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Robinson v. Alaska Housing Finance Corp.

Supreme Court of Alaska

June 14, 2019

ELIAS ROBINSON, Appellant,
v.
ALASKA HOUSING FINANCE CORPORATION, Appellee.

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, No. 3AN-16-09563 CI Anchorage, Eric A. Aarseth, Judge.

          Appearances: Elias Robinson, pro se, Anchorage, Appellant.

          Jonathan P. Clement, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Jahna Lindemuth, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

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

          OPINION

          WINFREE, JUSTICE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         A self-represented litigant appeals from the dismissal of his complaint against Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Because the superior court gave the litigant multiple opportunities to amend his complaint before it correctly concluded that all of his claims were either time-barred, subject to a res judicata defense, or inadequately pleaded, we affirm the superior court's decision.

         II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         Elias Robinson appeals from the dismissal of his 2016 complaint against AHFC. Because his complaint refers to previous administrative and superior court proceedings, relevant history is summarized below in Subsections A-C. Subsection D describes the superior court proceedings from which Robinson appeals.

         A. 2009 Landlord-Tenant Litigation

         Robinson and his family rented an Anchorage apartment from the Johnsons. Robinson's daughter was bitten by another tenant's dog in June 2008. The Robinsons' relationship with the Johnsons soured quickly thereafter. The Johnsons asked the Robinsons to pay for repairing damage to their apartment, and the Robinsons disagreed that they were responsible. The parties mutually agreed to a termination of the Robinsons' tenancy, and they moved out in January 2009.

         Robinson's wife then sued the Johnsons for the daughter's dog-bite-related injuries. The Johnsons counterclaimed for the alleged apartment damage. The superior court dismissed the Robinsons' personal injury claim and entered judgment in the Johnsons' favor on their property damage counterclaim in September 2009. Robinson and his wife subsequently filed for bankruptcy protection, and the judgment debt was discharged.

         B. 2010 To 2011 Housing Voucher Termination

         When the Robinsons lived in the Johnsons' apartment, AHFC paid part of their monthly rent through a federal housing voucher program. After the Johnsons were awarded judgment on their property damage claim, AHFC notified the Robinsons that they were being terminated from the program for failure to comply with its terms because they had damaged their apartment. The Robinsons requested an administrative review, and in December 2009 an AHFC hearing officer affirmed the Robinsons' housing benefit termination. The Robinsons then requested an informal hearing.

         At the informal hearing two AHFC employees testified that it was AHFC s policy to terminate a family from the voucher program if a landlord obtained a judgment against the family for damaging an apartment. The Robinsons argued that because the judgment against them had been discharged in bankruptcy, AHFC could not rely on the judgment to terminate them from the voucher program. AHFC's hearing officer disagreed and upheld the termination in September 2010.

         Robinson, with attorney assistance, appealed AHFC's administrative determination to the superior court in October. The appeal was stayed in November for AHFC to consider possible mitigating circumstances in the Robinsons' case. The superior court ordered AHFC to keep the Robinsons' subsidy in place while reconsidering the termination decision. At a subsequent hearing the Robinsons presented evidence of medical problems they had had during their tenancy. In March 2011 an AHFC hearing officer again upheld AHFC's termination decision, concluding that the Robinsons had failed to demonstrate mitigating circumstances that would excuse damaging or failing to maintain the apartment.

         In August Robinson's attorney withdrew as counsel in the superior court appeal of AHFC's decision. In September 2011 Robinson and AHFC agreed to dismiss the appeal with prejudice.

         C. 2011 Eviction Action

         While the Robinsons were appealing AHFC s housing voucher termination, they resided in an Anchorage apartment owned by T. McGlohn. In January 2011 McGlohn initiated an eviction action against them, alleging nonpayment of rent. The Robinsons answered, claiming as an affirmative defense that AHFC had failed to pay part of its portion of the rent.

         Trial was held over the course of three days in November 2012 and May 2013. McGlohn called AHFC's housing specialist to testify on his behalf on the first day. She apparently testified about the Robinsons' housing voucher being terminated for failure to comply with program rules. The district court ultimately entered judgment for McGlohn in November 2013.

         The Robinsons appealed the district court's decision to the superior court in December. The Robinsons appear to have prevailed on appeal at least in part; jurisdiction was returned to the district court in January 2015. The case apparently was settled in December and the court vacated a scheduled trial. The parties then stipulated to dismiss the case with prejudice in February 2016.

         D. 2016 Complaint Against AHFC

         In October 2016 Robinson filed a one-page complaint against AHFC. Read liberally, the complaint appears to bring four claims: (1) AHFC improperly terminated Robinson's housing choice voucher; (2) Robinson did not receive a fair hearing from AHFC regarding the voucher termination; (3) Robinson's wife would not have had judgment entered against her for damage to the Johnsons' apartment if AHFC had completed necessary inspections and walk-throughs that would have shown the Robinsons had not, in fact, damaged the apartment; and (4) AHFC employees' testimony at McGlohn's eviction action "secur[ed] the termination of [the Robinsons'] housing voucher."

         After considerable wrangling about service of process and Robinson's efforts to obtain entry of default against AHFC, the court ordered AHFC to answer Robinson's complaint. AHFC instead filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Robinson's complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.[1]

         AHFC interpreted Robinson's claims as arising entirely out of its housing voucher termination, the litigation of which had concluded in 2011 when the parties stipulated to dismiss the superior court appeal with prejudice, and AHFC thus asserted that Robinson's claims were barred by the statute of limitations and the doctrine of res judicata. AHFC argued that if Robinson had tort claims, the statute of limitations was two years[2] and that if Robinson had contract claims, the statute of limitations was three years.[3] Robinson opposed AHFC's motion, arguing that AHFC's failure to file an answer entitled him to a ...


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