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Patterson v. Walker

Supreme Court of Alaska

October 19, 2018

GOVERNOR BILL WALKER in his official capacity, PAST ATTORNEY GENERAL CRAIG RICHARDS in his official capacity, PAST ATTORNEY GENERAL MICHAEL GERAGHTY in his official capacity, PAST ATTORNEY GENERAL DANIEL S. SULLIVAN in his official capacity, PAST GOVERNOR SEAN PARNELL in his official capacity, PAST ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL MARIKA ATHENS in her official capacity, BETH GOLDSTEIN, OFFICE OF PUBLIC ADVOCACY, in her official capacity, and STATE OF ALASKA, as an entity, Appellees.

          Appeal from the Superior Court No. 1JU-15-00692 CI of the State of Alaska, First Judicial District, Juneau, Louis J. Menendez, Judge.

          Kevin Patterson, pro se, Wasilla, Appellant.

          Elizabeth M. Bakalar, Assistant Attorney General, Juneau, and Jahna Lindemuth, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellees.

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

          Winfree, Justice, not participating.


          MAASSEN, Justice.


         The superior court dismissed a prisoner's complaint seeking damages from a number of state actors on grounds that his conviction and prison sentence for possession of child pornography violated various provisions of the Alaska Constitution. The prisoner appeals.

         We hold that a civil suit for damages allegedly caused by a criminal conviction or sentence may not be maintained if judgment for the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of the conviction or sentence, unless the conviction or sentence has first been set aside in the course of the criminal proceedings. We also reject the prisoner's claim that the superior court demonstrated an unfair bias against him. For these reasons we affirm dismissal of the complaint.


         Kevin Patterson has been incarcerated since 2013, having been convicted after a bench trial of seven counts of possession of child pornography. The Alaska Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction in 2017.[1]

         In May 2015 Patterson filed a 121-page civil complaint in superior court in Juneau. The complaint named as defendants the governor and his predecessor, the Alaska Legislature, a state senator, the then-current and two former attorneys general, an assistant attorney general, an attorney with the Office of Public Advocacy, and the State of Alaska. The complaint alleged that these state officials and entities had "directly harmed... Patterson in numerous ways and [had] violated his Constitutional Rights over and over." It sought damages for Patterson's incarceration, violence and emotional distress he allegedly suffered while in prison, and the alleged denial of medical care.

         Patterson's complaint elaborated on his legal theories. He asserted that his sentence violated the prohibition against double jeopardy because it was enhanced by a prior misdemeanor conviction, in another state, that was treated as a felony conviction for purposes of sentencing in Alaska. He argued that his conviction violated the due process clause because the child pornography he was convicted of possessing was created outside Alaska; he contended that ASH.61.127 criminalizes only the possession of images created in the state. He argued that his right to a presumption of innocence was violated because the sentences for possession of child pornography assume that the typical sex offender has committed many other offenses that have gone undetected. He argued that the sentencing statutes are based on flawed studies of sexual predation and that the legislature made sentencing distinctions based on an unwarranted animus toward sex offenders. He claimed that the criminal statutes do not give fair warning that possession of child pornography will be punished more severely than other class C felonies and that it violates due process to punish his crimes more severely than some class B sexual and violent felonies. He asserted that he was unconstitutionally denied access to certain evidence at trial.

         Patterson also claimed it was a violation of equal protection to deny him the right to a sentence review by a three-judge panel. He asserted that denying him good time credit on his sentence violated equal protection, due process, and the double jeopardy prohibition. He asserted that the sentencing statutes were unlawful bills of attainder and that they unconstitutionally failed to consider his potential for rehabilitation. He also contended that his sentence violated Blakely v. Washington[2]because he was given a higher sentence based on his prior misdemeanor conviction without a jury finding that the enhancement was necessary. He asserted that the length of time he was required to register as a sex offender under the Alaska Sex Offender Registry Act was unconstitutional because it was based in part on out-of-state conduct.[3]Finally, he asserted that convicted sex offenders are treated unfairly in proceedings involving the termination of their parental rights.

         The Alaska Legislature and the state senator moved for dismissal of the claims against them for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted; the court granted their motion based on legislative immunity. The State then moved for dismissal of the remaining claims or, alternatively, for a more definite statement. The superior court ordered Patterson to file a more definite statement, and he submitted a 29-page document that further explained his claims. The State renewed its motion to dismiss, and the superior court granted the motion, concluding that Patterson had not demonstrated that any of the challenged laws and actions were unconstitutional and he had therefore failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. After the superior court denied reconsideration, Patterson filed this appeal.


         "A grant of a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim under Alaska Civil Rule 12(b)(6) is reviewed de novo. In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, we liberally construe the complaint and treat all factual allegations in the complaint as true."[4] "Because motions to dismiss are disfavored, a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would entitle him or her to relief."[5] And the claims of unrepresented litigants are "liberally construed."[6] "A constitutional issue presents a question of law which we review de novo, and to which we apply our independent judgment."[7]

         "A judge's decision that he is actually capable of conducting a fair trial is reviewed for abuse of discretion," but "[t]he separate question whether a judge's participation in a case would lead reasonable people to question his ability ...

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