from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, No.
3AN-11-06873 CI Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Mark
Michael A. Stepovich, Stepovich & Vacura Law Office,
Fairbanks, for Appellant.
Kenneth W. Legacki, Anchorage, for Appellee Landau.
appearance by Appellees Showboat Show Club Anchorage, LLC;
Terry Maurice Stahlman; or Estate of James Goard.
Before: Stowers, Chief Justice, Winfree, Maassen, Bolger, and
sued her former employer for unpaid compensation, naming the
company and both of its owners as defendants. One of the
owners died while the suit was pending, and the former
employee substituted the owner's estate in the
proceedings. Judgment was eventually entered in favor of the
former employee. A year later the deceased owner's widow
moved for relief from the judgment as the sole beneficiary of
his estate, arguing that neither her husband nor the estate
had been properly served with notice of the suit. The former
employee responded that service had been proper and that, in
any case, the widow did not have authority to file a motion
on behalf of the estate. The court denied the motion on the
ground that the widow had not shown good cause for relief
from the judgment. We affirm on the alternate ground that the
widow did not have authority to act on the estate's
FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
Landau was a dancer at the Showboat Show Club in Anchorage.
In April 2011 she filed a complaint in superior court against
Showboat Show Club Anchorage, LLC, seeking to recover unpaid
wages, overtime compensation, and impermissible deductions
from her earnings. Her suit also named the LLC's two
members and managers, Terry Stahlman and James Goard.
Stahlman, also the LLC's registered agent, was personally
served a summons and complaint for all three defendants at
his Anchorage residence, which was listed in the LLC's
state licensing reports as the entity's principal office
and both Stahlman's and Goard's member address.
appears undisputed that Goard actually lived in Fairbanks.
Yet Landau's efforts to serve Goard consisted of
unsuccessfully sending the summons and complaint by certified
mail to Stahlman's Anchorage residence and then serving
Goard's copies of the summons and complaint on Stahlman
at the same residence.
responded to the summons and complaint stating that he had
settled the claim, but Landau later advised the court that no
payment had been made and the settlement had failed. Landau
then moved for entry of default against Goard and the LLC.
When Landau sought Goard's default, Landau's attorney
asserted in his affidavit that service on Goard had been
accomplished by leaving the summons and complaint with
Stahlman, "a person of reasonable age and discretion at
the address of record pursuant to the Corporations Section,
State of Alaska, for service on James Goard," and
attaching the return of service to his affidavit. The
attached return of service for Goard said that the summons
and complaint were left with Stahlman at his Anchorage
residence, which was described as "the defendant['s]
usual place of residence." A deputy clerk entered their
default in February 2012. In April the LLC appeared before
the court through counsel, and shortly thereafter the court
set aside the default with respect to it. The default
remained in effect as to Goard.
died in April 2012. His widow, Tracy Hester, is evidently his
estate's sole beneficiary. Robert Nesbitt sought
appointment as the estate's personal representative in
September but was not appointed by the probate court until
August 21 the court held a trial setting conference for
Landau's claims against the LLC, Stahlman, and Goard. The
court noted that Goard was dead and re-entered default
against the LLC because it no longer was represented by
counsel. In a later colloquy between the court and
Landau's attorney, the court noted that once notice of a
party's death is on the record, the court must dismiss
claims against the decedent unless there is a party
substitution within 90 days. Landau's attorney
acknowledged that he "may have to bring in the
began on December 19 and was then continued to a later date.
On December 31 - more than 90 days after the August 21
hearing, after the first day of trial had concluded, and
while Nesbitt's petition for appointment was pending in
probate court-Landau moved to substitute the Estate of James
Goard as a defendant in Goard's place. The court granted
the substitution the following month, even though an estate
had not yet been opened. Landau then notified the putative
estate that she had an interest.
concluded June 18, 2013. In July the court found Stahlman,
Goard's estate, and the LLC jointly and severally liable
for Landau's damages. Landau was awarded a total of $74,
3 83.23 in damages, prejudgment interest, penalties, and
attorney's fees and costs. She then notified the Goard
estate by filing a copy of the judgment in the probate
November 2014, a year after the estate was notified, Hester
moved for relief from judgment under Alaska Civil Rule 60(b)
"as sole beneficiary of the Estate of James Goard."
She argued that neither Goard, his estate, nor herself as
sole beneficiary had ever been properly served with the
complaint. She further argued that Landau had moved to
substitute the estate after the deadline set by Civil Rule
25(a). Throughout the motion Hester asserted her status as
"sole beneficiary of the Estate" as the basis for
responded that all relevant persons, including Hester, had
been properly served and that Hester had not shown good cause
to vacate the default judgment. She also noted that Hester
was not the estate's personal representative and argued
that she therefore lacked standing to object to the
substitution of the estate or to the default judgment.
Hester's reply repeated her arguments that Goard had not
been properly served and argued that Hester had
interest-injury standing because, as the sole beneficiary,
her financial interest in the case was identical to that of
superior court denied Hester's motion in December 2014,
stating that the defendants had been properly served and that
both Goard and Hester "were aware of the litigation and
the default." The court found that Hester had not shown
good cause to vacate the judgment because she had not shown
that the outcome of the suit might be different if relief
were granted. The court did not address the dispute over
Hester's standing to act for the estate.
appealed, arguing that neither Goard nor his estate had been
properly served with notice of the litigation and that the
default judgment entered against the estate should be
vacated. We ordered supplemental briefing on Hester's
standing to seek relief from judgment on behalf of the
STANDARD OF REVIEW
interpretation is a question of law to which we apply our
not previously addressed whether the sole beneficiary of an
estate who is not its personal representative has legal
authority to appear in court on behalf of the estate. We
conclude that Alaska's probate code gives that authority
only to the estate's personal representative. We
therefore affirm the superior court's order denying
Hester's motion for ...