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You can search the entire site. or go to the recent opinions, or the chronological or subject indices. Hopper v. Estate of Goard (1/13/2017) sp-7146

Hopper v. Estate of Goard (1/13/2017) sp-7146

          Notice:   This opinion is subject to correction before publication in the P                    ACIFIC  REPORTER.  

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                     THE  SUPREME  COURT  OF  THE  STATE  OF  ALASKA  

CAROL  HOPPER  and  ELIZABETH                                    )  

ROLLINS,  Co-Conservators  for  TERR                            )  

                                                            Y          Supreme  Court  No.  S-16051  

STAHLMAN,                                                        )  


                                                                 )     Superior Court No. 4FA-12-01326 CI  

                              Appellants,                        )  


                                                                       O P I N I O N  

          v.	                                                    )  


                                                                      No. 7146 - January 13, 2017  


ESTATE OF JAMES GOARD,                                           )  



                              Appellee.                          )


                    Appeal  from  the  Superior  Court  of  the  State  of  Alaska,  


                    Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Michael A. MacDonald,  



                    Appearances:              Carol  Hopper,  pro   se,  Anchorage,   and  


                    Elizabeth  Rollins,  pro  se,  North  Pole,  Appellants.                              No  


                    appearance by Appellee Estate of James Goard.  


                    Before:  Stowers, Chief Justice, Winfree, Maassen, Bolger,  


                    and Carney, Justices.  


                    BOLGER, Justice.  



                    Twoco-conservators filed amotion to intervene in a lawsuit involving their  


ward in order to seek relief from a judgment based on a settlement agreement.   The  


superior court denied the motion, and the co-conservators now appeal. We conclude that  

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the co-conservators were entitled to intervene as a matter of right under Alaska Civil  


Rule  24  and  that  the  denial  of  their  motion  to  intervene  was  not  harmless  error.  


Accordingly, we reverse the superior court's order denying the motion to intervene and  


remand for further proceedings.  




                    Terry Stahlman and James Goard became business partners in the 1980s.  


They relied on a verbal agreement and whatbecamelongstanding practice to split profits,  


losses, and management duties. Things ran smoothly until late 2010, when Goard visited  


Stahlman, who had been diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness, in the hospital.  


Soon after,Goardallegedly stopped sendingreports toStahlman and,eventually, making  


deposits in the partners' bank account.  


                    Stahlman - self-represented - filed suit against Goard in March 2012,  


alleging that Goard took advantage of him after learning of his illness.  He sought more  


than $80,000 in damages.   Goard counterclaimed, seeking over a million dollars in  


damages as well as injunctive relief.  Goard died shortly thereafter, and his estate took  


over the litigation.  


                    The  case  languished  for  about  two  years  until  the  parties  eventually  


participated in a settlement conference on June 18, 2014.   Stahlman was assisted by  


Robert Alexander, who claimed to be a friend holding power of attorney for Stahlman.  


It is unclear from the transcript whether the court received or examined any document  


confirming Alexander's power of attorney.  Both Stahlman and Alexander participated  


telephonically,  and  Stahlman  barely  spoke.                         During  the  conference,  Goard's  estate  


produced a copy of a settlement agreement bearing Stahlman's notarized signature dated  


May 30, 2014, in Fairbanks; the agreement was  also signed by Alexander and the  


personal representative for Goard's estate.  In relevant part the settlement agreement  


awarded three pieces of property to Goard's estate, one of which was to be sold with a  

                                                               -2-                                                         7146

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portion of the proceeds split between Stahlman and Alexander. On August 22, 2014, the                                                                                                           

court entered final judgment based on the agreement.                                                                        

                               But on May 27, 2014, a few days before the settlement agreement was                                                                                            

signed, Elizabeth Rollins petitioned for conservatorship for Stahlman due to perceived                                                                                           

                                                                                                                  1    Stahlman had been hospitalized in  

deterioration in his mental and physical faculties.                                                                                                                                               

December 2013; during the first half of 2014, he underwent three surgeries and was  


prescribed "extreme narcotic pain medication." On August 5, before final judgment was  


entered in the Goard matter, the probate court held a hearing in the conservatorship  


proceeding, which Alexander attended and refused to leave until the court ordered him  


out. Rollins and Carol Hopper were appointed temporary co-conservators at the hearing,  


and the co-conservatorship became permanent in May 2015.  


                               The co-conservators first learned about the settlement agreement in the  


Goard matter in early May 2015, almost nine months after entry of final judgment.  On  


May 27, 2015, Rollins, self-represented and in coordination with her co-conservator,  


moved  to  reopen  and  reconsider  the  settlement  on  behalf  of  Stahlman.                                                                                                      The  co- 


conservators alleged that Stahlman did not sign the settlement agreement and could not  


have been in Fairbanks on May 30, 2014 - the day his signature on the settlement  


agreement was purportedly notarized in Fairbanks - due to his limited mobility; that  


they were not advised of the settlement; and that the other parties to the settlement were  


aware of Stahlman's incapacity and, essentially, had taken advantage of him.  Goard's  


estate did not oppose the motion. The superior court considered this filing to be separate  


motions to intervene and to reconsider the settlement, and it denied both motions without  


explanation in early June.  


                1             In re Stahlman                     , No. 3AN-14-01234 PR (Alaska Super., May 27, 2014).                                                                                 

                                                                                                -3-                                                                                        7146

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                                  The co-conservators appeal.                                                Goard's estate did not appear in any part of                                                              

the proceedings involving the co-conservators.                                                                            

III.             DISCUSSION  

                                  Alaska Civil Rule 24(a) provides for intervention as of right in certain                                                                                                 


situations.   "We favor allowing access to courts and will liberally construe [this rule]."                                                                                                                                   



But if denial of a motion to intervene was harmless error, we need not review it. 


                                  In State v. Weidner we articulated a four-part test to determine whether a  


court must grant a motion to intervene as of right:  


                                  (1) the motion must be timely; (2) the applicant must show an  


                                  interest in the subject matter of the action; (3) it must be  


                                  shown that this interest may be impaired as a consequence of  


                                  the action; and (4) it must be shown that the interest is not  

                                                                                                                                                   [  ]  



                                  adequately represented by an existing party. 

In reviewing a trial court's denial of a motion to intervene as a matter of right, "we apply  


our  independent  judgment  'if  timeliness  is  not  at  issue  and  if  the  facts  relevant  to  


                 2                The co-conservators challenge the denial of both motions and ask us to                                                                                                               

"reverse the [s]ettlement agreement."                                                           Although we review the denial of their motion to                                                                        

intervene, we do not reach their other arguments because "[a] failed intervenor has                                                                                                                                

standing to appeal only the denial of intervention" and not the merits of the adjudication.                                                                                                                                   

Scammon Bay Ass'n v. Ulak                                                , 126 P.3d 138, 142 (Alaska 2005).                                       

                 3                Alaskans for a Common Language, Inc. v. Kritz , 3 P.3d 906, 912 (Alaska  



                 4                See, e.g., Alaska Christian Bible Inst. v. State , 772 P.2d 1079, 1081 (Alaska  



                 5                684 P.2d 103, 113 (Alaska 1984).  This test closely tracks the text of the  


rule.  See Alaska. R. Civ. P. 24(a).  


                                                                                                           -4-                                                                                                  7146

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intervention are not disputed because then only questions of law are posed.' "                                                                                                                                        Because  

neither timeliness nor any other facts relevant to the intervention are in dispute, we apply                                                                                                                                   

our independent judgment here.                                                           We conclude that the co-conservators satisfied all four                                                                                   

elements and are entitled to intervene as a matter of right, and that denial of their motion                                                                                                                               

was not harmless error.                          

                                     Regarding the first element, timeliness, "[w]e will not hold that a motion                                                                             

                                                                                                                                                                                             7      Here, no party  

to intervene is untimely if no party raises timeliness as an issue."                                                                                                                                                           

challenges timeliness on appeal.  Thus, we will consider the co-conservators' motion to  


intervene timely.  


                                     Regarding the second element, the would-be intervenor's interest in the  


subject matter of the ligation, we have stated that "the requisite interest for intervention  


as a matter of right must be direct, substantial, and significantly protectable."8  Alaska  


Civil Rule 17 makes it clear that conservators have exactly this type of interest, providing  


that            "[w]henever  an  .  .  .  incompetent  person  has  a  representative,  such  as  a  .  .  .  


conservator, or other like fiduciary, the representative may sue or defend on behalf of the  


. . . incompetent person."9                                                     The fact that conservators owe fiduciary duties10  would  


further                  strengthen                         the           co-conservators'                                    interest                   in         helping                    Stahlman                        make  


litigation-related decisions and "manage [his] property . . . effectively" to prevent it from  


                  6                 Harvey v. Cook                              , 172 P.3d 794, 798 (Alaska 2007) (quoting                                                                                Alaskans for   

a Common Language                                           , 3 P.3d at 912).            

                  7                 Anchorage  Baptist  Temple  v.  Coonrod,   166  P.3d  29,  33  (Alaska  2007).  

                  8                  Weidner,  684  P.2d  at   113.  

                  9                  Alaska  R.  Civ.  P.   17(c).  

                   10                AS   13.26.245  ("[A]  conservator  shall  act  as  fiduciary  .  .  .  .").  

                                                                                                                   -5-                                                                                                          7146

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being "wasted."                        Accordingly, we conclude that the co-conservators had the requisite                                                         



 allege various deficiencies and fraudulent behavior accompanying the court's entry of  

judgment on the settlement, which they challenge on Stahlman's behalf.                                                                                  Accordingly,  

we conclude that their interest was impaired by the denial of the motion to intervene.                                                                                           12  

                            Regarding  the  fourth  element,  that  the  interest  was  not  adequately  


represented by another party, we have stated that " '[i]nadequacy' [may be] proven by  


 a showing of . . . possible nonfeasance, or incompetence."13  Here, Stahlman was deemed  


to lack capacity to handle his financial matters14 and manifestly did not make many of  


the arguments the co-conservators now raise about the settlement.   Accordingly, we  


 conclude that the co-conservators' interest was not adequately represented by another  


party to the action.  


                            Because the four  Weidner elements are satisfied, the co-conservators are  


 entitled to intervene as a matter of right.  


              11            AS 13.26.165(2).   



                            Cf. McCormick v. Smith, 793 P.2d 1042, 1044 (Alaska 1990) (finding this  

 factor satisfied when the party whom the would-be intervenor supported "lost below").                                                                             

              13             Weidner, 684 P.2d at 113.  See also Mundt v. Nw. Expls., Inc., 947 P.2d  


 827, 831 (Alaska 1997) (finding this factor satisfied when one party had "no particular  


 interest in arguing [an issue important to the would-be intervenor] to the court below,  


 and . . . in fact did not do so vigorously").  


              14            Under AS.13.26.165, a conservator may be appointed for a person "for  


reasons such as mental illness, mental deficiency, physical illness or disability, advanced  


 age,  chronic use  of drugs,  chronic intoxication,  fraud,  confinement, detention  by  a  


 foreign power, or disappearance."   The record indicates that many of these reasons  


 applied to Stahlman's situation.  


                                                                                       -6-                                                                                7146

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                              Denial of the co-conservators' motion to intervene was not harmless error.                                                                                          

 If the co-conservators had been able to intervene, they could have sought relief from                                                                                               

judgment under Alaska Civil Rule 60(b), which allows a court to grant such relief "upon                                                                                            

                                                    15    The rule provides at least three possibly applicable bases for  

 such terms as are just."                                                                                                                                                   

relief:              "mistake,   inadvertence,   surprise  or  excusable  neglect";  "fraud  .   .   .   ,  


misrepresentation, or other misconduct  of an adverse party"; or a void judgment.16  


Although  the  superior  court  has  discretion  in  ruling  on  motions  for  relief  from  


judgment, 17  we observe that the co-conservators allege facts that, if proven, may allow  


them to prevail on such a motion.18  


 IV.           CONCLUSION  

                              For the reasons explained above, we REVERSE the superior court's denial  


 of the motion to intervene and REMAND this case to the superior court for further  



               15             Alaska  R.  Civ.  P.  60(b).  

               16             Id.  

               17              Williams  v.   Williams,  252  P.3d  998,   1004  (Alaska  2011).  

               18             We further observe,  without  deciding,  that  the co-conservators may have  

 alleged  facts  sufficient  to  require  an  evidentiary  hearing.  

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