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Law Project For Psychiatric Rights, Inc., An Alaskan Non-Profit Corporation v. State of Alaska

October 1, 2010

LAW PROJECT FOR PSYCHIATRIC RIGHTS, INC., AN ALASKAN NON-PROFIT CORPORATION, APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, ET AL.,
APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Jack W. Smith, Judge. Supreme Court No. S-13558 Superior Court No. 3AN-08-10115 CI

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Winfree, Justice.

Notice: This opinion is subject to correction before publication in the PACIFIC REPORTER. Readers are requested to bring errors to the attention of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts, 303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501, phone (907) 264-0608, fax (907) 264-0878, e-mail corrections@appellate.courts.state.ak.us.

OPINION

Before: Fabe, Winfree, Christen, and Stowers, Justices. [Carpeneti, Chief Justice, not participating.]

I. INTRODUCTION

A non-profit public interest law firm filed suit in its own name against the State of Alaska seeking to establish constitutional standards that must be met before compelling minors to take psychotropic medications. The superior court granted a stay of discovery pending the State's motion to dismiss for lack of standing. The superior court then dismissed the complaint for lack of standing and later awarded the State nearly $4,000 in attorney's fees under Alaska Rule of Civil Procedure 82(b)(2). Because the superior court did not err in dismissing the lawsuit for lack of standing and did not otherwise abuse its discretion, we affirm its decisions.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Law Project for Psychiatric Rights, Inc. (LPPR) is a non-profit Alaska corporation operating as a public interest law firm. LPPR's mission is "to mount a strategic litigation campaign against forced psychiatric drugging and electroshock."

In September 2008 LPPR initiated suit against the State and seven State employees in their official capacities (collectively "the State"), seeking declaratory and injunctive relief regarding children's rights in compelled psychotropic drug administration. LPPR claimed administering psychotropic medication to children without their consent constitutes involuntary medicating and "infringes upon [the children's] fundamental constitutional rights." LPPR sought a declaratory judgment that "children . . . have the right not to be administered psychotropic drugs unless and until" certain standards are met. LPPR also sought to permanently enjoin the State from "authorizing or paying for" psychotropic drug administration that fails to follow the proposed standards.

After filing an answer the State moved contemporaneously for judgment on the pleadings and to stay discovery. The State argued that LPPR's complaint should be dismissed for lack of standing and observed that LPPR failed to "identify a single individual who has been harmed by the alleged violations." The State argued a stay of discovery was particularly appropriate pending the dispositive motion because the "motion raise[d] pure questions of law which discovery [was] not needed to resolve."

LPPR opposed both motions. As to standing, LPPR argued it satisfied citizen-taxpayer standing. Although LPPR conceded it did not assert interest-injury standing to sue either on its own behalf or on behalf of any individual member of the class described in its complaint, it argued the complaint could be amended to include a named plaintiff. LPPR explained it was a proper litigant because affected children and parents were unlikely to file suit, due in part to lack of resources. LPPR also claimed that an individual litigant might be unable to obtain injunctive relief. As to the discovery stay, LPPR argued the motion for judgment on the pleadings was "not likely to dispose of the entire case" and therefore discovery should proceed. LPPR outlined two discovery objectives, neither of which suggested LPPR required discovery to address the State's standing argument.

The superior court granted both of the State's motions. First the court stayed discovery pending its decision on the motion for judgment on the pleadings. The court later found LPPR had not asserted interest-injury standing and had failed to establish citizen-taxpayer standing. The court found that, despite raising questions of public significance, LPPR was not an appropriate litigant to bring the action and stated that "the affected children, their parents or guardians[,] or even the state would make a more appropriate plaintiff." The court further concluded that LPPR "failed to establish any parent or guardian with a legitimate grievance on behalf of their juvenile or child has declined to sue" or that "any legitimate claim has gone unpursued." Concluding that LPPR lacked standing to litigate the issues, the court dismissed the complaint.

The State then moved for partial attorney's fees under Rule 82(b)(2).*fn1

LPPR opposed the motion, citing Rule 82(b)(3)(I)*fn2 and asserting that "[a]ny award is likely to deter litigants from the voluntary use of the courts." The court granted the State's motion and, adhering to Rule ...


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