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Hertz v. Carothers

Supreme Court of Alaska

February 12, 2010

Sidney HERTZ, Appellant,
v.
Dan CAROTHERS, Appellee.

Rehearing Denied March 10, 2010.

Page 572

Sidney R. Hertz, pro se, Seward.

Marilyn J. Kamm, Assistant Attorney General, Richard A. Svobodny, Acting Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

Before: EASTAUGH, WINFREE and CHRISTEN, Justices.

OPINION

CHRISTEN, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

This is the second time we have addressed Sidney Hertz's objections to the State's attempt to execute a judgment against his prisoner trust account. In Hertz v. Carothers [1]( Hertz I ), Hertz challenged the State's right to execute on his prisoner trust account to satisfy a judgment for Alaska Civil Rule 82 attorney's fees entered after Hertz lost a prisoner civil rights lawsuit against the State. There, we affirmed the validity of AS 09.38.030(f) which excludes prisoners from an exemption for low wage earners. Following Hertz I, the State again levied on Hertz's trust account to satisfy the remainder of its judgment. Hertz now challenges the levy on the grounds that (1) he was not served properly; (2) " ambiguities" between AS 09.38.030(f) and AS 33.30.201(d) should be resolved in his favor; (3) AS 09.38.030(f)(5) is an ex post facto law; and (4) AS 09.38.030(f)(5) violates the contract clauses of the Alaska and United States Constitutions. We reverse the court's ruling that Hertz was properly served but affirm the court's rulings that Hertz's prisoner trust account is subject to execution and that the State's attorney should not be sanctioned. We also hold that AS 09.38.030(f) is not an ex post facto law and that it does not violate the contract clause of the Alaska Constitution or the contract clause of the United States Constitution.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Hertz is an inmate at Spring Creek Correctional Center (" SCCC" ). In July 2004 he sued the Alaska Department of Corrections

Page 573

and several of its employees for alleged civil rights violations.[2] The superior court dismissed Hertz's civil rights suit and awarded Rule 82 attorney's fees of $3,225 to the State.[3] The fee award was later reduced to a judgment. [4] When the State attempted to execute against Hertz's prisoner trust account to satisfy the judgment, Hertz claimed exemptions under AS 09.38.030(a) and (b).[5] Specifically, he argued that his wages were exempt from execution because they fell below the statutory minimum in AS 09.38.030.[6] Alternatively, he argued that the statute was invalid under several different theories.[7] In our January 2008 decision, Hertz I, we affirmed the superior court's order rejecting Hertz's claims of exemption.[8] We also affirmed the validity of AS 09.38.030(f). [9]

On March 14, 2008, the State again sought to execute against Hertz's prisoner account to satisfy the remaining portion of its judgment. The State's service instructions directed the Alaska State Troopers (Judicial Services) to serve the writ of execution and creditor's affidavit on Superintendent Turnbull at SCCC. The service instruction form contained a separate section entitled " Instructions for Serving Notices on the Debtor," which directed that a copy of the State's creditor's affidavit, notice of levy and sale of property, notice of right to exemptions, claim of exemptions form, and judgment debtor booklet be served on Hertz. On June 12, 2008, a trooper served the writ of execution on Superintendent Turnbull. The trooper did not serve any documents on Hertz.

It is undisputed that Hertz had actual knowledge of the State's attempt to execute against his prisoner trust account by June 17, 2008, when he sent a letter to the superior court challenging the State's " theft" of his money based in part on lack of notice. When the State's counsel realized that Hertz had not been served, she faxed the documents that should have been served on Hertz to SCCC. A prison guard personally delivered them to Hertz on June 19, 2008.

Hertz responded to the faxed documents by filing several claims of exemption in which he argued that (1) improper service voids the levy; (2) " ambiguities" between AS 33.30.201(d)-which provides that the " primary purpose" of the prisoner trust account is to make funds available for prisoners' use at the time of release-and AS 09.38.030(f)(5)-which allows the execution of judgments against prisoner accounts-must be construed against the government; and (3) $185 in his trust account was not subject to execution because he had received it in the form of gifts from family and friends and the money should have been retained by the commissioner pursuant to AS 33.30.201(d).

On August 5, 2008, the superior court denied Hertz's claims of exemption, citing Hertz I. The superior court reasoned that our court " has ruled that a prisoner's trust account may be subject to execution," and noted that there is no exception in the statutory scheme for money acquired by gift. Finally, the court rejected Hertz's argument that the errors in the State's service should negate the writ because " there is no prejudice by [the] delayed service and no showing of a knowing violation of the statute." The superior court rejected Hertz's motion for reconsideration.

Hertz appeals.

III. STANDARDS OF REVIEW


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