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Mattox v. State

Supreme Court of Alaska

April 18, 2014

RICHARD A. MATTOX, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Appellee

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Palmer, Vanessa White, Judge. Superior Court No. 3PA-09-01695 CI.

Benjamin I. Whipple, Palmer, for Appellant.

Susan M. West, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.

OPINION

Page 24

FABE, Chief Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

A former inmate brought an action against the Department of Corrections alleging that the Department negligently failed to protect him after he reported being threatened and that he was subsequently assaulted and seriously injured while in prison. The superior

Page 25

court granted summary judgment in favor of the Department, concluding that the inmate had not shown that a genuine issue of material fact existed on the question whether the Department breached its duty to protect him from reasonably foreseeable harm. Specifically, the superior court concluded that the inmate's communication of the threat was too general to put the Department on notice that the inmate was at risk for the attack he suffered. The inmate appeals. We conclude that the inmate presented evidence that, taken as a whole, raised a genuine issue of fact as to the foreseeability of the attack he suffered. We therefore reverse the superior court's grant of summary judgment.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Facts

Richard Mattox was incarcerated at Spring Creek Correctional Center, housed in the Kilo module. Mattox, who is white, alleges that his then-cellmate, Aaron, who is African-American, repeatedly made threats of a racial nature. According to Mattox, Aaron made statements to the effect of " I don't like you. Your people were killing my people back in the day. You've got to get out or something's going to happen." According to Mattox, Aaron threatened him " every time [they] were together in [their cell]." Mattox understood the threat to mean that violence could come from any of " [Aaron's] people; that is, the black inmates in the mod[ule]." Mattox believed that the black inmates " wanted [him] out of the mod[ule]."

Mattox alleges that he made multiple requests to two different officers to be moved out of the Kilo module. He reports that he told the guards that the module was " too tough for [him]." Mattox was 47 years old, and he feared trouble with the " cocky, young" inmates housed there. He was particularly fearful of Aaron and Aaron's friends. Mattox claims that he submitted written transfer requests (" cop-outs" ) to prison officials in which he reported his fear, and that these documents are now missing from his prison file. Mattox claims that the Department of Corrections denied his requests, and he was not transferred from the Kilo module. Mattox also asserts that an ...


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