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Johnson v. State, Department of Corrections

Supreme Court of Alaska

August 26, 2016

WILLIAM JOHNSON, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Appellee.

         Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District No. 3AN-15-05765 CI, Anchorage, Eric A. Aarseth, Judge.

          Jon Buchholdt, Buchholdt Law Offices, Anchorage, for Appellant.

          John K. Bodick, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Craig W. Richards, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

          Before: Stowers, Chief Justice, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices. [Fabe and Winfree, Justices, not participating.]

          OPINION

          MAASSEN, Justice.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         In a prison discipline proceeding, a prisoner was found guilty of possessing contraband. He appealed his punishment to a discipline committee, which affirmed the decision. Then, represented by counsel, the prisoner appealed to the superior court, alleging that the Department of Corrections had deprived him of due process. The court granted the State's unopposed motion to dismiss the appeal on the ground that the prisoner's statement of points on appeal was deficient. When the prisoner moved for reconsideration but made no attempt to remedy the deficiency, the superior court denied the prisoner's motion and awarded the State attorney's fees.

         The prisoner appeals the dismissal and the award of attorney's fees. Finding no error, we affirm.

         II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         William Johnson was a prisoner at the Goose Creek Correctional Center. In December 2014 he was working at the Point Mackenzie work farm when a corrections officer found contraband - synthetic cannabinoids (Spice) - inside a cabinet to which only Johnson and one other person had access. Another officer wrote up an incident report detailing the first officer's discovery.

         A third officer presided over a disciplinary hearing less than two weeks later. Johnson was found to have violated 22 Alaska Administrative Code (AAC) 05.400(c)(7) (2016), which prohibits the "possession, use, or introduction of contraband[] . . . which directly threatens the security of the facility, such as . . . unauthorized drugs." The decision includes little other information, but it does describe Johnson's statement: "Found in same spot as other stuff . . . Did not know it was there . . . Just did job, did not pay attention to anything else . . . No dirty UA in 17 yrs of incarceration."[1]

         Johnson filed an internal appeal, which was denied. The decision on appeal states simply: "Appeal denied - Concur with guilty finding and affirm sanctions to run concurrent with case # 14-1953."

         Johnson next filed a notice of appeal to the superior court. His statement of points on appeal read: "The Department of Corrections violated appellant's fundamental constitutional rights to due process in the prison disciplinary process and the violation prejudiced appellant's right to a fair adjudication." The State moved to dismiss the appeal, asserting that the points on appeal were deficient when measured against the requirements of the Alaska Appellate Rules and AS 33.30.295(a), a statute specifically addressing lawsuits brought by prisoners. Though represented by counsel, Johnson did not oppose the State's motion to dismiss. The superior court granted the motion, citing the statute and Alaska Appellate Rule 204(e).

         Nearly a month later Johnson tardily moved for reconsideration, arguing that the assertion in his points on appeal that his "fundamental constitutional rights to due process" had been violated "in the prison disciplinary process" was sufficiently specific to survive dismissal. The superior court denied the motion, again citing the appellate rule and statute and observing that Johnson's "statement of points on appeal does not allege 'specific facts' that would establish a violation of his constitutional rights." The court also rejected Johnson's argument that dismissal of his appeal violated his constitutional right to access the courts, noting that Johnson had "the opportunity to seek review of his disciplinary proceeding" in superior court but simply "did not avail himself of this opportunity." The court noted that Johnson "never explained [in his motion for reconsideration] why he did not oppose" the State's motion to dismiss and that he thereafter "made no attempt to comply with AS 33.30.295(a) and Appellate Rule 204(e)" even after his appeal had been dismissed on the basis of those provisions.

         The State had earlier moved for an award of $225 in attorney's fees for one hour of work. Johnson did not oppose the motion, and the court granted it the same day it denied Johnson's motion for reconsideration.

         Johnson appeals both the superior court's dismissal of his appeal and its award ...


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