Antenor v. State, Department of Corrections, 041720 AKSC, S-17005

Docket Nº:S-17005
Opinion Judge:CARNEY, Justice.
Attorney:Junior Antenor, pro se, Keilan C. Ebli, pro se, and Loren J. Larson, Jr., pro se, Wasilla, Appellants. Matthias Cicotte, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Kevin Clarkson, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before: Bolger, Chief Justice, Stowers, Maassen, and Carney, Justices. Winfree, Justice, not participating.
Case Date:April 17, 2020
Court:Supreme Court of Alaska




No. S-17005

Supreme Court of Alaska

April 17, 2020

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska No. 3AN-81-05274 CI, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Pamela Scott Washington, Judge pro tern.

Junior Antenor, pro se, Keilan C. Ebli, pro se, and Loren J. Larson, Jr., pro se, Wasilla, Appellants.

Matthias Cicotte, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Kevin Clarkson, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

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

Winfree, Justice, not participating.


CARNEY, Justice.


In this appeal we address two separate challenges presented by inmates at an Alaska correctional facility to Department of Corrections (DOC) policies. First, the inmates challenge telephone charges for local calls by inmates, arguing that the rates they and call recipients must pay for calls violate their constitutional right to rehabilitation, their statutory right to reasonable telephone access, and DOC's contractual obligations under a prior settlement and consent decree. Second, one of the prisoners challenges DOC officers' decision to deny him access to a computer programming book he ordered from outside the prison. He contends that DOC placed a content-specific restriction on the educational materials and publications prisoners are allowed, violating the Alaska Constitution's free speech provisions as well as prisoners' right to reformation. Each of these challenges reach this court after inmates exhausted the administrative process from prison as set forth in Geary v. Smith.1 Inmates then appealed to the Superior Court where their prayers for relief were denied. The present appeal follows.


A. Background

Appellants Loren J. Larson, Jr., Keilan C. Ebli, and Junior Antenor are inmates in DOC custody at Goose Creek Correctional Center. They have raised two challenges to DOC policies. First, Larson and Ebli assert that increased charges for local telephone calls violate inmates' state rights to rehabilitation and telephone access. Second, Antenor argues that Goose Creek officers' decision not to permit him to have a certain computer programming book reflects an "unwritten" blanket ban on all computer-related books, and thus violates his rights to free speech and reformation. Because the inmates brought their claims as motions to enforce a final settlement in Cleary2 a previous class action lawsuit by inmates against DOC, and because their claims are governed by the Alaska Prison Litigation Reform Act3 (APLRA), we review the relevant portions of the Cleary case and the APLRA.

1. The Cleary case and settlement

We summarized the relevant proceedings of the Cleary case in Smith v. Cleary:

This case began in 1981 as a class action brought against the state by Alaska prisoners challenging prison conditions. The plaintiffs formed three subclasses: pretrial detainees (subclass A), sentenced prisoners in state owned or operated correctional centers (subclass B), and prisoners held by the state in federal facilities (subclass C). Although the state and subclass C settled in 1983, litigation continued with the remaining subclasses until the parties entered a comprehensive settlement, which the superior court incorporated in a consent decree in 1990.

The settlement agreement applied to "all inmates, with some exceptions, who are or will in the future be incarcerated in correctional facilities owned or operated by the state" and bound the Department of Corrections and "any successor department, division, or agency of the state of Alaska which is statutorily responsible for the administration of the state's adult correctional facilities." It included elaborate provisions for future operation of Alaska prisons, enumerated rights of inmates, guaranteed the availability of specific rehabilitative programs and services, required the state to implement an inmate classification system, created population guidelines, and established caps to eliminate overcrowding. The agreement also established mechanisms to monitor ongoing compliance, including a provision calling for a designated superior court judge to have continuing jurisdiction over alleged violations.4

The Final Settlement Agreement and Order5 provided that individual inmates could raise compliance challenges as long as they first exhausted all administrative remedies.[6]

2. Alaska Prison Litigation Reform Act

In 1999 the Alaska legislature passed the APLRA.[7] The APLRA imposed strict limitations on prisoner lawsuits, limited the remedies courts could order for violations of inmates' rights, and established standards for terminating prospective relief under a consent decree such as the Cleary Final Settlement Agreement.8 Specifically, subsection (a) of the APLRA provides: Except as provided in (b) and (e) of this section, a court may not order prospective relief in a civil action with respect to correctional facility conditions unless the court finds that (1) the plaintiff has proven a violation of a state or federal right, (2) the prospective relief is narrowly drawn and extends no further than is necessary to correct the violation of the right, (3) the prospective relief is the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of the right, and (4) the prisoner has exhausted all administrative remedies available ... before filing the civil action.9

The APLRA defines a "state or federal right" as "a right arising from the United States Constitution, the Constitution of the State of Alaska, or a federal or state statute."10

In 2000 DOC moved to terminate the Final Settlement Agreement pursuant to the APLRA.11 At the time, inmate plaintiffs immediately opposed, raising several challenges to the APLRA under the Alaska and United States Constitutions.12 Superior Court Judge Elaine M. Andrews issued a ruling in 2001, interpreting the APLRA to terminate only the prospective effect of the Final Settlement Agreement, not the Agreement itself, and concluding that, under this narrow reading, the statute was constitutional.13 Judge Andrews concluded that the APLRA thus limited the court's ability to order continuing prospective relief under the Final Settlement Agreement.14 We later determined that because no party had appealed the 2001 superior court decision, "that decision became [the] law of the case."15 Thus under Judge Andrews's reading of the APLRA, inmates may seek to enforce the Final Settlement Agreement via a motion in superior court so long as: they allege a violation of a state or federal right that affects the entire class of Cleary plaintiffs; they exhaust their administrative remedies prior to filing a motion; the requested relief uses the least intrusive means to correct the rights violation; and the court takes into account potential adverse effects on public safety.16

B. Challenge To Local Telephone Call Rates

1. Facts

Alaska Statute 33.30.231 requires DOC to provide prisoners with reasonable access to a telephone and permits DOC to contract with private companies to provide this service;[17] DOC therefore contracted with Securus Technologies for phone services.18 Inmates generally are not permitted to receive calls from outside the correctional facility where they are housed.19 All inmate calls, whether local or long distance, must be placed collect at the expense of the recipient, if the recipient accepts the call.[20] If the recipient agrees to pay the cost of the call, he or she may do so either through an account that has been previously established with Securus or by direct billing from Securus.21 In November 2014 Securus applied to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska (RCA) to raise its rate;22 after issuing public notice of the application, RCA approved Securus's request in June 2015.23 On October 1, 2015, Securus began charging $1 per local call.24

In late March 2017 Larson submitted a request for interview (RFI) - a written form used by inmates to raise concerns or complaints with prison staff - in which he asserted that DOC had violated Section V(C)(2) of the Final Settlement Agreement by allowing Securus to charge $ 1 for local telephone calls.25 He sought restitution for the money paid by recipients of local collect calls from inmates since the price increase had gone into effect. DOC denied his RFI, claiming it lacked authority to grant his requests to reduce local call charges and pay restitution because it did not directly set rates or collect money for the calls. Larson filed a prisoner grievance in early April, which was denied on the ground that the issue of local calls had already been "grieved by the prisoner or by another prisoner and resolved."

Shortly after Larson submitted his RFI, another inmate, Billy Jack Wiglesworth, filed a similar RFI challenging local call rates. In addition to the arguments Larson had made, Wiglesworth contended that the increased rate violated prisoners' state right to telephone access under AS He argued that although DOC had discretion to contract for telephone services, its delegation of those services to Securus did not relieve it of its duty to ensure that telephone charges complied with the Final Settlement Agreement.27 When his RFI was denied Wiglesworth filed a prisoner grievance, which DOC denied on the same grounds as Larson's, as well as because DOC lacked the ability to change call rates that had been "approved by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska."

2. Proceedings

In late May 2017 Larson and Wiglesworth jointly filed a motion to enforce the Cleary Final Settlement Agreement and for restitution. They argued...

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