I know.  I could have lost some checks in the fire.' "5                                      The  

                                                                                                         

superior court granted summary judgment to the city.6  

                                                                                      



                     We affirmed the superior court's decision because the hotel owner had not  

                                                                                                                

pointed to any evidence actually disputing the city comptroller's testimony.7  We noted  

                                                                                                                      



the hotel owner's assertion that he " 'could have lost some checks in the fire' " was  



contradicted by the physical evidence: "All of the checks produced . . . plainly indicated  

                                                                        



that his utility bills were not fully paid. . . .  From the cancelled checks produced for  



                                                                                                          

every month preceding the fire, and including the month of the fire, the fair inference  

                                             8  And during his deposition, when the city's lawyer asked  

was that no checks were lost."    



the hotel owner whether an audit of his checks would show an unpaid utility bill balance,  

                                                       



          3          368 P.2d 214, 214-15 (Alaska 1962).
  



          4         Id.
  



          5
        Id. at 215.  



          6         Id. at 214.  



          7         Id. at 216-17.  



          8         Id. at 215-16.  



                                                                -5-                                                         6959
  


----------------------- Page 6-----------------------

                                                     9  

                                                                                                   

the hotel owner refused to answer.                      That question "went to the very heart of the issue  



                                                                                                                   

- where an unequivocal straightforward answer might well have raised an issue of  



         10  

fact."         The  city  had  met  its  summary  judgment  burden  of  putting  forth  evidence  



                                 

showing the lack of genuine issues of material fact, and the hotel owner had failed to  



                                              

"clearly stat[e] his defense of payment and [show] the court how he planned to support  

that  defense  with  facts  which  would  be  admissible  in  evidence  at  the  trial."11                                     We  



                                                                                                

affirmed the grant of summary judgment on the ground that no genuine issue of material  

fact remained for trial.12  



                     Gilbertson exemplifies the summary judgment standard we consistently  



                                                                                                         

have followed.  "[A] party seeking summary judgment has the initial burden of proving,  



                                                                       

through admissible evidence, that there are no [genuine] disputed issues of material fact  



                                                                                                      13  

                                                                                                           Once the moving  

and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."  



          

party has made that showing, the burden shifts to the non-moving party "to set forth  



                                                                                    

specific facts showing that he could produce evidence reasonably tending to dispute or  



          9         Id. at 216.  



          10        Id.  



          11        Id. at 216-17.  



          12        Id.  



          13        Mitchell v. Teck Cominco Alaska Inc ., 193 P.3d 751, 760 n.25 (Alaska  



2008); see also Alakayak v. B.C. Packers, Ltd. , 48 P.3d 432, 447-48 (Alaska 2002) ("The  

                                                  

movant bears the initial burden of proving through admissible evidence (1) the absence  

                                                                               

of genuine fact disputes, and (2) its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law." (citing  

                                                                                                              

Philbin v. Matanuska-Susitna Borough , 991 P.2d 1263, 1265 (Alaska 1999))); Shade v.  

                                                                     

Co & Anglo Alaska Serv. Corp., 901 P.2d 434, 437 (Alaska 1995) ("[I]t is the moving  

                                                                                                                    

party that bears the initial burden of proving, through admissible evidence, the absence  

                                                        

of genuine factual disputes and its entitlement to judgment."); Gilbertson, 368 P.2d at  

216.  



                                                                -6-                                                         6959
  


----------------------- Page 7-----------------------

contradict  the  movant's  evidence  and  thus  demonstrate  that  a  material  issue  of  fact  

exists."14  



                     In Gilbertson  we observed that Alaska Civil Rule 56 mirrors Federal Rule     

                                  15 and for the first 29 years of statehood we followed the federal  

of Civil Procedure 56,                                                           



                                                                16  

courts'  approach  to  summary  judgment.                             Then  in  1986  the  U.S.  Supreme  Court  

announced   a   new   interpretation   of   the   federal   summary   judgment   standard,17  



incorporating the substantive evidentiary burdens applicable at trial into the summary  

judgment determination. 18  



                     In Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. a citizens group filed libel claims against  

                                                                                                         

a  magazine  and  its  publisher  for  portraying  the  group's  members  as  racists.19                                      The  



magazine moved for summary judgment in federal district court, submitting a reporter's  

affidavit stating that he believed the information published about the group was true.20  

                                                                            



           14        State, Dep't of Highways v. Green, 586 P.2d 595, 606 n.32 (Alaska 1978);  



see also Gilbertson , 368 P.2d at 216-17.  



           15        368 P.2d at 214 ("The rules are identical in every aspect with which we are   



here concerned.").  



           16        See Moffatt v. Brown, 751 P.2d 939, 943-44 (Alaska 1988) (rejecting new  

                                                                                         

federal summary judgment standard); Bentley Family Trust, Bank of Cal. v. Lynx Enters.,  

                                                                      

Inc ., 658 P.2d 761,765 n.11 (Alaska 1983) (citing federal summary judgment decisions);  

                                                                                       

Palzer  v.  Serv-U-Meat  Co. ,  419  P.2d  201,  205  (Alaska  1966)  (following  federal  

summary judgment approach).  



           17        See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251 (1986).  



           18  

                                                                          

                    Id. ; see also Samuel Issacharoff & George Loewenstein, Second Thoughts  

About Summary Judgment , 100 YALE  L.J. 73, 85 (1990).  



           19        477 U.S. at 244-45.  



          20        Id. at 245.  



                                                                -7-                                                         6959
  


----------------------- Page 8-----------------------

If accepted as true, the reporter's statement would have negated an essential element of  

                                                   

                                    21  The group responded with allegations that the reporter had  

the group's libel claim.     



relied on clearly unbelievable sources - allegations the group claimed disputed the  



                                                                                         22  

reporter's statement of belief that the information was true.                                 The group argued that it  



                                                                                                     

had raised a genuine issue of material fact, but the federal district court disagreed and  



                                                                   23  

granted summary judgment to the magazine.                              



                    The U.S. Supreme Court's analysis began with a discussion of summary  

                                                                                                

judgment standards and the appropriate weight to give conflicting evidentiary claims. 24  

                                      



The Court clarified the meaning of Federal Rule 56 "genuine issues" of material fact,  



defining a "genuine" issue as one from which a "reasonable jury could return a verdict  



                                        25  

for the nonmoving party."                   By defining "genuine issues" in terms of a jury outcome,  



the Court incorporated the substantive evidentiary burdens on the parties at the summary  

                



judgment stage:  "[T]here is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring  

                                                                                                        

the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party."26  "Sufficient" evidence  

                                                                                                    



requires  more  than  "a  scintilla  of  evidence"  supporting  the  non-moving  party's  

position.27  



          21        See id. at 244 (noting the requirement for actual malice in libel claims). 
 



          22        Id. at 246. 
 



          23        Id.
   



          24        Id. at 247-52. 
 



          25        Id. at 248.  



          26        Id. at 249.  



          27        Id. at 252 ("The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the  

                                                                                            

plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could  

                                                                                 

                                                                                                              (continued...)  



                                                               -8-                                                         6959
  


----------------------- Page 9-----------------------

                       The Liberty Lobby Court equated summary judgment with the existing  



                                                                                                                             28  

                                                                                                                                   The  Court  

standard  for  deciding  directed  verdict  motions  under  Federal  Rule  50. 



                                                

explained that "the inquiry involved in a ruling on a motion for summary judgment or  



          

for a directed verdict necessarily implicates the substantive evidentiary standard of proof  



                                                                        29  

                                                                                                              

that would apply at the trial on the merits."                                Thus, both federal summary judgment and  



directed  verdict  standards  required  federal  courts  to  inquire  "whether  the  evidence  



                                                                                                                                      

presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one- 

sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law."30  



                       In Moffatt v. Brown we considered whether to follow Liberty Lobby 's new  



                                                                                                     31  

approach to summary judgment, but ultimately rejected it.     In that case, a physician  



                                                                                                                   

sued a newsletter publisher for defamation related to allegedly false statements about the  

physician's abortion procedures.32  The publisher moved for summary judgment, arguing  



         

that the superior court should apply the Liberty Lobby test for summary judgment and  



            27         (...continued)  



reasonably find for the plaintiff.").  



            28         Id. at 250-51; see Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1) ("If a party has been fully heard                      



on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have       

a  legally  sufficient  evidentiary  basis  to  find  for  the  party  on  that  issue,  the  court  

may . . . (B) grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against the party . . . .").  



            29  

                                                                                     

                       Liberty Lobby , 477 U.S. at 252; see also id. at 249 ("[T]here is no issue for  

                              

trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return  

a verdict for that party.").  



            30  

                                                                                                                                  

                       Id.  at  251-52  ("The  'primary  difference  between  the  two  motions  is  

                              

procedural . . . .  In essence, though, the inquiry under each is the same . . . .' " (quoting  

                                                           

Bill Johnson's Rests., Inc. v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd. , 461 U.S. 731, 745 n.11 (1983))).  



            31         751 P.2d 939, 942-43 (Alaska 1988).  



            32         Id. at 940.  



                                                                        -9-                                                                 6959
  


----------------------- Page 10-----------------------

determine there was not sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact  



                                                                                  33  

                                                                                                                  

because no reasonable jury would find for the physician.                             The superior court denied the  

publisher's motion.34  



                    We affirmed the denial of summary judgment, concluding that Alaska Civil  



                                                                                                                       35  

                                                                                                                           We  

Rule 56 does not require a trial court to apply substantive evidentiary standards. 



                                                                                                           

rejected Liberty Lobby 's summary judgment reformulation and declined "to incorporate  



                                                                          

the  applicable  substantive  evidentiary  standard  into  this  state's  summary  judgment  



              36  

practice."     Summary judgment does not require the non-moving party to prove factual  



                                                                                                       

issues according to the applicable evidentiary standard, and does not allow trial judges  



                                                                                             

to predict how a reasonable jury would decide the case - we explained that weighing  

and evaluating evidence " 'intrudes into the province of the jury.' "37  



                    Since Moffatt we consistently have interpreted Rule 56 to require only " 'a  



showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists to be litigated, and not a showing that  



                                                               38  

                                                                     There  are  two  important  aspects  to  this  

a  party  will  ultimately  prevail'  "  at  trial. 



          33        Id. at 940-41. 
 



          34        Id. at 941. 
 



          35        Id. at 943. 
 



          36        Id.
  



          37
       Id. at 944 (quoting Dairy Stores, Inc. v. Sentinel Publ'g Co. , 516 A.2d 220,   



235-36 (N.J. 1986)).  



          38        E.g. , Lockwood v. Geico Gen. Ins. Co. , 323 P.3d 691, 697 (Alaska 2014)  

                                                

(quoting Moffatt , 751 P.2d at 943-44); DeNardo v. Bax , 147 P.3d 672, 684 (Alaska  

                                                                                        

2006).  



                                                             -10-                                                        6959
  


----------------------- Page 11-----------------------

requirement.   First, a material fact is one upon which resolution of an issue turns.39  



                                                                                                                                   40 

                                                         

 Second, because the existence of a dispute over a material fact is a question of law,                                                the  



                                                                                                                       41  

determination is objectively based and employs a reasonableness standard.                                                   Although  



we occasionally have described the reasonableness standard as whether "reasonable  



                                                                                             42 

                                                                                                our perhaps inartful use of  

jurors could disagree on the resolution of a factual issue," 



                                                                                                                

the  term  "reasonable  jurors"  was  not  meant  to  suggest  use  of  the  federal  summary  



                                                                                                                        

judgment standard.  We require only that the evidence proposed for trial must not be  



           39         Sonneman v. State, 969 P.2d 632, 635 (Alaska 1998) ("A factual issue will   



not  be  considered  material  if,  even  assuming  the  factual   situation  to  be  as  the  non- 

moving party contends, he or she would still not have a factual basis for a claim for relief        

against the moving party." (citing                      Whaley v. State, 438 P.2d 718, 720 (Alaska 1968))).       



           40  

                                                                                                                              

                      ConocoPhillips Alaska, Inc. v. Williams Alaska Petroleum, Inc., 322 P.3d  

 114, 122 (Alaska 2014) ("Whether the evidence presented a genuine issue of material  

                                       

fact is a question of law that we independently review." (quoting Kalenka v. Jadon, Inc. ,  

305 P.3d 346, 349 (Alaska 2013)) (internal quotation marks omitted)).  



           41  

                                                                                 

                      See Yurioff v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 803 P.2d 386, 389 (Alaska 1990) ("To  

                                                                                                        

prevent summary judgment, [the non-movant] was required to rebut this prima facie  

showing  with  evidence  'reasonably  tending  to  dispute  or  contradict'  [the  movant's]  

                                                      

evidence." (quoting State, Dep't of Highways v. Green, 586 P.2d 596, 606 n.32 (Alaska  

                                                                   

 1978))); Semlek v. Nat'l Bank of Alaska, 458 P.2d 1003, 1007 (Alaska 1969) ("[I]t was  

incumbent  upon  the  appellants  to  set  forth  facts  showing  that  they  could  produce  

admissible evidence which reasonably would tend to dispute the appellees' evidence and  

                                                                                                                       

demonstrate that a triable issue existed."); Isler v. Jensen , 382 P.2d 901, 902 (Alaska  

 1963) ("[T]o prevent the entry of a summary judgment, [non-movants must] set forth  

facts showing that they could produce admissible evidence which reasonably would tend  

                                                                               

to dispute or contradict [movants'] evidence . . . .").  



           42         E.g. , Kalenka , 305 P.3d at 349 (quoting Burnett v. Covell , 191 P.3d 985,  



                      

990 (Alaska 2008)) (internal quotation marks omitted); McGee Steel Co. v. State ex rel.  

                                                                                                                         

McDonald Indus. Alaska, Inc ., 723 P.2d 611, 614 (Alaska 1986); accord  Green v. N.  

Publ'g Co. , 655 P.2d 736, 743 (Alaska 1982).  



                                                                  -11-                                                             6959
  


----------------------- Page 12-----------------------

based entirely on "unsupported assumptions and speculation"43 and must not be "too  



                                                                        44  

incredible to be believed by reasonable minds."                             After the court makes reasonable  

inferences from the evidence in favor of the non-moving party,45 summary judgment is  



appropriate only when no reasonable person could discern a genuine factual dispute on  

a material issue.46  



                                                                                                                      

                   Alaska's summary judgment standard does not allow trial courts, on the  



                                                               

limited evidence presented at the summary judgment stage, to make trial-like credibility  



                                                                             47  

                                                                                                           

determinations, conduct trial-like evidence weighing,                           or decide whether a non-moving  



                                                       

party has proved its case.  Although a trial court initially must determine whether the  



          43       Peterson v. State, Dep't of Natural Res.                  , 236 P.3d 355, 367 (Alaska 2010)  



(quoting Perkins v. Doyon Universal Servs .,  LLC , 151 P.3d 413, 416 (Alaska 2006))  

(internal quotation marks omitted); Mahan v. Arctic Catering, Inc ., 133 P.3d 655, 661  

(Alaska 2006) (quoting French v. Jadon, Inc ., 911 P.2d 20, 25 (Alaska 1996)) (internal  

quotation marks omitted).  



          44        Wilson v. Pollet, 416 P.2d 381, 384 (Alaska 1966).  



          45       Lockwood  v.  Geico  Gen.  Ins.  Co. ,  323  P.3d  691,  696  (Alaska  2014)  



(quoting Lum v. Koles , 314 P.3d 546, 552 (Alaska 2013)). An inference is a "conclusion  

                                                                                                            

reached by considering other facts and deducing a logical consequence  from them."  

                                                                                                             

BLACK 'S LAW DICTIONARY 897 (10th ed. 2014).  



          46       See supra note 41.  



          47       Kelly  v.  Municipality  of  Anchorage ,  270  P.3d  801,  804  (Alaska  2012)  



               

("Courts do not weigh evidence or witness credibility on summary judgment."); accord  

Gudenau & Co. v. Sweeney Ins., Inc., 736 P.2d 763, 765 (Alaska 1987).  



                   In Braund, Inc. v. White we recognized the complexity of the court's task  

                                                                                                     

in   evaluating   evidence   at   the   summary   judgment   stage:   "The   most   difficult  

determinations lie in the area of credibility.  The question of when summary judgment  

                                                                                          

should be denied because of credibility is difficult to determine."  486 P.2d 50, 53 n.3  

            

(Alaska 1971).  But evidence or assertions should be rejected based on credibility only  

                                                                                                         

when it is "too incredible to be believed by reasonable minds."  Wilson, 416 P.2d at 384.  

                                                               



                                                            -12-                                                       6959
  


----------------------- Page 13-----------------------

                                                                                               

evidence could be believed by a reasonable person, that decision is not based on whether  



                                        

the court actually believes the evidence or whether it believes the moving party has better  



              48  

                                                                                       

evidence.          The trier of fact ultimately may find against the non-moving party after  



                                                                                                          

evaluating credibility and applying the substantive evidentiary standards of proof at trial.  



                                                                                                   

But the only questions to be answered at the summary judgment stage are whether a  



reasonable  person  could  believe  the  non-moving  party's  assertions  and  whether  a  



reasonable  person  could  conclude  those  assertions  create  a  genuine  dispute  as  to  a  

material fact.49  



          48        See Wilson, 416 P.2d at 384 ("The court is not to resolve any existing  



genuine issues as to material facts in determining a summary judgment motion.").  



          49        Cf. Sharp v. Fairbanks N. Star Borough, 569 P.2d 178, 183-84 (Alaska                 



 1977) ("Although the issue of 'proximate cause' is normally left for the trier of fact  

where unresolved fact questions remain, it becomes a question of law where the evidence  

                                                                                                              

is such that reasonable minds cannot differ." (footnote omitted)); Otis Elevator Co. v.  

McLaney , 406 P.2d 7, 9-10 (Alaska 1965) ("Review of the record convinces us that a  

jury question was presented as to the issues . . . because fair-minded jurors could differ  

                                                                       

as to the conclusions of fact that might be drawn from the evidence which was presented  

as to these questions.").  



                    We reiterate that our summary judgment standard is not the same as the  

                                              

standard for deciding post-trial motions for directed verdict.  Compare Alaska R. Civ.  

                                                             

P. 56(c), with Alaska R. Civ. P. 50(a).  See Murray E. Gildersleeve Logging Co. v. N.  

 Timber Corp., 670 P.2d 372, 377 (Alaska 1983) ("[A] directed verdict will be granted  

when reasonable jurors could not differ in their resolution of a disputed issue of fact.").  

To  the  extent  that  we  have  equated  the  summary  judgment  and  directed  verdict  

                                                                                                

standards, see, e.g.,  Cameron v. Chang-Craft, 251  P.3d 1008, 1017 & n.16 (Alaska  

                                                                              

2011); Braund, Inc., 486 P.2d at 53, we disavow those misleading statements.  



                                                             -13-                                                       6959
  


----------------------- Page 14-----------------------

                    We reiterate that ours is a "lenient standard for  withstanding summary  



                 50  

judgment."     The low standard for surviving summary judgment serves the important  



                                                                                                     

function of preserving the right to have factual questions resolved by a trier of fact only  



after following the procedures of a trial.  Alaska's traditional standard for summary  



                                                                                                    51  

                                                                                                         We see no reason  

judgment is more protective of this right than the federal standard. 



to deviate from our long-established summary judgment standard today.  



          B.         Genuine Issues Of Material Fact Precluded Summary Judgment.  



                                                                                      

                    To prevail on their design-defect claim of strict liability, Christensen and  



                                                

 Scott ultimately must prove at trial that the Buick's seat belt was defective and that the  



                                                                                    52  

                                                                                          The  superior  court  granted  

defect  caused  Christensen  some  compensable  injury. 



summary judgment on the issue of defect, but Alaska Sales & Service also argues that  



there is no evidence for causation, presumably as an alternative ground for upholding  



          50        Shaffer v. Bellows, 260 P.3d 1064, 1069 (Alaska 2011) (citing Estate of  



Milos  v.  Quality  Asphalt  Paving,  Inc .,  145  P.3d  533,  537  (Alaska  2006)); see  also  

                                                                     

Hammond v. State, Dep't of Transp. & Pub. Facilities , 107 P.3d 871, 881 (Alaska 2005)  

                                                                                                        

("It is well established that 'the evidentiary threshold necessary to preclude an entry of  

                                                                                                                    

summary judgment is low.' " (quoting John's Heating Serv. v. Lamb , 46 P.3d 1024, 1032  

                                                                                                        

(Alaska 2002))).  



          51  

                            

                    See DeNardo v. Bax , 147 P.3d 672, 683-84 (Alaska 2006) ("The standard  

for granting and upholding summary judgments in Alaska is therefore more rigorous  

                                                                                                             

than  the  federal  standard.");  Moffatt  v.  Brown ,  751  P.2d  939,  944  (Alaska  1988)  

                                                                                              

(recognizing  that  the  federal  summary  judgment  standard  "inevitably  implicates  a  

                                                                            

weighing of the evidence, an exercise that intrudes into the province of the jury" (quoting  

                                                                      

Dairy Stores, Inc. v. Sentinel Publ'g Co. , 516 A.2d 220, 236 (N.J. 1986))); cf. Anderson  

     

v. Liberty  Lobby,  Inc. ,  477  U.S.  242,    266  (1986)  (Brennan,  J.,  dissenting)  ("[T]he  

                                                            

Court's opinion is also full of language which could surely be understood as an invitation  

                                                                                                                      

- if not an instruction - to trial courts to assess and weigh evidence much as a juror  

would . . . .").  



          52  

                                                                                                           

                    See  Dura  Corp.  v.  Harned,  703  P.2d  396,  405-06  (Alaska  1985),  

superseded on other grounds by statute, Tort Reform Act, ch. 139,  1, SLA 1986.  



                                                               -14-                                                        6959
  


----------------------- Page 15-----------------------

                                                           

summary  judgment.    Construing  all  of  the  evidence  in  the  light  most  favorable  to  



                                                                                                           

Christensen and Scott and making all reasonable factual inferences in their favor, we  



                                                                                            

conclude that there are genuine issues of material fact with respect to both the seat belt  



defect and causation.  



                         

                     1.        Evidence exists reasonably suggesting a defect in the seat belt.  



                     Christensen and Scott presented evidence that is not too incredible to be  



                                                       

believed and, taking all reasonable inferences in their favor, raises a discernible dispute  



                    

whether the driver's seat belt was defective at the time of the accident.  Christensen and  



                                                                                                          

Scott produced evidence indicating an unbroken chain of custody of the Buick and that  



                                                                                                            

the seat belts as originally sold had not been altered in any way.  Scott stated that before  



                                               

the accident he tested the seat belts by quickly pulling them forward and that sometimes  



                                                                                                          

the mechanism would not lock or retract the belts.  After the accident the seat belts were  



                                                                          

replaced but, according to Scott, the new seat belts failed in the same manner as the  



                                                                                                                      

previous belts.  Scott testified that the new seat belts would also sometimes not lock in  



                                                                        

place following a sudden forward movement.  This evidence supports the inference that  



the driver's seat belt may not have worked as intended in the accident.  



                     Christensen said she always wears her seat belt and was wearing it at the  



                                   

time of the accident.   Christensen also said that after hitting the moose she was not  



                                                                                                                             

pinned against her seat and that she had no bruising or marks on her body other than a  



red  mark  on  her  forehead.    The  absence  of  bruising  from  the  seat  belt  supports  an  



inference  that  it  did  not  restrain  Christensen  during  the  collision,  and  the  forehead  



                                                                           

marking  supports  the  inference  that  her  body  went  forward  far  enough  to  contact  



                                                                                

something in the car; both support the inference that the seat belt may not have restrained  



her as intended.  



                                                                                     

                    Alaska Sales & Service points to the lack of specific pieces of evidence in  



                                                  

the record supporting a seat belt defect.  According to Alaska Sales & Service, summary  



                                                               -15-                                                          6959
  


----------------------- Page 16-----------------------

                                                                                                                 

judgment was warranted because Christensen and Scott could not produce the seat belts  



                                             

in question, a description of the seat belt's performance during the crash, evidence of  



                            

occupant contact marks within the vehicle, or any police report describing the collision.  



Although these evidentiary gaps may play a role in the  resolution of the case at trial, the  



evidence  in  the  record  and  reasonable  inferences  drawn  from  the  evidence  raise  a  



genuine issue of material fact as to the seat belt defect.  



                    2.	        Evidence exists reasonably suggesting Christensen's injury was  

                               caused by the seat belt defect.  



                                                                                            

                     Christensen and Scott also produced evidence that is not too incredible to  



                                            

be  believed  and,  taking  all  reasonable  inferences  in  their  favor,  raises  a  discernible  



                                                                                                                       

dispute whether the allegedly defective seat belt caused her injury. Christensen and Scott  



                                                                                                     

said that after the accident Christensen had a mark on her forehead.  Christensen said she  



                                                                                                          

could not remember some of the events immediately before, during, or after the collision.  



Christensen's ongoing post-accident symptoms include dizziness, impaired speech, and  



difficulty walking.  



                     Christensen   and   Scott   presented   evidence   from   medical   specialists  



                                                                                           

diagnosing  a  "closed  head  injury"  and  "bilateral  frontal  damage"  to  her  brain.    A  



                                                                                                                 

neurologist noted that Christensen's symptoms "started after the accident," and although  



                               

none of the treating physicians could yet conclude with certainty that the accident caused  



Christensen's brain injury, the neurologist stated that "there is no other explanation."  



                                                                                                    

                    Alaska Sales & Service argues that Christensen and Scott cannot establish  



                                                                                                       

causation without an expert who can examine the seat belt and link Christensen's brain  



injury to the seat belt defect.  But the evidence and reasonable inferences that can be  



                                                                                            

drawn from it support Christensen and Scott's allegation that Christensen suffered a head  



injury.  The mark on Christensen's head and her memory loss support an inference that  



                                                                            

she hit her head during the accident hard enough to lose consciousness.  Christensen's  



                                                               -16-	                                                       6959
  


----------------------- Page 17-----------------------

and Scott's testimony about symptom onset, along with the neurologist's statements  



describing Christensen's symptoms as beginning after the accident and noting "there is  



                                                                          

no  other  explanation,"  support  an  inference  that  her  symptoms  resulted  from  the  

accident.53  



                   3.       Summary judgment was inappropriate.  



                   Christensen and Scott raised genuine issues of material fact with respect to  



                                                             

both seat belt defect and causation.  The evidence they presented goes well beyond  



assumption and speculation, is not too incredible to be believed, and relates directly to  



                                                                                                           

the material issues in the case.  Taking all reasonable inferences from that evidence in  



                                

their  favor,  genuine  factual  disputes  as  to  defect  and  causation  are  reasonably  



discernable.  Whether Christensen and Scott ultimately will prevail at trial under the  



                                                

appropriate evidentiary standard is irrelevant - at the summary judgment stage courts  



                                     

do not weigh evidence or predict how a jury will decide the case.  Christensen and Scott  



                                                

were not required to "prove" their case; rather, they were required to and did demonstrate  



                                    

the existence of genuine issues of material fact to be litigated at trial.  Thus, it was error  



to grant summary judgment.  



V.        CONCLUSION  



                   We REVERSE the superior court's grant of summary judgment to Alaska  



Sales & Service and REMAND for further proceedings.  



         53        See   Thompson   v.   Cooper,   290   P.3d   393,   399-400   (Alaska   2012)  



                               

(acknowledging that causation could be inferred from symptoms beginning after an  

                                                                     

accident); John's Heating Serv. , 46 P.3d at 1036 (noting "temporal relationship between  

the symptoms" and alleged source of injury bolsters credibility of expert's causation  

testimony).  



                                                          -17-                                                        6959  

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