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Walker v. State

Supreme Court of Alaska

April 27, 2018

SCOTT WALKER, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Appellee.

          Appeal from the Superior Court No. 3PA-14-02547 CI of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Palmer, Eric Smith, Judge.

         Appearances:

          Scott Walker, pro se, Wasilla, Appellant. [*]

          Matthias Cicotte, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Jahna Lindemuth, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

          Susan Orlansky, Reeves Amodio, LLC, Anchorage, for Amicus Curiae ACLU of Alaska Foundation. Cynthia Strout, Anchorage, for Amicus Curiae Alaska Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

          Before: Stowers, Chief Justice, Maassen, Bolger, and Carney, Justices.

          [Winfree, Justice, not participating.]

          OPINION

          BOLGER, Justice.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) found an inmate guilty of making a false statement to a staff member about work he was supposed to be doing and ordered the inmate to pay in restitution half the amount of his wages for that work. The inmate appeals, arguing that DOC violated his due process rights by refusing to allow him to call witnesses at his disciplinary hearing. We conclude that Walker did not waive his due process claim by failing to raise it during the administrative appeal process. We also recognize that prisoners have a constitutional right to call witnesses at a disciplinary hearing and that the hearing officer's failure to call Walker's requested witnesses was prejudicial. We thus reverse the disciplinary decision and remand for a new hearing.

         II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         Inmate Scott Walker started work in October 2013 as an Orientation Assistant in the Special Management Unit at Goose Creek Correctional Center. Walker wrote up an outline of topics he thought should be covered at orientation for new inmates and awaited further instructions.

         In August 2014, Criminal Justice Technician Brooke Baumgartner met with Walker to discuss his job. She learned during the meeting that, although Walker had continued to be paid, he had not actively worked since November 2013. According to Baumgartner, Walker admitted to "taking advantage of the situation." He told her that he had attempted to inform four different staff members about the payroll mistake, but when pressed he could only name two officers. Walker also said he had "sent cop-outs"[1] regarding the situation. Baumgartner contacted both of the officers Walker had named, and one stated that Walker had never informed her of the mistake. She also found that Walker's file did not contain any pertinent cop-outs. Baumgartner calculated that Walker had been overpaid by $633.50.

         Based on this information, DOC charged Walker with the infractions of "stealing, destroying, altering or damaging government property" and "lying or providing a false statement to a staff member."[2] After receiving notice of a scheduled disciplinary hearing, Walker timely requested the presence of three witnesses: the two officers he claimed to have informed of the overpayment issue and an inmate working as a Job Services Clerk who also claimed to have reported Walker's overpayment issue to one of the officers. According to Walker, Officer Wright, [3] who presided over the disciplinary hearing, denied the request off the record and without explanation.

         At the disciplinary hearing, Walker testified that he "never made a false statement to anyone" and denied telling Baumgartner that he had "tak[en] advantage of the situation." He stated that originals of cop-outs are not kept in an inmate's file, which could explain why Baumgartner did not find any record of the cop-outs he claimed to have sent. Walker's testimony was often interrupted by Officer Wright, who twice shut off the recorder and, according to Walker, used "intimidation" to influence Walker's testimony.

         Baumgartner also testified at the hearing, and Walker cross-examined her. When asked by Walker to identify the "untruth" he had told her, Baumgartner responded that Walker had "stated that he [had] informed four different staff members that he ... was not working but getting paid" and that Walker had "also stated that he sent four cop-outs" on the issue. Baumgartner viewed the former statement as untrue because Walker "could only identify two people" he had told. Baumgartner viewed the latter statement as untrue because neither she nor Walker had been able to locate the cop-outs. Walker countered that he had found one of the cop-outs, and he asserted that Baumgartner had "omitted" it from her report. But Baumgartner explained that she had not included the cop-out because it was irrelevant.

         At the close of the hearing, Officer Wright summarized that "somewhere along the line, [Walker] omitted telling people that... [he was] getting paid for a job that [he was not] really doing." Accordingly, Officer Wright found Walker guilty of making a false statement to a staff member and ordered him to pay restitution of $316, just under half the amount by which he was overpaid.

         Walker appealed to the superintendent. He emphasized that he never made a false statement, but he did not raise any procedural concerns. The superintendent denied the appeal and concurred with Officer Wright's decision.

         Walker then appealed to the superior court representing himself, reiterating the argument that no evidence supported the finding that he had made a false statement. He also made two new arguments for the first time: (1) DOC violated his procedural rights by refusing to allow him to call witnesses in his defense, and (2) the punishment of restitution was not allowed under the circumstances of his case. The superior court affirmed DOC, determining that "some evidence" supported DOC s disciplinary decision and that Walker had waived the other claims by failing to raise them in his administrative appeal to the superintendent.

         This appeal followed. Walker, still representing himself, repeats his argument from the superior court that DOC violated his due process rights by refusing to allow him to call witnesses in his own defense.[4] After the parties submitted their initial briefing, we requested supplemental briefing on the following questions: (1) Do the prisoner discipline statutes or regulations require a prisoner to raise an issue on appeal to the superintendent in order to preserve the issue for judicial review? (2) In light of the broad authority given to the superintendent under 22 AAC 05.480, is it appropriate to require the issue preservation typical of adversarial judicial proceedings? (3) Does a prisoner have notice that the failure to raise an issue on appeal to the superintendent will result in waiver of that issue?

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Walker Did Not Forfeit His Due Process Claim By Failing To Raise It During The Administrative Appeal.

         "As a general matter, it is inappropriate for courts reviewing appeals of agency decisions to consider arguments not raised before the administrative agency involved."[5] Previously, we have required litigants to exhaust issues at the agency level before raising them on appeal in the superior court.[6] And in James v. State, Department of Corrections, we extended the issue exhaustion requirement to prison disciplinary appeals.[7] Walker did not raise his procedural arguments before the superintendent; James thus appears to preclude Walker's arguments on appeal.

         This case, however, compels us to reconsider the application of an issue exhaustion requirement to prison disciplinary appeals. Though an issue not presented to an administrative decisionmaker generally cannot be argued for the first time in court, "such a rule is not always appropriate."[8] Determining whether issue exhaustion is appropriate in any given context "requires an understanding of [exhaustion's] purposes and of the particular administrative scheme involved."[9] Thus, our cases mandating issue exhaustion in several types of agency proceedings should not be construed to "announce an inflexible practice" of mandating issue exhaustion in all such proceedings.[10] Rather, we must carefully analyze the particular administrative scheme at issue before imposing an issue exhaustion requirement in a new context. We neglected to conduct any such particularized analysis in James;[11] we remedy the oversight now.

         As a threshold matter, we note that issue exhaustion in administrative appeals is often mandated by statute or regulation.[12] When this is the case, we do not need to determine whether a judicially created issue exhaustion requirement is appropriate.[13] Here, however, the regulation that governs the intra-agency appeal process does not articulate an issue exhaustion requirement.[14] Neither does the statute that governs appeals from the final decision of the DOC.[15] As the State notes, the statute and regulation together require prisoners to exhaust all administrative remedies before filing an appeal in superior court.[16] But while issue exhaustion and exhaustion of administrative remedies "can be concurrent concepts at times, . . . they are not synonymous."[17] Accordingly, we reject the State's argument that an issue exhaustion requirement is "inherent" in the requirement that prisoner appellants exhaust administrative remedies.[18]

         Having thus concluded that no statute or regulation mandates issue exhaustion, we must determine whether to impose such a requirement based on "an analogy to the rule that appellate courts will not consider arguments not raised before trial courts."[19] To answer this question, we ...


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