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You can search the entire site. or go to the recent opinions, or the chronological or subject indices. Christensen v. Alaska Sales & Service, Inc. (10/10/2014) sp-6959

Christensen v. Alaska Sales & Service, Inc. (10/10/2014) sp-6959

         Notice:  This opinion is subject to correction before publication in the PACIFIC  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  



RAMONA CHRISTENSEN and                                     )  

JACK SCOTT,                                                )  

                                                           )    Supreme Court No. S-14963  

                           Appellants,                     )  

                                                           )    Superior Court No. 3AN-10-07948 CI  

         v.                                                )  

                                                           )    O P I N I O N  

ALASKA SALES & SERVICE, INC.,                              )  

                                                           )    No. 6959 - October 10, 2014  

                           Appellee.                       )  


                  Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third  


                  Judicial District, Anchorage, William F. Morse, Judge.  

                  Appearances:  A. Lee Petersen, Petersen Professional Corp.,  

                  Willow, for Appellants.  Terrance A. Turner and Natalie A.  

                  Cale, Turner & Mede, P.C., Anchorage, and Edward A. Gray  


                  and Heather Russell Fine, Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott,  

                  LLC, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for Appellee.  

                  Before:  Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and  


                  Bolger, Justices.  

                  WINFREE, Justice.  


                  Four years after a couple purchased a new car, it collided with two moose  


on the Parks Highway.  The couple sued the car dealership for product liability, alleging  


that the car's seat belt failed to restrain the driver  in the accident.  The superior court  


granted summary judgment to the dealership, concluding that "no reasonable jury could  


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


find that the Plaintiffs have proven that the seat belt . . . was defective."  The couple  


appeals, arguing that the superior court applied an incorrect summary judgment standard  


and that genuine issues of material fact made summary judgment inappropriate.  Because  


we conclude that the couple has raised genuine issues of material fact regarding a seat  


belt defect and causation of the driver's injury, we reverse the superior court's grant of  

summary judgment.  



          A.        Facts  


                    In spring 2004 Ramona Christensen and Jack Scott purchased a new 2004  


Buick from Alaska Sales & Service, Inc.  In June 2008 Christensen was driving the  


Buick on the Parks Highway when she collided with two moose. Other than Christensen,  

there were no witnesses to the accident.  Photographs taken after the accident show  

damage to the Buick's front driver's side.  


                    After the collision Christensen called the police to report the accident and  


called Scott to come pick her up at the scene.  When Scott arrived Christensen said she  

felt nauseated, and Scott noticed a red mark on her forehead.  Christensen could not  


remember many details of the collision, including whether she hit her head on something  

inside the car.  

                    During the days following the accident, Christensen reported feeling light- 


headed  and  dizzy.            Christensen's  speech  became  disfluent  and  broken,  and  her  gait  


became unsteady, causing her to fall repeatedly.  About one week after the accident,  


Christensen sought medical attention to address her worsening symptoms.  A neurologist  

examined Christensen and ordered an MRI spectroscopy.  The spectroscopy showed  


evidence of bilateral frontal lobe brain damage.  Since 2008 numerous other physicians  


and  psychiatrists  have  examined  and  treated  Christensen  for  her  continuing  speech,  

short-term memory, and mobility problems.  

                                                               -2-                                                         6959

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


                     Shortly after  the accident Scott took the Buick to a repair shop.  Scott  


suspected that Christensen's seat belt failed to work properly during the crash.  Prior to  


the accident Scott had noticed that the seat belts in the Buick seemed different than what  


he was accustomed to - the Buick's seat belts sometimes had not retracted on their own  


or locked when suddenly pulled forward. When Scott asked the repair shop to repair the  


driver's seat belt, the repair shop responded that both the driver's and passenger's seat  


belts were not working properly. The repair shop contacted Alaska Sales & Service, but  


it refused to pay for seat belt replacements. Scott's insurance company agreed to pay for  


the replacements, and the repair shop replaced both seat belts.  The original seat belts  

were not returned to Scott.  

          B.        Proceedings  

                    In 2010 Christensen and Scott filed suit against Alaska Sales & Service,  


claiming  that  the  Buick's  seat  belt  failed  to  work  properly  during  the  crash.    After  

receiving answers to interrogatories, taking depositions of Christensen and Scott, and  

obtaining  an  expert  affidavit,  Alaska  Sales  &  Service  filed  a  motion  for  summary  


judgment.  Alaska Sales & Service argued that Christensen and Scott had not presented  


enough evidence that the Buick's seat belt was defective or that a seat belt failure caused  


Christensen's injuries.  The superior court granted summary judgment to Alaska Sales  


& Service.  Christensen and Scott filed a motion to reconsider; the superior court denied  

reconsideration and set out its reasons for granting summary judgment to Alaska Sales  

& Service.  The court described the evidence presented, including the absence of the  

original seat belts, and concluded that "no reasonable jury could find that [Christensen  

and Scott] have proven that the seat belt . . . was defective."  

                     Christensen and Scott appeal.  

                                                                -3-                                                        6959

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



                     We review grants of summary judgment de novo.   


          A.         The Summary Judgment Standard In Alaska  

                     The superior court dismissed Christensen and Scott's case on the ground  

that "no reasonable jury could find that [Christensen and Scott] have proven that the seat  


belt . . . was defective."  Christensen and Scott argue that to survive the motion for  


summary judgment, they only had to show they could present admissible evidence to  


raise a genuine issue of material fact for trial.  Alaska Sales & Service responds that the  


correct summary judgment test is whether "even if everything [Christensen and Scott]  


said was true . . . a reasonable jury . . . could find in their favor," and that the superior  


court actually meant and used this standard.  (Emphasis in original.)  Christensen and  


 Scott are more correct:  a non-moving party does not need to prove  anything to defeat  


summary judgment.  But a non-moving party cannot create a genuine issue of material  


fact merely by offering admissible evidence - the offered evidence must not be too  


conclusory,  too  speculative,  or  too  incredible  to  be  believed,  and  it  must  directly  


contradict the moving party's evidence. We take this opportunity to clarify and reaffirm  

Alaska's longstanding summary judgment standard.  

                     Alaska Civil Rule 56 provides for judgment to be granted to a party where  


"there is no genuine issue as to any material fact" and "the moving party is entitled to  

                                            2  One of our earliest cases involving Rule 56 illustrated the  

judgment as a matter of law."                                               

meaning of "genuine issue" by affirming a grant of summary judgment against a party  


           1        Hurn v. Greenway , 293 P.3d 480, 483 (Alaska 2013) (citing                                    State, Dep't  

of Health & Soc. Servs., Div. of Family & Youth Servs. v. Sandsness                                     , 72 P.3d 299, 301  

(Alaska 2003)).  

          2          Alaska R. Civ. P. 56(c).  

                                                                -4-                                                             6959  

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

who had pointed to no evidence supporting his position.                              Gilbertson v. City of Fairbanks  

involved a dispute over unpaid utility bills between the city-owned utility and a hotel  


owner whose hotel had been destroyed in a fire.   The city filed a motion for summary  


judgment, submitting an affidavit from the city comptroller detailing the hotel owner's  


                                                                                   The  hotel  owner  responded  by  

unpaid  heat,  electric,  water,  and  telephone  bills.                                            

submitting his deposition testimony:  " 'I am sure my bills w[ere] paid as my cancelled  


checks show . . . .  [S]o far as I know.  I could have lost some checks in the fire.' "5                                      The  


superior court granted summary judgment to the city.6  


                     We affirmed the superior court's decision because the hotel owner had not  


pointed to any evidence actually disputing the city comptroller's testimony.7  We noted  


the hotel owner's assertion that he " 'could have lost some checks in the fire' " was  

contradicted by the physical evidence: "All of the checks produced . . . plainly indicated  


that his utility bills were not fully paid. . . .  From the cancelled checks produced for  


every month preceding the fire, and including the month of the fire, the fair inference  

                                             8  And during his deposition, when the city's lawyer asked  

was that no checks were lost."    

the hotel owner whether an audit of his checks would show an unpaid utility bill balance,  


          3          368 P.2d 214, 214-15 (Alaska 1962).

          4         Id.

        Id. at 215.  

          6         Id. at 214.  

          7         Id. at 216-17.  

          8         Id. at 215-16.  

                                                                -5-                                                         6959

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



the hotel owner refused to answer.                      That question "went to the very heart of the issue  


- where an unequivocal straightforward answer might well have raised an issue of  


fact."         The  city  had  met  its  summary  judgment  burden  of  putting  forth  evidence  


showing the lack of genuine issues of material fact, and the hotel owner had failed to  


"clearly stat[e] his defense of payment and [show] the court how he planned to support  

that  defense  with  facts  which  would  be  admissible  in  evidence  at  the  trial."11                                     We  


affirmed the grant of summary judgment on the ground that no genuine issue of material  

fact remained for trial.12  

                     Gilbertson exemplifies the summary judgment standard we consistently  


have followed.  "[A] party seeking summary judgment has the initial burden of proving,  


through admissible evidence, that there are no [genuine] disputed issues of material fact  


                                                                                                           Once the moving  

and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."  


party has made that showing, the burden shifts to the non-moving party "to set forth  


specific facts showing that he could produce evidence reasonably tending to dispute or  

          9         Id. at 216.  

          10        Id.  

          11        Id. at 216-17.  

          12        Id.  

          13        Mitchell v. Teck Cominco Alaska Inc ., 193 P.3d 751, 760 n.25 (Alaska  

2008); see also Alakayak v. B.C. Packers, Ltd. , 48 P.3d 432, 447-48 (Alaska 2002) ("The  


movant bears the initial burden of proving through admissible evidence (1) the absence  


of genuine fact disputes, and (2) its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law." (citing  


Philbin v. Matanuska-Susitna Borough , 991 P.2d 1263, 1265 (Alaska 1999))); Shade v.  


Co & Anglo Alaska Serv. Corp., 901 P.2d 434, 437 (Alaska 1995) ("[I]t is the moving  


party that bears the initial burden of proving, through admissible evidence, the absence  


of genuine factual disputes and its entitlement to judgment."); Gilbertson, 368 P.2d at  


                                                                -6-                                                         6959

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

contradict  the  movant's  evidence  and  thus  demonstrate  that  a  material  issue  of  fact  


                     In Gilbertson  we observed that Alaska Civil Rule 56 mirrors Federal Rule     

                                  15 and for the first 29 years of statehood we followed the federal  

of Civil Procedure 56,                                                           


courts'  approach  to  summary  judgment.                             Then  in  1986  the  U.S.  Supreme  Court  

announced   a   new   interpretation   of   the   federal   summary   judgment   standard,17  

incorporating the substantive evidentiary burdens applicable at trial into the summary  

judgment determination. 18  

                     In Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. a citizens group filed libel claims against  


a  magazine  and  its  publisher  for  portraying  the  group's  members  as  racists.19                                      The  

magazine moved for summary judgment in federal district court, submitting a reporter's  

affidavit stating that he believed the information published about the group was true.20  


           14        State, Dep't of Highways v. Green, 586 P.2d 595, 606 n.32 (Alaska 1978);  

see also Gilbertson , 368 P.2d at 216-17.  

           15        368 P.2d at 214 ("The rules are identical in every aspect with which we are   

here concerned.").  

           16        See Moffatt v. Brown, 751 P.2d 939, 943-44 (Alaska 1988) (rejecting new  


federal summary judgment standard); Bentley Family Trust, Bank of Cal. v. Lynx Enters.,  


Inc ., 658 P.2d 761,765 n.11 (Alaska 1983) (citing federal summary judgment decisions);  


Palzer  v.  Serv-U-Meat  Co. ,  419  P.2d  201,  205  (Alaska  1966)  (following  federal  

summary judgment approach).  

           17        See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251 (1986).  



                    Id. ; see also Samuel Issacharoff & George Loewenstein, Second Thoughts  

About Summary Judgment , 100 YALE  L.J. 73, 85 (1990).  

           19        477 U.S. at 244-45.  

          20        Id. at 245.  

                                                                -7-                                                         6959

----------------------- Page 8-----------------------

If accepted as true, the reporter's statement would have negated an essential element of  


                                    21  The group responded with allegations that the reporter had  

the group's libel claim.     

relied on clearly unbelievable sources - allegations the group claimed disputed the  


reporter's statement of belief that the information was true.                                 The group argued that it  


had raised a genuine issue of material fact, but the federal district court disagreed and  


granted summary judgment to the magazine.                              

                    The U.S. Supreme Court's analysis began with a discussion of summary  


judgment standards and the appropriate weight to give conflicting evidentiary claims. 24  


The Court clarified the meaning of Federal Rule 56 "genuine issues" of material fact,  

defining a "genuine" issue as one from which a "reasonable jury could return a verdict  


for the nonmoving party."                   By defining "genuine issues" in terms of a jury outcome,  

the Court incorporated the substantive evidentiary burdens on the parties at the summary  


judgment stage:  "[T]here is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring  


the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party."26  "Sufficient" evidence  


requires  more  than  "a  scintilla  of  evidence"  supporting  the  non-moving  party's  


          21        See id. at 244 (noting the requirement for actual malice in libel claims). 

          22        Id. at 246. 

          23        Id.

          24        Id. at 247-52. 

          25        Id. at 248.  

          26        Id. at 249.  

          27        Id. at 252 ("The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the  


plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could  



                                                               -8-                                                         6959

----------------------- Page 9-----------------------

                       The Liberty Lobby Court equated summary judgment with the existing  


                                                                                                                                   The  Court  

standard  for  deciding  directed  verdict  motions  under  Federal  Rule  50. 


explained that "the inquiry involved in a ruling on a motion for summary judgment or  


for a directed verdict necessarily implicates the substantive evidentiary standard of proof  



that would apply at the trial on the merits."                                Thus, both federal summary judgment and  

directed  verdict  standards  required  federal  courts  to  inquire  "whether  the  evidence  


presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one- 

sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law."30  

                       In Moffatt v. Brown we considered whether to follow Liberty Lobby 's new  


approach to summary judgment, but ultimately rejected it.     In that case, a physician  


sued a newsletter publisher for defamation related to allegedly false statements about the  

physician's abortion procedures.32  The publisher moved for summary judgment, arguing  


that the superior court should apply the Liberty Lobby test for summary judgment and  

            27         (...continued)  

reasonably find for the plaintiff.").  

            28         Id. at 250-51; see Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1) ("If a party has been fully heard                      

on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have       

a  legally  sufficient  evidentiary  basis  to  find  for  the  party  on  that  issue,  the  court  

may . . . (B) grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against the party . . . .").  



                       Liberty Lobby , 477 U.S. at 252; see also id. at 249 ("[T]here is no issue for  


trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return  

a verdict for that party.").  



                       Id.  at  251-52  ("The  'primary  difference  between  the  two  motions  is  


procedural . . . .  In essence, though, the inquiry under each is the same . . . .' " (quoting  


Bill Johnson's Rests., Inc. v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd. , 461 U.S. 731, 745 n.11 (1983))).  

            31         751 P.2d 939, 942-43 (Alaska 1988).  

            32         Id. at 940.  

                                                                        -9-                                                                 6959

----------------------- Page 10-----------------------

determine there was not sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact  



because no reasonable jury would find for the physician.                             The superior court denied the  

publisher's motion.34  

                    We affirmed the denial of summary judgment, concluding that Alaska Civil  



Rule 56 does not require a trial court to apply substantive evidentiary standards. 


rejected Liberty Lobby 's summary judgment reformulation and declined "to incorporate  


the  applicable  substantive  evidentiary  standard  into  this  state's  summary  judgment  


practice."     Summary judgment does not require the non-moving party to prove factual  


issues according to the applicable evidentiary standard, and does not allow trial judges  


to predict how a reasonable jury would decide the case - we explained that weighing  

and evaluating evidence " 'intrudes into the province of the jury.' "37  

                    Since Moffatt we consistently have interpreted Rule 56 to require only " 'a  

showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists to be litigated, and not a showing that  


                                                                     There  are  two  important  aspects  to  this  

a  party  will  ultimately  prevail'  "  at  trial. 

          33        Id. at 940-41. 

          34        Id. at 941. 

          35        Id. at 943. 

          36        Id.

       Id. at 944 (quoting Dairy Stores, Inc. v. Sentinel Publ'g Co. , 516 A.2d 220,   

235-36 (N.J. 1986)).  

          38        E.g. , Lockwood v. Geico Gen. Ins. Co. , 323 P.3d 691, 697 (Alaska 2014)  


(quoting Moffatt , 751 P.2d at 943-44); DeNardo v. Bax , 147 P.3d 672, 684 (Alaska  



                                                             -10-                                                        6959

----------------------- Page 11-----------------------

requirement.   First, a material fact is one upon which resolution of an issue turns.39  



 Second, because the existence of a dispute over a material fact is a question of law,                                                the  


determination is objectively based and employs a reasonableness standard.                                                   Although  

we occasionally have described the reasonableness standard as whether "reasonable  


                                                                                                our perhaps inartful use of  

jurors could disagree on the resolution of a factual issue," 


the  term  "reasonable  jurors"  was  not  meant  to  suggest  use  of  the  federal  summary  


judgment standard.  We require only that the evidence proposed for trial must not be  

           39         Sonneman v. State, 969 P.2d 632, 635 (Alaska 1998) ("A factual issue will   

not  be  considered  material  if,  even  assuming  the  factual   situation  to  be  as  the  non- 

moving party contends, he or she would still not have a factual basis for a claim for relief        

against the moving party." (citing                      Whaley v. State, 438 P.2d 718, 720 (Alaska 1968))).       



                      ConocoPhillips Alaska, Inc. v. Williams Alaska Petroleum, Inc., 322 P.3d  

 114, 122 (Alaska 2014) ("Whether the evidence presented a genuine issue of material  


fact is a question of law that we independently review." (quoting Kalenka v. Jadon, Inc. ,  

305 P.3d 346, 349 (Alaska 2013)) (internal quotation marks omitted)).  



                      See Yurioff v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 803 P.2d 386, 389 (Alaska 1990) ("To  


prevent summary judgment, [the non-movant] was required to rebut this prima facie  

showing  with  evidence  'reasonably  tending  to  dispute  or  contradict'  [the  movant's]  


evidence." (quoting State, Dep't of Highways v. Green, 586 P.2d 596, 606 n.32 (Alaska  


 1978))); Semlek v. Nat'l Bank of Alaska, 458 P.2d 1003, 1007 (Alaska 1969) ("[I]t was  

incumbent  upon  the  appellants  to  set  forth  facts  showing  that  they  could  produce  

admissible evidence which reasonably would tend to dispute the appellees' evidence and  


demonstrate that a triable issue existed."); Isler v. Jensen , 382 P.2d 901, 902 (Alaska  

 1963) ("[T]o prevent the entry of a summary judgment, [non-movants must] set forth  

facts showing that they could produce admissible evidence which reasonably would tend  


to dispute or contradict [movants'] evidence . . . .").  

           42         E.g. , Kalenka , 305 P.3d at 349 (quoting Burnett v. Covell , 191 P.3d 985,  


990 (Alaska 2008)) (internal quotation marks omitted); McGee Steel Co. v. State ex rel.  


McDonald Indus. Alaska, Inc ., 723 P.2d 611, 614 (Alaska 1986); accord  Green v. N.  

Publ'g Co. , 655 P.2d 736, 743 (Alaska 1982).  

                                                                  -11-                                                             6959

----------------------- Page 12-----------------------

based entirely on "unsupported assumptions and speculation"43 and must not be "too  


incredible to be believed by reasonable minds."                             After the court makes reasonable  

inferences from the evidence in favor of the non-moving party,45 summary judgment is  

appropriate only when no reasonable person could discern a genuine factual dispute on  

a material issue.46  


                   Alaska's summary judgment standard does not allow trial courts, on the  


limited evidence presented at the summary judgment stage, to make trial-like credibility  



determinations, conduct trial-like evidence weighing,                           or decide whether a non-moving  


party has proved its case.  Although a trial court initially must determine whether the  

          43       Peterson v. State, Dep't of Natural Res.                  , 236 P.3d 355, 367 (Alaska 2010)  

(quoting Perkins v. Doyon Universal Servs .,  LLC , 151 P.3d 413, 416 (Alaska 2006))  

(internal quotation marks omitted); Mahan v. Arctic Catering, Inc ., 133 P.3d 655, 661  

(Alaska 2006) (quoting French v. Jadon, Inc ., 911 P.2d 20, 25 (Alaska 1996)) (internal  

quotation marks omitted).  

          44        Wilson v. Pollet, 416 P.2d 381, 384 (Alaska 1966).  

          45       Lockwood  v.  Geico  Gen.  Ins.  Co. ,  323  P.3d  691,  696  (Alaska  2014)  

(quoting Lum v. Koles , 314 P.3d 546, 552 (Alaska 2013)). An inference is a "conclusion  


reached by considering other facts and deducing a logical consequence  from them."  


BLACK 'S LAW DICTIONARY 897 (10th ed. 2014).  

          46       See supra note 41.  

          47       Kelly  v.  Municipality  of  Anchorage ,  270  P.3d  801,  804  (Alaska  2012)  


("Courts do not weigh evidence or witness credibility on summary judgment."); accord  

Gudenau & Co. v. Sweeney Ins., Inc., 736 P.2d 763, 765 (Alaska 1987).  

                   In Braund, Inc. v. White we recognized the complexity of the court's task  


in   evaluating   evidence   at   the   summary   judgment   stage:   "The   most   difficult  

determinations lie in the area of credibility.  The question of when summary judgment  


should be denied because of credibility is difficult to determine."  486 P.2d 50, 53 n.3  


(Alaska 1971).  But evidence or assertions should be rejected based on credibility only  


when it is "too incredible to be believed by reasonable minds."  Wilson, 416 P.2d at 384.  


                                                            -12-                                                       6959

----------------------- Page 13-----------------------


evidence could be believed by a reasonable person, that decision is not based on whether  


the court actually believes the evidence or whether it believes the moving party has better  



evidence.          The trier of fact ultimately may find against the non-moving party after  


evaluating credibility and applying the substantive evidentiary standards of proof at trial.  


But the only questions to be answered at the summary judgment stage are whether a  

reasonable  person  could  believe  the  non-moving  party's  assertions  and  whether  a  

reasonable  person  could  conclude  those  assertions  create  a  genuine  dispute  as  to  a  

material fact.49  

          48        See Wilson, 416 P.2d at 384 ("The court is not to resolve any existing  

genuine issues as to material facts in determining a summary judgment motion.").  

          49        Cf. Sharp v. Fairbanks N. Star Borough, 569 P.2d 178, 183-84 (Alaska                 

 1977) ("Although the issue of 'proximate cause' is normally left for the trier of fact  

where unresolved fact questions remain, it becomes a question of law where the evidence  


is such that reasonable minds cannot differ." (footnote omitted)); Otis Elevator Co. v.  

McLaney , 406 P.2d 7, 9-10 (Alaska 1965) ("Review of the record convinces us that a  

jury question was presented as to the issues . . . because fair-minded jurors could differ  


as to the conclusions of fact that might be drawn from the evidence which was presented  

as to these questions.").  

                    We reiterate that our summary judgment standard is not the same as the  


standard for deciding post-trial motions for directed verdict.  Compare Alaska R. Civ.  


P. 56(c), with Alaska R. Civ. P. 50(a).  See Murray E. Gildersleeve Logging Co. v. N.  

 Timber Corp., 670 P.2d 372, 377 (Alaska 1983) ("[A] directed verdict will be granted  

when reasonable jurors could not differ in their resolution of a disputed issue of fact.").  

To  the  extent  that  we  have  equated  the  summary  judgment  and  directed  verdict  


standards, see, e.g.,  Cameron v. Chang-Craft, 251  P.3d 1008, 1017 & n.16 (Alaska  


2011); Braund, Inc., 486 P.2d at 53, we disavow those misleading statements.  

                                                             -13-                                                       6959

----------------------- Page 14-----------------------

                    We reiterate that ours is a "lenient standard for  withstanding summary  


judgment."     The low standard for surviving summary judgment serves the important  


function of preserving the right to have factual questions resolved by a trier of fact only  

after following the procedures of a trial.  Alaska's traditional standard for summary  


                                                                                                         We see no reason  

judgment is more protective of this right than the federal standard. 

to deviate from our long-established summary judgment standard today.  

          B.         Genuine Issues Of Material Fact Precluded Summary Judgment.  


                    To prevail on their design-defect claim of strict liability, Christensen and  


 Scott ultimately must prove at trial that the Buick's seat belt was defective and that the  


                                                                                          The  superior  court  granted  

defect  caused  Christensen  some  compensable  injury. 

summary judgment on the issue of defect, but Alaska Sales & Service also argues that  

there is no evidence for causation, presumably as an alternative ground for upholding  

          50        Shaffer v. Bellows, 260 P.3d 1064, 1069 (Alaska 2011) (citing Estate of  

Milos  v.  Quality  Asphalt  Paving,  Inc .,  145  P.3d  533,  537  (Alaska  2006)); see  also  


Hammond v. State, Dep't of Transp. & Pub. Facilities , 107 P.3d 871, 881 (Alaska 2005)  


("It is well established that 'the evidentiary threshold necessary to preclude an entry of  


summary judgment is low.' " (quoting John's Heating Serv. v. Lamb , 46 P.3d 1024, 1032  


(Alaska 2002))).  



                    See DeNardo v. Bax , 147 P.3d 672, 683-84 (Alaska 2006) ("The standard  

for granting and upholding summary judgments in Alaska is therefore more rigorous  


than  the  federal  standard.");  Moffatt  v.  Brown ,  751  P.2d  939,  944  (Alaska  1988)  


(recognizing  that  the  federal  summary  judgment  standard  "inevitably  implicates  a  


weighing of the evidence, an exercise that intrudes into the province of the jury" (quoting  


Dairy Stores, Inc. v. Sentinel Publ'g Co. , 516 A.2d 220, 236 (N.J. 1986))); cf. Anderson  


v. Liberty  Lobby,  Inc. ,  477  U.S.  242,    266  (1986)  (Brennan,  J.,  dissenting)  ("[T]he  


Court's opinion is also full of language which could surely be understood as an invitation  


- if not an instruction - to trial courts to assess and weigh evidence much as a juror  

would . . . .").  



                    See  Dura  Corp.  v.  Harned,  703  P.2d  396,  405-06  (Alaska  1985),  

superseded on other grounds by statute, Tort Reform Act, ch. 139,  1, SLA 1986.  

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summary  judgment.    Construing  all  of  the  evidence  in  the  light  most  favorable  to  


Christensen and Scott and making all reasonable factual inferences in their favor, we  


conclude that there are genuine issues of material fact with respect to both the seat belt  

defect and causation.  


                     1.        Evidence exists reasonably suggesting a defect in the seat belt.  

                     Christensen and Scott presented evidence that is not too incredible to be  


believed and, taking all reasonable inferences in their favor, raises a discernible dispute  


whether the driver's seat belt was defective at the time of the accident.  Christensen and  


Scott produced evidence indicating an unbroken chain of custody of the Buick and that  


the seat belts as originally sold had not been altered in any way.  Scott stated that before  


the accident he tested the seat belts by quickly pulling them forward and that sometimes  


the mechanism would not lock or retract the belts.  After the accident the seat belts were  


replaced but, according to Scott, the new seat belts failed in the same manner as the  


previous belts.  Scott testified that the new seat belts would also sometimes not lock in  


place following a sudden forward movement.  This evidence supports the inference that  

the driver's seat belt may not have worked as intended in the accident.  

                     Christensen said she always wears her seat belt and was wearing it at the  


time of the accident.   Christensen also said that after hitting the moose she was not  


pinned against her seat and that she had no bruising or marks on her body other than a  

red  mark  on  her  forehead.    The  absence  of  bruising  from  the  seat  belt  supports  an  

inference  that  it  did  not  restrain  Christensen  during  the  collision,  and  the  forehead  


marking  supports  the  inference  that  her  body  went  forward  far  enough  to  contact  


something in the car; both support the inference that the seat belt may not have restrained  

her as intended.  


                    Alaska Sales & Service points to the lack of specific pieces of evidence in  


the record supporting a seat belt defect.  According to Alaska Sales & Service, summary  

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judgment was warranted because Christensen and Scott could not produce the seat belts  


in question, a description of the seat belt's performance during the crash, evidence of  


occupant contact marks within the vehicle, or any police report describing the collision.  

Although these evidentiary gaps may play a role in the  resolution of the case at trial, the  

evidence  in  the  record  and  reasonable  inferences  drawn  from  the  evidence  raise  a  

genuine issue of material fact as to the seat belt defect.  

                    2.	        Evidence exists reasonably suggesting Christensen's injury was  

                               caused by the seat belt defect.  


                     Christensen and Scott also produced evidence that is not too incredible to  


be  believed  and,  taking  all  reasonable  inferences  in  their  favor,  raises  a  discernible  


dispute whether the allegedly defective seat belt caused her injury. Christensen and Scott  


said that after the accident Christensen had a mark on her forehead.  Christensen said she  


could not remember some of the events immediately before, during, or after the collision.  

Christensen's ongoing post-accident symptoms include dizziness, impaired speech, and  

difficulty walking.  

                     Christensen   and   Scott   presented   evidence   from   medical   specialists  


diagnosing  a  "closed  head  injury"  and  "bilateral  frontal  damage"  to  her  brain.    A  


neurologist noted that Christensen's symptoms "started after the accident," and although  


none of the treating physicians could yet conclude with certainty that the accident caused  

Christensen's brain injury, the neurologist stated that "there is no other explanation."  


                    Alaska Sales & Service argues that Christensen and Scott cannot establish  


causation without an expert who can examine the seat belt and link Christensen's brain  

injury to the seat belt defect.  But the evidence and reasonable inferences that can be  


drawn from it support Christensen and Scott's allegation that Christensen suffered a head  

injury.  The mark on Christensen's head and her memory loss support an inference that  


she hit her head during the accident hard enough to lose consciousness.  Christensen's  

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and Scott's testimony about symptom onset, along with the neurologist's statements  

describing Christensen's symptoms as beginning after the accident and noting "there is  


no  other  explanation,"  support  an  inference  that  her  symptoms  resulted  from  the  


                   3.       Summary judgment was inappropriate.  

                   Christensen and Scott raised genuine issues of material fact with respect to  


both seat belt defect and causation.  The evidence they presented goes well beyond  

assumption and speculation, is not too incredible to be believed, and relates directly to  


the material issues in the case.  Taking all reasonable inferences from that evidence in  


their  favor,  genuine  factual  disputes  as  to  defect  and  causation  are  reasonably  

discernable.  Whether Christensen and Scott ultimately will prevail at trial under the  


appropriate evidentiary standard is irrelevant - at the summary judgment stage courts  


do not weigh evidence or predict how a jury will decide the case.  Christensen and Scott  


were not required to "prove" their case; rather, they were required to and did demonstrate  


the existence of genuine issues of material fact to be litigated at trial.  Thus, it was error  

to grant summary judgment.  

V.        CONCLUSION  

                   We REVERSE the superior court's grant of summary judgment to Alaska  

Sales & Service and REMAND for further proceedings.  

         53        See   Thompson   v.   Cooper,   290   P.3d   393,   399-400   (Alaska   2012)  


(acknowledging that causation could be inferred from symptoms beginning after an  


accident); John's Heating Serv. , 46 P.3d at 1036 (noting "temporal relationship between  

the symptoms" and alleged source of injury bolsters credibility of expert's causation  


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