Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Douglas L. Blankenship, Judge. Superior Court No. 4FA-06-02772 CI.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND JUDGMENT*fn1
Before: Fabe, Winfree, and Christen, Justices. [Carpeneti, Chief Justice, and Eastaugh, Justice, not participating.]
The superior court interpreted a prisoner's suit as an administrative appeal from a final grievance decision by the Department of Corrections (DOC) and dismissed it for lack of subject matter jurisdiction without notice or opportunity for either the prisoner or DOC to be heard. Because the superior court's procedure infringed on the prisoner's right to due process, we reverse the dismissal of his suit and remand for further proceedings.
II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
On the evening of December 17, 2005, prisoner Ivan Bolden and two DOC officers disputed necessary and appropriate remedial actions after the toilet in his cell at Fairbanks Correctional Center (FCC) overflowed. Bolden demanded "the sewage out of my [cell]" and "a new cast on my leg since I have to walk through sewage." The correctional officers instead offered Bolden some cleaning supplies, but they came to an impasse when Bolden insisted they open his cell door rather than transfer a cleaning mop back and forth through his food tray slot. Due to security concerns and what the officers viewed as Bolden's uncooperative behavior (perhaps including a belief that Bolden deliberately caused the toilet to overflow), Bolden was not allowed out of his cell - which remained uncleaned - until the next day.
Bolden immediately filed a grievance,*fn2 asserting that the correctional officers' actions were "against the 8th amendment [and his] human right[s]." For relief Bolden requested that the correctional officers "go back through training" and the incident be noted in their employment records. The FCC Superintendent denied Bolden's grievance a few days later, concluding there was no appearance of "staff misconduct." Bolden filed a grievance appeal, asserting he had been left in a cell full of sewage, his leg cast had been contaminated, and he was being tested "for pathogens"; he claimed the correctional officers' conduct "was plain unprofessional" and requested an apology. The Director of Institutions denied the appeal. Bolden filed a final grievance appeal, which the Standards Administrator denied in April 2006 in DOC's "final administrative action" on Bolden's grievance.*fn3
In November 2006 Bolden filed a pro se superior court action in which he:
(1) referred to himself as the plaintiff and to DOC as the defendant; (2) referred to his pleading as a complaint; (3) alleged that on the night of the incident "a foul smell" woke him, he got off his bed with a casted broken leg to find himself "standing in raw sewage barefoot," he "couldn't get help from anyone," and he was left overnight in his cell in violation of his civil rights; and (4) noted his prior unsuccessful grievance and concluded that he "would like to file this complaint under 42 [U.S.C.] § 1983 for settlement."*fn4 Later that month he obtained a summons for service on DOC.
Before DOC appeared in the action, the superior court sua sponte ordered Bolden to submit his DOC grievance and decision to the court. Bolden apparently complied because the record includes six pages from his grievance file. Still before DOC appeared in the action and without affording Bolden prior notice or opportunity to be heard, the superior court sua sponte (1) stated that it interpreted Bolden's action "as an administrative appeal from a final decision of the [DOC] grievance process" and (2) ...