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Christoffersen v. State, Court Custody Investigator's Office

Supreme Court of Alaska

November 5, 2010

Dusty CHRISTOFFERSEN, Appellant,
v.
STATE of Alaska, COURT CUSTODY INVESTIGATOR'S OFFICE, Appellee.

Dusty Christoffersen, pro se, Anchorage, Appellant.

Laura Fox, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Daniel S. Sullivan, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

Before: CARPENETI, Chief Justice, FABE, WINFREE, CHRISTEN, and STOWERS, Justices.

Page 1033

OPINION

WINFREE, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

In the course of performing her duties, a court-appointed custody investigator received a police report regarding an allegation that the child whose custody was being investigated had engaged in sexual misconduct. The investigator later included this information in her custody report, but did not notify the child's parents or the Office of Children's Services at the time she received the police report. During a period of time that apparently began before the custody investigator received the police report and perhaps continued until the custody investigator issued her report, the child committed further sexual misconduct, this time against his half-sister. The child's father and stepmother filed suit against the State of Alaska for damages, arguing that the custody investigator had a duty to warn them upon learning of the child's previous misconduct. The superior court dismissed the suit on summary judgment. Because court-appointed custody investigators are entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity from suits arising from the performance of their duties and because that immunity extends to the State, we affirm.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Mark Christoffersen married Brandi Martin and they had a son, M.C., in 1992. When the couple divorced in 1999, Brandi was awarded primary custody of M.C. and Mark was granted visitation rights. In 2001 Brandi and M.C. moved to Florida and Mark lost contact with them for several years. In March 2006 Mark filed a motion to modify the custody order, seeking primary physical custody of M.C. After the court served Mark's motion on Brandi, the two resumed contact with each other, and Mark resumed visitation with M.C. shortly thereafter. By the time Mark and M.C. were reunited, Mark had married Dusty and the couple had two young daughters.

In May 2006 Master Andrew Brown responded to Mark's motion to modify M.C.'s custody order by directing the Alaska Court System's Custody Investigator's Office (the State) to conduct an investigation and prepare a custody report. The State assigned the case to a custody investigator. The custody investigator interviewed a number of people over the course of her investigation and requested information from collateral resources, including the Anchorage Police Department (APD).

In late June 2006 APD responded to the custody investigator's information request. Included in APD's response was a report concerning an April 2006 incident in which M.C. had inappropriately touched a two-year-old girl. According to the report, M.C. admitted he had touched the child, but the child's mother did not pursue criminal charges.

The custody investigator distributed her completed report to the court, Mark, and Brandi in late October 2006. The custody report addressed a number of custodial issues, including the allegation that M.C. had inappropriately touched the young child. From this report the Christoffersens apparently learned for the first time about M.C.'s inappropriate contact with the young child.

A few days after the custody report was distributed, the Christoffersens contacted the police and told them that M.C. had sexually abused their five-year-old daughter-M.C.'s half-sister-beginning soon after he resumed visitation with Mark. During an interview with police, M.C. admitted perpetrating sexual misconduct against the girl. M.C. was subsequently adjudicated on a charge of sexual assault of a minor in the fourth degree.

In April 2008 the Christoffersens filed suit against the State, seeking ten million dollars in damages. They alleged the custody investigator violated her duty to protect their children by not warning the Christoffersens about the allegations of M.C.'s prior sexual misconduct immediately after she received the APD report. They also alleged the custody investigator violated AS 47.17.020's mandated reporting ...


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