284 P.3d 1 (Alaska 2012), S-14110, Larson v. State, Dept. of Corrections

Docket NºS-14110, S-14129.
Citation284 P.3d 1
Opinion JudgeSTOWERS, Justice.
Party NameLoren J. LARSON, Jr., Appellant, v. STATE of Alaska, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Appellee. Loren J. Larson, Jr., Appellant, v. Craig Turnbull, Appellee.
AttorneyLoren J. Larson, Jr., pro se, Seward, Appellant. Marilyn J. Kamm, Assistant Attorney General, and John J. Burns, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellees.
Judge PanelBefore: FABE, WINFREE, and STOWERS, Justices. [CARPENETI, Chief Justice, and CHRISTEN, Justice, not participating.].
Case DateAugust 31, 2012
CourtSupreme Court of Alaska

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284 P.3d 1 (Alaska 2012)

Loren J. LARSON, Jr., Appellant,

v.

STATE of Alaska, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Appellee.

Loren J. Larson, Jr., Appellant,

v.

Craig Turnbull, Appellee.

Nos. S-14110, S-14129.

Supreme Court of Alaska.

August 31, 2012

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Loren J. Larson, Jr., pro se, Seward, Appellant.

Marilyn J. Kamm, Assistant Attorney General, and John J. Burns, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellees.

Before: FABE, WINFREE, and STOWERS, Justices. [CARPENETI, Chief Justice, and CHRISTEN, Justice, not participating.].

STOWERS, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Loren J. Larson, Jr. is incarcerated at the Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward. Acting pro se, he filed two separate complaints alleging violations of his constitutional rights. His first complaint alleged that he

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suffers from paruresis, a condition that makes it impossible for him to urinate in the presence of others, and the correctional facility had violated state and federal constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment by failing to accommodate his condition with alternative urinalysis testing procedures. His second complaint alleged that the correctional facility's revised visitor application form for minors violates his state constitutional right to rehabilitation because it is more restrictive than the administrative regulation governing visitation rights. Both complaints were dismissed for failure to state a claim under Alaska Civil Rule 12(b)(6).

We consolidated these two appeals to address an issue common to both-the procedure for properly evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the complaint of a pro se prisoner alleging constitutional violations. We take this opportunity to emphasize that a complaint must be liberally construed and a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is viewed with disfavor and should rarely be granted. Because both of Larson's complaints alleged facts which, if proven, are sufficient to entitle him to some form of relief, and we find no merit in the arguments that Larson lacks standing or is otherwise barred from bringing a direct cause of action for these alleged constitutional violations, we reverse the dismissal of both of Larson's complaints.

II. FACTS

A. Cruel And Unusual Punishment Claims

In May 2009 Larson filed a civil complaint against the Alaska Department of Corrections alleging violations of the state and federal constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. Although Larson named Joe Schmidt, the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, in his summons, his complaint named only the Department of Corrections as a defendant.

Specifically, Larson alleged that he suffers from paruresis, a condition that makes it physically impossible for him to urinate while another person is watching, and that he is required to provide a urine sample for random urinalysis testing every three to four months. He alleged that in order to provide a sample while an officer is watching, he " must drink water until the volume of urine makes the bladder so intensely painful, urination becomes an involuntary function," and this process amounts to " physical torture." Larson requested: (1) a declaratory judgment that forcing him to urinate in front of an officer violates his constitutional rights under the Eighth Amendment to the federal constitution and article I, section 12 of the state constitution; 1 (2) an injunction preventing the Department of Corrections from forcing him to urinate in the presence of another person; and (3) " all costs associated with the filing of this complaint, and any other as deemed by the Court."

Larson attached several documents to his complaint, including letters, correspondence with correctional facility staff, and affidavits. His attachments showed that he had repeatedly brought this issue to the attention of correctional officers, medical staff, and the superintendent, requesting permission to either drink as much water as he needed to provide a urine sample, substitute blood or saliva testing for urinalysis, or be placed in a dry cell by himself to provide a urine sample. He also filed a formal grievance. Medical staff responded, " [T]his is a security issue (not a medical issue), as security does your UA's." A correctional officer granted Larson's request to drink as much water as he needed to provide a urine sample, but when Larson subsequently attempted to drink two glasses of water before urinalysis testing another officer ordered him to pour the second glass out. A third officer denied Larson's request to substitute blood testing for urinalysis, stating, " [T]here is no record in your medical file to support this request." Larson's formal grievance and subsequent appeals were also denied.

The State filed a motion to dismiss Larson's complaint under Civil Rule 12(b)(6) for

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failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, arguing Larson's constitutional claims were essentially 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims and an individual cannot bring a direct cause of action against the State under that statute. Larson filed a motion for summary judgment and a motion for a preliminary injunction, attaching the same documents that he had attached to his complaint. The State opposed Larson's motions, again arguing that he could not bring a direct cause of action against the State under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Larson argued in reply that he had filed his complaint against Commissioner Schmidt and requested an opportunity to correct his filings if they were incorrect in some way.

In a single order, the superior court granted the State's motion to dismiss and denied Larson's motion for summary judgment. The court first granted the State's motion on the grounds that Larson's federal constitutional claim was properly characterized as a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit and Larson had improperly named the State, rather than an individual, as the defendant in his complaint. The court reasoned that even if Larson had correctly named Commissioner Schmidt in his complaint, as he had in his summons, his federal constitutional claims did not have merit. The court then proceeded to analyze Larson's summary judgment motion and ruled that Larson had failed to establish a constitutional violation under either the federal or state constitutions. Finally, the court denied Larson's application for a preliminary injunction, ruling he had failed to show probable success on the merits of his claims.

The superior court later clarified that it had dismissed Larson's federal constitutional claim only, because the State had moved to dismiss on the grounds that the State was not a proper defendant in a § 1983 suit and this argument provided no basis for dismissing Larson's state constitutional claim. The State then filed a motion to dismiss Larson's state constitutional claim, relying on Hertz v. Beach 2 to argue that Larson had failed to state a claim for relief because there is no private cause of action under the Alaska Constitution. The court granted the State's motion and dismissed Larson's remaining state constitutional claim.

B. Right To Rehabilitation Claim

In June 2010 Larson filed a separate complaint against Craig Turnbull, the superintendent of the Spring Creek Correctional Center, alleging a violation of his constitutional right to rehabilitation under article I, section 12 of the state constitution. Specifically, his complaint alleged that the correctional center had revised its visitor application form in March 2010 and the revised application form violated his constitutional right to rehabilitation by being more restrictive than 22 AAC 05.130, the administrative regulation governing visitation. Larson also alleged that he had filed a grievance regarding this issue, which was rejected and his appeal denied. He requested: (1) a declaratory judgment that Superintendent Turnbull had violated his constitutional right to rehabilitation by implementing a visitor application form that is more restrictive than the governing administrative regulation; (2) an injunction ordering Superintendent Turnbull to implement a visitor application form that is not more restrictive than the governing administrative regulation; (3) $15,000 in punitive damages; and (4) $15,000 in compensatory damages.

Larson attached several documents to his complaint, including a letter that he had sent to Sergeant Tiffany Stillers in March 2009 requesting several revisions to the revised application form. In the letter, Larson objected to the requirement that minors and their custodial parent or legal guardian must be on a prisoner's approved visitation list before being allowed to visit, and the provision that a minor would automatically be removed from the visitation list on his or her 18th birthday without prior notice. He argued that family members were also allowed to accompany minor children, even if the child's parent or legal guardian was not on the inmate's approved visitation list, 3 and

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that there should be a process for pre-approving minors for visitation as adults one month prior to their 18th birthday to avoid gaps in their ability to visit. Larson expressed concern that this revised application form would affect his son, who was turning 18 in June 2010. Larson also attached to his complaint the grievance that he had filed with the correctional facility. He also attached a superior court order from a 2009 case in which he had complained of an inconsistency between two regulations affecting the visitation procedure for his minor daughter when accompanied by a non-parent family member; in the 2009 order, the superior court ruled that Larson's complaint had been resolved because the Department of Corrections had agreed to amend the regulations.4

Superintendent Turnbull filed a motion to dismiss Larson's complaint under Civil Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim...

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