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Richardson v. Municipality of Anchorage

Supreme Court of Alaska

October 30, 2015

JOSHUA C. RICHARDSON, Appellant,
v.
MUNICIPALITY OF ANCHORAGE, STATE OF ALASKA, ANCHORAGE POLICE DEPARTMENT, OFFICER JUSTIN BLAKE, DIMOND CENTER BEST BUY, DAVID LIGATICH, BEST BUY CORPORATION, Appellees. JOSHUA C. RICHARDSON, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, MUNICIPALI OF ANCHORAGE, ANCHORAGE POLICE DEPARTMENT, OFFICERS LUIS F. SOTO, EARL L. ERNEST, DARRELL EVANS, CHRISTOPHER SIMMONS, GLEN DAILY, TIMOTH E. LANDEIS, RYAN McNAMARA, DENIELLE HROVAT, JASON M. WHETSELL, BRANDON C. OTTS, RAFAEL ROBINSON, SHAUN P. HENRY, CLINTON S. PECK, JASON A. SCHMIT, STEPHEN M. ONDRA, and K-9 JIMMY LEE, Appellees

Page 80

Appeal in File No. S-15211 from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Catherine M. Easter, Judge. Superior Court No. 3AN-12-08693 CI.

Appeal in File No. S-15221 from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Mark Rindner, Judge. Superior Court No. 3AN-12-08963 CI.

Joshua C. Richardson, pro se, Anchorage, Appellant.

Joyce Weaver Johnson, Assistant Municipal Attorney, and Dennis A. Wheeler, Municipal Attorney, Anchorage, for Appellees Municipality of Anchorage, Anchorage Police Department, and Officers Justin Blake, Luis F. Soto, Earl L. Ernest, Darrell Evans, Christopher Simmons, Glen Daily, Timothy E. Landeis, Ryan McNamara, Denielle Hrovat, Jason M. Whetsell, Brandon C. Otts, Rafael Robinson, Shaun P. Henry, Clinton S. Peck, Jason A. Schmit, Stephen M. Ondra, and K-9 Jimmy Lee.

Mark Cucci, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Craig W. Richards, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee State of Alaska. Marc G. Wilhelm, Richmond & Quinn, Anchorage, for Appellees Dimond Center Best Buy, David Ligatich, and Best Buy Corporation.

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

OPINION

Page 81

BOLGER, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

The Anchorage Police Department identified Joshua Richardson as a suspect in a

Page 82

shoplifting incident at Best Buy. When the police went to Richardson's home to make an arrest, Richardson hid in the crawlspace and allegedly incurred injuries from a police canine. The misdemeanor theft charges against Richardson were dismissed shortly after his arrest. About two years after these events, Richardson filed two civil suits against the Anchorage Police Department, various police officers, the State of Alaska, Best Buy, and the Best Buy employee who reported the theft. In separate proceedings, one before Judge Catherine M. Easter and one before Judge Mark Rindner, the superior court dismissed both complaints as untimely under the two-year statute of limitations. Richardson appeals these dismissals and we address them both here.

Richardson argues that the statute of limitations should have been tolled due to his alleged mental incompetency and separation from his legal documents during unrelated incarceration, but we conclude there is no genuine dispute of material fact as to these issues. Nor was the superior court required to appoint Richardson an attorney or more liberally construe his pro se pleadings. We therefore affirm the dismissal of Richardson's suit before Judge Easter.

In the suit before Judge Rindner, however, there was credible evidence that Richardson filed his complaint -- albeit with technical deficiencies -- before the statute of limitations ran. This created a genuine issue of material fact. We therefore vacate the dismissal in that case and remand for further proceedings to determine when Richardson commenced his suit.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Richardson's Complaints

1. The suit before Judge Easter[1]

Richardson filed a complaint alleging that on July 7, 2010, the Anchorage Police Department responded to the theft of a laptop computer reported by a Best Buy employee. According to Richardson, this employee " conspired" with an Anchorage police officer to " present a fraudulent line up on or about July 8," at which Richardson was identified as a perpetrator. Richardson alleged that on July 8, this officer perjured himself by filing a false complaint against Richardson accusing him of third-degree theft. This theft charge against Richardson was ultimately dismissed. Richardson further claimed that this false complaint caused the Anchorage police to " de[s]cend upon [Richardson's] property and . . . [make] an unreasonable search and seizure[]."

Along with the Best Buy employee and the police officer who responded to the alleged theft, Richardson named the State of Alaska, the Anchorage Police Department, the Municipality of Anchorage, the " Dimond Center Best Buy," and the " Best Buy Corp[o]ration" as defendants.[2] Seeking millions of dollars in damages, he alleged numerous causes of action including obstruction of justice, extortion, trespass, unlawful arrest, and false imprisonment.

2. The suit before Judge Rindner

Richardson filed a separate complaint based on events beginning late in the evening of July 13, 2010, when the Anchorage police allegedly arrived at Richardson's home. According to Richardson, the police initially arrived without a warrant and entered his residence without permission. Richardson claimed that the police obtained a warrant early the next morning and sent a police canine into the crawl space of the residence, where Richardson was hiding. By Richardson's account, he got into a " fist fight" with the canine, sustained dog bite injuries to his arms and legs, and was transported to the hospital for treatment. After being released from the hospital, Richardson was booked at the Anchorage Correctional Complex, but the

Page 83

charges against him were ultimately dismissed.

Richardson alleged the same causes of action as in his first complaint and similarly sought millions of dollars in damages. Richardson named the State of Alaska, the Municipality of Anchorage, the Anchorage Police Department, fifteen police officers who purportedly participated in his arrest, and " K-9 Jimmy Lee" as defendants.[3]

B. Proceedings

Richardson was unrepresented throughout the proceedings in both cases, and he remains so on appeal.

1. The suit before Judge Easter

Shortly after filing his first complaint, Richardson filed a request for appointed counsel. The superior court denied this request.

The Municipality and Best Buy moved to dismiss Richardson's complaint as untimely under the two-year statute of limitations,[4] arguing that the alleged wrongs occurred on July 7, 2010, but that Richardson filed his complaint -- at the earliest -- on July 17, 2012.[5] Richardson then filed several motions arguing that his complaint was timely under the statute of limitations: an opposition to Best Buy's motion to dismiss, a " Motion for Tolling the Statute of Limitations and Receiving Equitable Tolling," and motions requesting a judgment of default under Alaska Civil Rule 55 against Best Buy and the Municipality. He also filed a motion requesting an evidentiary hearing that was technically styled as a response to defendants' motions to dismiss.

In these motions and attached memoranda Richardson raised numerous arguments, only three of which are relevant to this appeal. First, Richardson claimed that his cause of action did not accrue until September 23, 2010, when his theft charge was dismissed. Second, Richardson appeared to argue that he was mentally incompetent to file suit due to his " mental disorder and eighth grade education." Finally, Richardson claimed that " the ...


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