Supreme Court sides with man in Alyeska appeal

Posted: Sunday, July 21, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Alaska Supreme Court says Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. owes a Fairbanks businessman $4.8 million.

The court ruled Friday on an appeal by Alyeska over a 1998 Superior Court decision that would have awarding almost $19 million to John Reeves, a tourism operator. Reeves had claimed the company stole his idea for a commercial viewpoint stop along the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

Friday's 3-2 decision orders the lower court to adjust the award.

Reeves sued Alyeska for breach of contract in 1993, saying the company broke its promise to include him in the development of the viewpoint along the Steese Highway.

The suit claimed Reeves approached an Alyeska executive with the idea for a commercial viewpoint complete with a souvenir shop, coffee and baked goods. Reeves claimed Alyeska's actions in building the Fox-area viewpoint center without his involvement amounted to a breach of contract.

In its 1998 decision, the Superior Court jury ruled Alyeska owed Reeves $11.4 million in compensatory damages for financial losses he suffered from not participating in the viewpoint development and $7.5 million in punitive damages to dissuade other companies from similar practices.

Alyeska appealed to the Supreme Court. Friday's ruling upheld $1.8 million of the compensatory damages and threw out the punitive damages but also awarded Reeves $3 million for attorney fees and interest since the case started.

Alyeska, whose only option for appeal is the U.S. Supreme Court, is undecided on its next move, said company spokesman Curtis Thomas.

''We just received the 27-page decision handed down (Friday) morning and we are continuing to look at this and decide on our options,'' Thomas told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

In a written statement, Alyeska officials said they had anticipated the Supreme Court would rule that the company doesn't owe Reeves anything.

Reeves called Friday's decision a victory.

''When this started, my oldest daughter was in fourth or fifth grade, and now she's a junior at Northwestern (University),'' Reeves said. ''We just had to keep on fighting, and I had to stick up for myself. I mean, I took on an oil company.''

Reeves has contended that he approached then-Alyeska executive Keith Burke with the idea for a pipeline viewpoint in 1991 and that Burke promised to let Reeves develop the idea should the company pursue it.

Thomas said Alyeska has always maintained it would have developed the viewpoint even if Reeves had never contacted the company.

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