Supreme Court of Alaska (2022)
In Sockpick v. Magby, 2022 WL 2825388 (Alaska 2022) (unpublished), the supreme court held that a release of liability in a settlement agreement cannot be a defense to a lawsuit when a court has previously struck down that portion of the settlement agreement. (Id. at 4). A wife filed for divorce and her husband proposed a settlement through his attorney. (Id. at 1). In addition to settling property claims, this settlement contained a clause releasing liability for all assault, battery, or domestic violence lawsuits. (Id.). A separate agreement released liability for all lawsuits in general. (Id.). Shortly after agreeing to the settlement, the wife sued to invalidate it. (Id. at 2). The divorce court upheld the property settlement but invalidated the separate release of liability, and noted in a footnote that the domestic violence liability release in the property settlement was also unenforceable. (Id.). The wife then sued the husband for assault, but the court did not notice the footnote about the unenforceability of the domestic violence liability release, and neither the wife nor the husband explicitly pointed it out. (Id.). The court held that the prior case upheld the settlement and granted summary judgment to the husband. (Id.). On appeal, the supreme court reversed the lower court, reasoning that the divorce court did not uphold the relevant portion of the settlement. (Id. at 3–4). The supreme court pointed out that the lower court overlooked the footnote which invalidated the release of liability in the settlement. (Id. at 3). The supreme court also reasoned that the divorce court’s decision barred any future arguments about the enforceability of the liability release. (Id. at 4). Reversing the lower court’s decision, the supreme court held that a release of liability in a settlement agreement cannot be a defense to a lawsuit when a court has previously struck down that portion of the settlement agreement. (Id.).