Alaska Supreme Court Opinions made Available byTouch N' Go Systems and Bright Solutions


Touch N' Go
, the DeskTop In-and-Out Board makes your office run smoother.

 

You can search the entire site. or go to the recent opinions, or the chronological or subject indices. Hopper v. Estate of Goard (1/13/2017) sp-7146

Hopper v. Estate of Goard (1/13/2017) sp-7146

          Notice:   This opinion is subject to correction before publication in the P                    ACIFIC  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@akcourts.us.  



                     THE  SUPREME  COURT  OF  THE  STATE  OF  ALASKA  



CAROL  HOPPER  and  ELIZABETH                                    )  

ROLLINS,  Co-Conservators  for  TERR                            )  

                                                            Y          Supreme  Court  No.  S-16051  

STAHLMAN,                                                        )  

                                                                                                                             

                                                                 )     Superior Court No. 4FA-12-01326 CI  

                              Appellants,                        )  

                                                                 )                        

                                                                       O P I N I O N  

          v.	                                                    )  

                                                                 )                                          

                                                                      No. 7146 - January 13, 2017  

                                   

ESTATE OF JAMES GOARD,                                           )  

                                                               

                                                                 )
  

                              Appellee.                          )
  



                                                                                                   

                    Appeal  from  the  Superior  Court  of  the  State  of  Alaska,  

                                                                                             

                    Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Michael A. MacDonald,  

                    Judge.  



                                                                                                         

                    Appearances:              Carol  Hopper,  pro   se,  Anchorage,   and  

                                                                                                          

                    Elizabeth  Rollins,  pro  se,  North  Pole,  Appellants.                              No  

                                                                                   

                    appearance by Appellee Estate of James Goard.  



                                                                                                    

                    Before:  Stowers, Chief Justice, Winfree, Maassen, Bolger,  

                                        

                    and Carney, Justices.  



                                      

                    BOLGER, Justice.  



I.        INTRODUCTION  



                                                                                                                             

                    Twoco-conservators filed amotion to intervene in a lawsuit involving their  



                                                                                                                             

ward in order to seek relief from a judgment based on a settlement agreement.   The  



                                                                                                                               

superior court denied the motion, and the co-conservators now appeal. We conclude that  


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

                                                                                                                            

the co-conservators were entitled to intervene as a matter of right under Alaska Civil  



                                                                                                                                     

Rule  24  and  that  the  denial  of  their  motion  to  intervene  was  not  harmless  error.  



                                                                                                                              

Accordingly, we reverse the superior court's order denying the motion to intervene and  



                              

remand for further proceedings.  



                                  

II.       FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS  



                                                                                                                                     

                    Terry Stahlman and James Goard became business partners in the 1980s.  



                                                                                                                         

They relied on a verbal agreement and whatbecamelongstanding practice to split profits,  



                                                                                                                          

losses, and management duties. Things ran smoothly until late 2010, when Goard visited  



                                                                                                                                     

Stahlman, who had been diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness, in the hospital.  



                                                                                                                         

Soon after,Goardallegedly stopped sendingreports toStahlman and,eventually, making  



                                                            

deposits in the partners' bank account.  



                                                                                                                           

                    Stahlman - self-represented - filed suit against Goard in March 2012,  



                                                                                                                            

alleging that Goard took advantage of him after learning of his illness.  He sought more  



                                                                                                                                

than $80,000 in damages.   Goard counterclaimed, seeking over a million dollars in  



                                                                                                       

damages as well as injunctive relief.  Goard died shortly thereafter, and his estate took  



                              

over the litigation.  



                                                                                                                   

                    The  case  languished  for  about  two  years  until  the  parties  eventually  



                                                                                                                                

participated in a settlement conference on June 18, 2014.   Stahlman was assisted by  



                                                                                                                                     

Robert Alexander, who claimed to be a friend holding power of attorney for Stahlman.  



                                                                                                              

It is unclear from the transcript whether the court received or examined any document  



                                                                                                                  

confirming Alexander's power of attorney.  Both Stahlman and Alexander participated  



                                                                                                                           

telephonically,  and  Stahlman  barely  spoke.                         During  the  conference,  Goard's  estate  



                                                                                                                            

produced a copy of a settlement agreement bearing Stahlman's notarized signature dated  



                                                                                                                               

May 30, 2014, in Fairbanks; the agreement was  also signed by Alexander and the  



                                                                                                   

personal representative for Goard's estate.  In relevant part the settlement agreement  



                                                                                                                                  

awarded three pieces of property to Goard's estate, one of which was to be sold with a  



                                                               -2-                                                         7146
  


----------------------- Page 3-----------------------

portion of the proceeds split between Stahlman and Alexander. On August 22, 2014, the                                                                                                           



court entered final judgment based on the agreement.                                                                        



                               But on May 27, 2014, a few days before the settlement agreement was                                                                                            



signed, Elizabeth Rollins petitioned for conservatorship for Stahlman due to perceived                                                                                           

                                                                                                                  1    Stahlman had been hospitalized in  

deterioration in his mental and physical faculties.                                                                                                                                               



December 2013; during the first half of 2014, he underwent three surgeries and was  

                                                                                                                                                                                              



prescribed "extreme narcotic pain medication." On August 5, before final judgment was  

                                                                                                                                                                                               



entered in the Goard matter, the probate court held a hearing in the conservatorship  

                                                                                                                                                                  



proceeding, which Alexander attended and refused to leave until the court ordered him  

                                                                                                                                                                                              



out. Rollins and Carol Hopper were appointed temporary co-conservators at the hearing,  

                                                                                                                                                                                     



and the co-conservatorship became permanent in May 2015.  

                                                                                                                                             



                               The co-conservators first learned about the settlement agreement in the  

                                                                                                                                                                                                



Goard matter in early May 2015, almost nine months after entry of final judgment.  On  

                                                                                                                                                                                                



May 27, 2015, Rollins, self-represented and in coordination with her co-conservator,  

                                                                                                                                                                   



moved  to  reopen  and  reconsider  the  settlement  on  behalf  of  Stahlman.                                                                                                      The  co- 

                                                                                                                                                                                              



conservators alleged that Stahlman did not sign the settlement agreement and could not  

                                                                                                                                                                                                



have been in Fairbanks on May 30, 2014 - the day his signature on the settlement  

                                                                                                                                                                               



agreement was purportedly notarized in Fairbanks - due to his limited mobility; that  

                                                                                                                                                                        



they were not advised of the settlement; and that the other parties to the settlement were  

                                                                                                                                                                                            



aware of Stahlman's incapacity and, essentially, had taken advantage of him.  Goard's  

                                                                                                                                                                                    



estate did not oppose the motion. The superior court considered this filing to be separate  

                                                                                                                                                                                     



motions to intervene and to reconsider the settlement, and it denied both motions without  

                                                                                                                                                                                      



explanation in early June.  

                                                             



                1             In re Stahlman                     , No. 3AN-14-01234 PR (Alaska Super., May 27, 2014).                                                                                 



                                                                                                -3-                                                                                        7146
  


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

                                                                                                          2  

                                  The co-conservators appeal.                                                Goard's estate did not appear in any part of                                                              



the proceedings involving the co-conservators.                                                                            



III.             DISCUSSION  



                                  Alaska Civil Rule 24(a) provides for intervention as of right in certain                                                                                                 



                                                                                                                                                                                                                          3  

situations.   "We favor allowing access to courts and will liberally construe [this rule]."                                                                                                                                   



                                                                                                                                                                                                            4  

                                                                                                                                                                                                       

But if denial of a motion to intervene was harmless error, we need not review it. 



                                         

                                  In State v. Weidner we articulated a four-part test to determine whether a  



                                                                                                                 

court must grant a motion to intervene as of right:  



                                                                                                                                                                                     

                                  (1) the motion must be timely; (2) the applicant must show an  

                                                                                                                                                                                    

                                  interest in the subject matter of the action; (3) it must be  

                                                                                                                                                                                      

                                  shown that this interest may be impaired as a consequence of  

                                                                                                                                                                            

                                  the action; and (4) it must be shown that the interest is not  

                                                                                                                                                   [  ]  

                                                                                                                                                    5 

                                                                                                                                    

                                  adequately represented by an existing party. 



In reviewing a trial court's denial of a motion to intervene as a matter of right, "we apply  

                                                                                                                                                                                                               



our  independent  judgment  'if  timeliness  is  not  at  issue  and  if  the  facts  relevant  to  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       



                 2                The co-conservators challenge the denial of both motions and ask us to                                                                                                               



"reverse the [s]ettlement agreement."                                                           Although we review the denial of their motion to                                                                        

intervene, we do not reach their other arguments because "[a] failed intervenor has                                                                                                                                

standing to appeal only the denial of intervention" and not the merits of the adjudication.                                                                                                                                   

Scammon Bay Ass'n v. Ulak                                                , 126 P.3d 138, 142 (Alaska 2005).                                       



                 3                Alaskans for a Common Language, Inc. v. Kritz , 3 P.3d 906, 912 (Alaska  

                                                                                                                                                                                                         

2000).  



                 4                See, e.g., Alaska Christian Bible Inst. v. State , 772 P.2d 1079, 1081 (Alaska  

                                                                                                                                                                                                         

 1989).  



                 5                684 P.2d 103, 113 (Alaska 1984).  This test closely tracks the text of the  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

rule.  See Alaska. R. Civ. P. 24(a).  

                                                                         



                                                                                                           -4-                                                                                                  7146
  


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

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  6  

intervention are not disputed because then only questions of law are posed.' "                                                                                                                                        Because  



neither timeliness nor any other facts relevant to the intervention are in dispute, we apply                                                                                                                                   



our independent judgment here.                                                           We conclude that the co-conservators satisfied all four                                                                                   



elements and are entitled to intervene as a matter of right, and that denial of their motion                                                                                                                               



was not harmless error.                          



                                     Regarding the first element, timeliness, "[w]e will not hold that a motion                                                                             

                                                                                                                                                                                             7      Here, no party  

to intervene is untimely if no party raises timeliness as an issue."                                                                                                                                                           



challenges timeliness on appeal.  Thus, we will consider the co-conservators' motion to  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         



intervene timely.  

                            



                                     Regarding the second element, the would-be intervenor's interest in the  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     



subject matter of the ligation, we have stated that "the requisite interest for intervention  

                                                                                                                                                                                                             

as a matter of right must be direct, substantial, and significantly protectable."8  Alaska  

                                                                      



Civil Rule 17 makes it clear that conservators have exactly this type of interest, providing  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    



that            "[w]henever  an  .  .  .  incompetent  person  has  a  representative,  such  as  a  .  .  .  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        



conservator, or other like fiduciary, the representative may sue or defend on behalf of the  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

. . . incompetent person."9                                                     The fact that conservators owe fiduciary duties10  would  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            



further                  strengthen                         the           co-conservators'                                    interest                   in         helping                    Stahlman                        make  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                           



litigation-related decisions and "manage [his] property . . . effectively" to prevent it from  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                               



                  6                 Harvey v. Cook                              , 172 P.3d 794, 798 (Alaska 2007) (quoting                                                                                Alaskans for   



a Common Language                                           , 3 P.3d at 912).            



                  7                 Anchorage  Baptist  Temple  v.  Coonrod,   166  P.3d  29,  33  (Alaska  2007).  



                  8                  Weidner,  684  P.2d  at   113.  



                  9                  Alaska  R.  Civ.  P.   17(c).  



                   10                AS   13.26.245  ("[A]  conservator  shall  act  as  fiduciary  .  .  .  .").  



                                                                                                                   -5-                                                                                                          7146
  


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

                                  11  

being "wasted."                        Accordingly, we conclude that the co-conservators had the requisite                                                         



 interest.  



                            Regardingthethirdelement,impairmentofthisinterest,theco-conservators                                                    



 allege various deficiencies and fraudulent behavior accompanying the court's entry of  



judgment on the settlement, which they challenge on Stahlman's behalf.                                                                                  Accordingly,  

we conclude that their interest was impaired by the denial of the motion to intervene.                                                                                           12  



                            Regarding  the  fourth  element,  that  the  interest  was  not  adequately  

                                                                                                                                                            



represented by another party, we have stated that " '[i]nadequacy' [may be] proven by  

                                                                                                                                                                               

 a showing of . . . possible nonfeasance, or incompetence."13  Here, Stahlman was deemed  

                                                                                                                                                                     

to lack capacity to handle his financial matters14 and manifestly did not make many of  

                                                        



the arguments the co-conservators now raise about the settlement.   Accordingly, we  

                                                                                                                                                                              



 conclude that the co-conservators' interest was not adequately represented by another  

                                                                                                                                                                     



party to the action.  

                          



                            Because the four  Weidner elements are satisfied, the co-conservators are  

                                                                                                                                                                              



 entitled to intervene as a matter of right.  

                                                                                      



              11            AS 13.26.165(2).   



              12  

                                                                                                                                                                             

                            Cf. McCormick v. Smith, 793 P.2d 1042, 1044 (Alaska 1990) (finding this  

 factor satisfied when the party whom the would-be intervenor supported "lost below").                                                                             



              13             Weidner, 684 P.2d at 113.  See also Mundt v. Nw. Expls., Inc., 947 P.2d  

                                                                                                                                                                 

 827, 831 (Alaska 1997) (finding this factor satisfied when one party had "no particular  

                                                                                                                                                                 

 interest in arguing [an issue important to the would-be intervenor] to the court below,  

                                                                                                                                                                      

 and . . . in fact did not do so vigorously").  

                                                            



              14            Under AS.13.26.165, a conservator may be appointed for a person "for  

                                                                                                                                                                            

reasons such as mental illness, mental deficiency, physical illness or disability, advanced  

                                                                                                                                                                 

 age,  chronic use  of drugs,  chronic intoxication,  fraud,  confinement, detention  by  a  

                                                                                                                                                                                 

 foreign power, or disappearance."   The record indicates that many of these reasons  

                                                                                                                                                                    

 applied to Stahlman's situation.  

                                                



                                                                                       -6-                                                                                7146
  


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

                              Denial of the co-conservators' motion to intervene was not harmless error.                                                                                          



 If the co-conservators had been able to intervene, they could have sought relief from                                                                                               



judgment under Alaska Civil Rule 60(b), which allows a court to grant such relief "upon                                                                                            

                                                    15    The rule provides at least three possibly applicable bases for  

 such terms as are just."                                                                                                                                                   



relief:              "mistake,   inadvertence,   surprise  or  excusable  neglect";  "fraud  .   .   .   ,  

                                                                                                                                                                                             

misrepresentation, or other misconduct  of an adverse party"; or a void judgment.16  

                                                                                                                                                                                                  



Although  the  superior  court  has  discretion  in  ruling  on  motions  for  relief  from  

                                                                                                                                                                                    

judgment, 17  we observe that the co-conservators allege facts that, if proven, may allow  

                                                                                                                                                                                    

them to prevail on such a motion.18  

                                                         



 IV.           CONCLUSION  



                              For the reasons explained above, we REVERSE the superior court's denial  

                                                                                                                                                                                   



 of the motion to intervene and REMAND this case to the superior court for further  

                                                                                                                                                                                 



proceedings.  



               15             Alaska  R.  Civ.  P.  60(b).  



               16             Id.  



               17              Williams  v.   Williams,  252  P.3d  998,   1004  (Alaska  2011).  



               18             We further observe,  without  deciding,  that  the co-conservators may have  



 alleged  facts  sufficient  to  require  an  evidentiary  hearing.  



                                                                                             -7-                                                                                     7146
  

Case Law
Statutes, Regs & Rules
Constitutions
Miscellaneous


IT Advice, Support, Data Recovery & Computer Forensics.
(907) 338-8188

Please help us support these and other worthy organizations:
Law Project for Psychiatraic Rights
Soteria-alaska
Choices
AWAIC