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Moore v. Olson

Supreme Court of Alaska

July 2, 2015

AIMEE L. MOORE, Appellant,
v.
DONALD C. OLSON, DONALD OLSON ENTERPRISES, INC., OLSON VENTURES, LLC, OLSON AIR SERVICE, INC., REINDEER SPIRIT, INC., and POLAR EXPRESS AIRWAYS, INC., Appellees.

Appeal from the Superior Court No. 3AN-13-06990 CI of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Andrew Guidi, Judge.

William F. Brattain, Baker Brattain, LLC, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Robert J. Gunther, Law Office of Robert J. Gunther, Anchorage, for Appellees.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.

OPINION

WINFREE, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

In this case we are asked to review a superior court's decision confirming an arbitration award. In the superior court the appellant challenged procedural decisions made by the arbitrator; before us the appellant challenges both procedural and substantive decisions made by the superior court. Applying the appropriate deferential standards of review, we affirm the superior court's decision confirming the arbitration award.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Facts

Donald Olson and Aimee Moore met in 1995. Between 1995 and 2004 they had business and personal relationships. The business relationship began with Donald training Aimee to fly helicopters in exchange for Aimee's work for Donald and his businesses. Eventually Aimee managed Donald's businesses, and they agreed that she would receive a share of business profits. Aimee and Donald dispute the nature of their personal relationship: Aimee characterizes the relationship as a cohabative domestic partnership; Donald asserts the relationship was not a domestic partnership.[1]

Aimee terminated the personal relationship in July 2004. In December 2004 Aimee and Donald signed an agreement "related to the deferred compensation owed Aimee . . . for work performed during the period January 1996 through 2004." In November 2005, after negotiating for more than a year, Aimee and Donald signed a final settlement agreement to end their business relationship.

During settlement negotiations and mediation Aimee chose not to have a professional participate on her behalf, but she did consult attorneys and accountants. Donald agreed to transfer to Aimee $350, 000 cash as well as real property valued at $150, 000. Donald, on behalf of his businesses, also agreed to transfer to Aimee half of the net proceeds from the rents and sale of two hangars - for a five-year period - in an amount up to $300, 000. Donald agreed to make a good faith effort to market and sell the hangars during the five-year period. In return Aimee agreed to pay half the operating expenses of each hangar prior to sale, resign from the businesses, execute a mutual release of claims, and maintain confidentiality.

The settlement agreement gave either party the right to arbitrate any disputes and required that the losing party pay "reasonable actual attorney['s] fees." The agreement included a provision that "[t]he decision and award of the arbitrator shall be final and binding upon the parties and non-appealable, " and further provided:

In the event either party shall be in default in the performance of any of its obligations under this Agreement and an action shall be brought for the enforcement thereof, the defaulting party shall pay to the other all the costs incurred therefor, including reasonable actual attorney['s] fees.

Donald immediately transferred the cash and the real property to Aimee, fulfilling his personal obligation under the settlement agreement. But Aimee continued to have some involvement with the hangars and Donald's businesses, including some interactions with Robert Gunther, an attorney who began representing the businesses in 2007. The interactions resulted from (1) litigation against a third party and (2) lease negotiations with a potential hangar lessee.

The hangars were not sold by November 2010. But during the five years the businesses paid Aimee rents totaling about $285, 000, so Aimee had received all but about $15, 000 of the agreed upon $300, 000. During that same period Aimee reimbursed the businesses for half of the hangar expenses, including $4, 500 for Gunther's legal fees. In February 2012, shortly after Aimee initiated arbitration proceedings, the businesses paid Aimee the remaining amount due on the agreed upon $300, 000 and also returned the money Aimee had paid for half of the hangar expenses.

B. Proceedings

Aimee initiated arbitration against Donald, but not his businesses, in January 2012. Aimee asserted:

Pursuant to the property settlement of the parties' long term cohabitation and partnership, . . . [Donald] had an obligation to pay [Aimee] approximately $300, 000 through the sale of two specific properties.
[Donald] breached this agreement in some or all of the following ways: (1) he failed to promptly sell the properties and fund the balance of the $300, 000 payment; (2) he continued to require [Aimee's] involvement in the management of the property by asking her to meet and negotiate with prospective tenants and to deal with tenant issues; and (3) by asking for additional contributions to maintain and improve the property. To date, [Donald] has not attempted to sell the properties despite his promise to do so. Because [Donald] committed a breach of the contract, the contract should either be rescinded in its entirety and the parties restored to their respective positions status quo ante or, in the alternative, [Aimee] should receive an amount equal to the present value of the property at the time of sale or as otherwise determined as being just and equitable, less interim payments received by her prior to notice of the breach.

Charles Kasmar entered an appearance as Donald's attorney, and an arbitration hearing was scheduled for December 2012.

In early November 2012 Kasmar emailed Aimee's attorney, William Brattain, explaining that "Robert Gunther will be entering an appearance on behalf of [Donald's businesses] when they are added as party respondents." Kasmar, Gunther, and Brattain stipulated to the addition of Donald's businesses and Gunther's representation of the businesses in the arbitration. They also agreed to arbitration scheduling and deadlines, ...


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