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Adkins v. Stansel

Supreme Court of Alaska

April 10, 2009

Chet ADKINS, Appellant,
v.
Karl STANSEL, Individually and as Assistant Warden of Florence Correctional Center, Appellee.

Page 1032

Chet Adkins, Appellant, pro se.

Craig S. Howard, Richmond & Quinn, Anchorage, for Appellee.

Before : FABE, Chief Justice, MATTHEWS, EASTAUGH, CARPENETI, and WINFREE, Justices.

OPINION

WINFREE, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

An Alaska prisoner in a private Arizona prison facility sued a prison official for allegedly violating his constitutional rights by denying visitation with a relative who had traveled from Alaska. The superior court dismissed the suit for failure to state a cause of action upon which relief might be granted, stating that " an isolated incident which prevented visitation due to an acknowledged oversight by prison officials is not a Constitutional violation under Alaska law." Because the prisoner's complaint must be read to allege an intentional rather than a mistaken denial of visitation, it was error to dismiss the suit on the basis that the prison official's action was mere mistake. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Chet Adkins is an Alaska prisoner incarcerated in a private Arizona correctional facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). In November 2005 Adkins's cousin, James Guinn, contacted Adkins about visiting the prison during an upcoming trip Guinn and his wife were making from Bethel to Denver, Colorado. Guinn then scheduled a visit with Adkins through CCA employee Karl Stansel, an assistant warden at the Arizona facility. The Guinns arrived at the prison as scheduled but were denied access to Adkins, and visitation did not occur.

Adkins wrote a letter to the prison warden complaining of the incident and asking that: (1) an apology be extended to the Guinns; (2) the Guinns be reimbursed for their time and expense in traveling to Arizona for the failed visit; and (3) CCA " [u]ndertake a thorough and unflinching examination of [the prison's] policies and possible cultural prejudices toward the family and community ties of prisoner[s]." In reply the warden apologized to Adkins but stated he was unable to approve the reimbursement request, characterizing the incident as a " miscommunication ... between the supervisors" and an " unfortunate oversight on our part."

Adkins filed a prison grievance, seeking: (1) monetary compensation to the Guinns for their time and expenses in attempting to visit Adkins; and (2) compensatory and punitive damages to Adkins for violation of his constitutional right to rehabilitation and for breach of CCA's and Stansel's fiduciary obligations to protect his rights. The State of Alaska, Department of Corrections (DOC) denied Adkins's grievance, referring to the " unfortunate incident" as " an oversight" and noting that the warden " has apologized ... for the mistake." The Office of the Commissioner of DOC upheld the denial of the appeal, stating that " [a]n error was made, apologies have been given, and assurances have been extended to try to prevent a reoccurrence of the problem."

Adkins then sued Stansel in his personal and official capacities, alleging Stansel violated Adkins's " right to rehabilitation, as provided by the Alaska State Constitution" and breached his fiduciary duty to protect Adkins's constitutional right to rehabilitation. Attached to Adkins's verified complaint were: (1) his letter to the warden; (2) the warden's response; (3) his grievance; (4) DOC's denial of his grievance; and (5) the DOC Commissioner's Office's denial of his appeal.

Stansel filed a motion to dismiss, conceding the incident of failed visitation but arguing that no relief ...


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