184 P.3d 1 (Alaska 2008), S-12040, Maness v. Daily

Docket Nº:S-12040.
Citation:184 P.3d 1
Opinion Judge:MATTHEWS , Justice.
Party Name:Bret F. MANESS, Appellant, v. John DAILY, Eric Smith, Tinamarie Buffington, Thad Hamilton, Eric Spitzer, Clifton Peck, Municipality of Anchorage, Anchorage Police Department, Alaska State Troopers, Appellees.
Attorney:Bret F. Maness, pro se, Atwater, California. Thomas M. McDermott, Assistant Municipal Attorney, James N. Reeves , Municipal Attorney, Anchorage, for Appellees, John Daily, Clifton Peck, Municipality of Anchorage, and Anchorage Police Department. Ruth Botstein , Assistant Attorney General, Talis J...
Judge Panel:Before : FABE , Chief Justice, MATTHEWS , EASTAUGH , and CARPENETI , Justices.
Case Date:May 16, 2008
Court:Supreme Court of Alaska
 
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184 P.3d 1 (Alaska 2008)

Bret F. MANESS, Appellant,

v.

John DAILY, Eric Smith, Tinamarie Buffington, Thad Hamilton, Eric Spitzer, Clifton Peck, Municipality of Anchorage, Anchorage Police Department, Alaska State Troopers, Appellees.

No. S-12040.

Supreme Court of Alaska.

May 16, 2008

Rehearing Denied June 13, 2008.

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Bret F. Maness, pro se, Atwater, California.

Thomas M. McDermott, Assistant Municipal Attorney, James N. Reeves , Municipal Attorney, Anchorage, for Appellees, John Daily, Clifton Peck, Municipality of Anchorage, and Anchorage Police Department.

Ruth Botstein , Assistant Attorney General, Talis J. Colberg , Attorney General, Anchorage, for Appellees, Eric Smith, Thad Hamilton, and Eric Spitzer.

Before : FABE , Chief Justice, MATTHEWS , EASTAUGH , and CARPENETI , Justices.

OPINION

MATTHEWS , Justice.

At a sentencing hearing on a charge of illegal possession of a firearm, a federal district court found that Bret Maness had pointed a firearm at the officers who arrested him. The main question in this case is whether this finding may be given issue preclusive effect in a subsequent civil action where Maness claims that the officers used excessive force in arresting him. We conclude that issue preclusion is inappropriate. The sentencing court considered the events just Before the arrest to be irrelevant and did not allow Maness to present evidence concerning them.

I. FACTS

On June 27, 2001, Maness's former girlfriend Tinamarie Buffington 1 filed a petition for initiation of involuntary commitment for Maness, alleging that Maness was “very confused and ... very delusional." Based on her testimony, Superior Court Judge Eric S. Smith ordered that Maness be taken into temporary custody for emergency treatment pursuant to AS 47.30.700 .

Acting on Judge Smith's order, Alaska State Troopers went to Maness's home in the early morning hours of June 28, 2001, to take him into custody and transport him to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute for evaluation. Maness alleges that the troopers tried to break into his home and that they engaged in “stealth" tactics. After exchanging words with the troopers, Maness fled from them in his motor home down the Parks Highway toward the Glenn Highway. Maness was pursued by State Troopers and by members of the Anchorage Police Department, which had been called for assistance.2 He was forced to stop his vehicle after the tires on his motor home were punctured by tire deflation devices. Maness claims that he then exited his vehicle and held his hands up in the air for several minutes. After believing that he heard gunshots, Maness ran back

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into his vehicle, grabbed a rifle, a handgun, and ammunition, and fled into the woods.

The police found Maness around 7:00 a.m. Precisely what happened next is a source of controversy. Maness claims that without provocation he was shot in the back by the police. The police contend that Maness was threatening them and that they shot him after he turned and pointed a rifle in their direction.

Maness was charged in state court with “eluding a peace officer who was attempting to serve a domestic violence order [sic], assaulting officers by making threats and pointing a rifle at them, and being a felon in possession of that rifle." However, all of the state charges were dismissed because the main testimony supporting the indictment was from an investigating officer who merely recited facts from the reports of other officers. Maness, however, was charged and convicted in federal district court for being a felon in possession of a firearm. At the sentencing hearing, United States District Court Judge Ralph R. Beistline found that Maness had, inter alia, engaged in assaultive conduct toward the police. The court sentenced Maness to ten years in jail, the maximum sentence allowable by statute.

II. PROCEEDINGS

Maness, acting without legal counsel, filed a civil action against many of the participants in the events leading to his shooting and arrest. The complaint named Judge Eric Smith as a defendant, claiming that he had wrongly issued the ex parte mental commitment order. Also named as defendants were the Alaska State Troopers and individual Troopers Thad Hamilton and Eric Spitzer. The complaint alleged that Spitzer falsely reported to police dispatch that shots were fired at him and that his car was hit. The complaint also alleged that after stopping but Before pursuing Maness into the woods, Spitzer and Hamilton inspected Spitzer's vehicle and found no damage yet negligently failed to report that Spitzer's earlier report concerning shots was not true.

The complaint also named the Municipality of Anchorage, the Anchorage Police Department, and Anchorage Police Officers Clifton Peck and John Daily. The complaint alleged that Peck had shot Maness in the back without warning, essentially stating a claim that excessive force was used to arrest Maness. According to the complaint, after Maness was shot, Daily told other officers on the scene over the police radio that he had previously “taken grenades off of" Maness. The complaint alleged that this statement was false and caused an unnecessary delay in obtaining medical treatment for Maness. The complaint also alleged that both the Anchorage Police and the State Troopers had wrongfully refused to return some of Maness's property. Further, the complaint contained a claim for false imprisonment. Maness sought compensatory damages for his personal injuries and for the loss of his property. In addition, he requested punitive damages and injunctive relief in the form of “a court order enjoining Alaska police agencies from gunning people down at the drop of a dime and enjoining Judges from issu[ ]ing Ex Parte orders on the whims of vindictive people."

The defendants answered, interposed numerous affirmative defenses, and brought a series of dispositive motions.

Judge Smith moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted based on the doctrine of absolute judicial immunity. Superior Court Judge John Suddock granted this motion.

The State, including Troopers Hamilton and Spitzer, also moved to dismiss. The State's motion was based on AS 09.65.210 , which precludes a person from recovering personal injury damages if the person when injured was engaged in the commission of a felony which substantially contributed to the person's injury.3 This motion was premised on Maness's conviction of the felony of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The State argued that this felony substantially contributed to Maness's injury because while armed illegally he had threatened the police and this threat resulted in his being shot.4 The State

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argued that Maness was precluded from contesting that he had threatened the police by the findings of the United States District Court that were made at Maness's sentencing.

A few days after the State filed its motion to dismiss, the Municipality of Anchorage moved for summary judgment on behalf of the Anchorage Police Department and Anchorage Police Officers Daily and Peck. This motion was based on AS 09.65.210(1) and on the additional ground that the police officers were shielded by qualified immunity.

Maness opposed these motions. He claimed that the felon in possession of firearms conviction “could not have ‘substantially contributed’ to my personal injury as the mere possession of firearms ... is no reason to shoot me in the back with no warning." And he contended that he was not permitted at the sentencing hearing to present evidence concerning the events leading up to his shooting: “Judge Beistline precluded me from presenting any evidence or testimony at trial or at the sentencing hearing, ruling that it was not relevant to a possession ... charge."

The State's motion to dismiss and the Municipality's motion for summary judgment were decided by the superior court in a written order. At the outset the court denied the Municipality's motion for summary judgment as such, noting that it had filed no sworn affidavits setting forth admissible evidence. But the court ruled that the motion would be considered as a motion to dismiss since it overlapped the State's motion to dismiss. As to the latter, the court recognized that the critical issue was whether Maness had pointed a weapon at the officers. The court wrote...

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