Appeal from the Superior Court No. 1SI-11-00138 CI of the State of Alaska, First Judicial District, Sitka, David V. George, Judge.
Teka K. Lamade, Sitka, for Appellants.
David T. Jones, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Craig W. Richards, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.
Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.
An oyster farmer closed his farm after dozens of people became sick from eating his oysters. He sued a state agency, alleging that the agency negligently informed him that the site of his farm was suitable for shellfish farming. The superior court granted summary judgment for the agency, concluding that the farmer's misrepresentation claim was barred by state sovereign immunity. The farmer argues that the agency's sovereign immunity defense was inapplicable because his complaint alleged a claim of negligence, not negligent misrepresentation. But the allegations in the farmer's complaint supported only a negligent misrepresentation claim. We affirm.
II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
In 1996 the Department of Environmental Conservation (the Department) approved an area in Whiting Harbor for shellfish farming. In 2000 Grant Miller applied for a permit to operate an oyster farm in that area, and the Department granted his application. In 2009 dozens of people became sick after eating oysters from Miller's oyster farm, and Miller shut down the farm.
In 2011 Miller filed a complaint against the Department, alleging that it had conducted its 1996 studies in a negligent manner and "held out Whiting Harbor as an approved site for oyster farming." He further alleged that he had relied on the Department's approval of the site for shellfish farming when he sought and obtained a permit, and that his reliance was a proximate cause of his oyster farm's failure. Miller later amended his complaint to add the City of Sitka as a defendant, add Whiting Harbor Aquafarm LLC (his business) as a plaintiff, and allege that the Department was aware of the presence of the invasive species tunicate in the area at the time it granted his permit.
The Department moved for summary judgment, arguing that Miller's amended complaint alleged only a single claim, misrepresentation, which was barred by state sovereign immunity. Miller opposed this motion, arguing that his claim was one of negligence, not misrepresentation. The superior court granted the Department's summary judgment motion.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
"We review rulings on motions for summary judgment de novo. When applying the de novo standard of review, we apply our independent judgment to questions of law, adopting the rule of law most ...