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Coulson v. Steiner

Supreme Court of Alaska

March 3, 2017

DAVID F. COULSON, Appellant,
v.
AARON T. STEINER, Appellee.

         Appeal from the Superior Court No. 3AN-14-10963 CI of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Catherine M. Easter, Judge.

          John C. Pharr, Law Offices of John C. Pharr, P.C., Anchorage, for Appellant.

          Darryl L. Thompson, Law Office of Darryl L. Thompson, P.C., Anchorage, for Appellee.

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

          OPINION

          BOLGER, Justice.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Aaron Steiner began a romantic relationship with Juanita Omadlao in May 2013, while Omadlao was still married to David Coulson. Coulson learned about the affair and filed for divorce. After the divorce proceedings ended, Coulson sued Steiner, claiming alienation of affections, fraud and civil conspiracy, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Specifically, Coulson alleged that Steiner caused Coulson's divorce and that Steiner then conspired with Omadlao during the divorce proceedings to extract child support and spousal support from Coulson.

         The superior court granted Steiner summary judgment on all three of Coulson's claims. The court concluded that Alaska does not recognize a tort for alienation of affections and that Coulson's remaining claims were derivative of Coulson's alienation of affections claim and likewise barred by Alaska law.

         We agree that Steiner was entitled to summary judgment on the alienation of affections claim based on our prior case law. But we also conclude that Steiner was not entitled to summary judgment on Coulson's other claims because those claims were based, at least in part, on Steiner's conduct during the divorce proceedings, not on his role in causing Coulson's divorce.

         II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         A. Coulson's Divorce

         Coulson and Omadlao married in 2009. In May 2013 Omadlao began a romantic relationship with Steiner, and in September 2013 Coulson filed for divorce. Omadlao, who was pregnant at the time, sought interim spousal support from Coulson. In her filings she represented that Coulson was the father, that she could not work due to medical conditions associated with her pregnancy, and that she would be homeless without spousal support.

         Omadlao gave birth in February 2014. Shortly thereafter the superior court partially granted Omadlao's support motion, awarding her $ 1, 000 per month in interim spousal support, requiring Coulson to pay Omadlao's pregnancy-related medical expenses, and instructing Coulson to "investigate" purchasing medical insurance for Omadlao and the child.

         In March Steiner and Omadlao received the results of a paternity test indicating that Steiner was the father of Omadlao's child. At an April hearing Coulson's attorney requested a paternity test order, and the judge acknowledged that there was a "serious question about the paternity of the child, " but Omadlao did not mention Steiner's test results. Coulson took a paternity test later that month and discovered that he was not the father of Omadlao's child.

         Further proceedings between Coulson and Omadlao resulted in a modification of the interim spousal support order and eventually a settlement agreement and decree of divorce. Steiner and Omadlao married in November.

         B. Proceedings In This Case

         Coulson filed suit against Steiner for damages resulting from Steiner's role in the divorce and divorce proceedings. Coulson alleged that Steiner assisted Omadlao in portraying herself as having limited funds and being on the verge of homelessness when in fact she was comfortably living in Steiner's home. He also alleged that Steiner and Omadlao conspired to conceal the fact that Steiner was the child's father in order to extract child support, medical expenses, and interim spousal support from Coulson.

         Based on these facts, Coulson alleged that (1) Steiner committed the tort of alienation of affections by destroying the spousal love between Coulson and Omadlao; (2) Steiner committed fraud and civil conspiracy by "knowingly accept[ing] the benefits of [Omadlao's] fraudulent behavior" and by conspiring with Omadlao to defraud Coulson; and (3) Steiner committed intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress by having an affair with Omadlao and then conspiring with her to extract child and spousal support from Coulson.

         Steiner filed an answer denying these allegations. Steiner then moved for summary judgment, arguing that alienation of affections is not a cause of action in Alaska and that the other two claims were ...


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