Bachmeier v. State, Dep't of Corr., S-17824

CourtSupreme Court of Alaska (US)
PartiesSTEVE BACHMEIER, Appellant, v. STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Appellee.
Docket NumberS-17824
Decision Date04 May 2022

STEVE BACHMEIER, Appellant,
v.

STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Appellee.

No. S-17824

Supreme Court of Alaska

May 4, 2022


UNPUBLISHED See Alaska Appellate Rule 214(d)

Appeal from the Superior Court No. 3AN-20-04434 CI of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Andrew Peterson, Judge.

Appearances:

Steve Bachmeier, pro se, Kenai, Appellant.

Andalyn Pace, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Treg R. Taylor, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

Before: Winfree, Chief Justice, Maassen, Carney, Borghesan, and Henderson, Justices.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND JUDGMENT[*]

I. INTRODUCTION

A prisoner appealed disciplinary sanctions imposed by the Department of Corrections (DOC) to the superior court. The prisoner included with his appeal a copy of the prison superintendent's final decision of the prisoner's internal DOC appeal but not a copy of the underlying decision of the DOC disciplinary tribunal. The prisoner requested a partial exemption from a full filing fee and a waiver of the statutory

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requirement that filing fees be prepaid. The court eventually dismissed the prisoner's appeal on two alternative grounds: first, that he failed to include with his appeal a copy of the decision being appealed, as required by court rule; and second, that he failed to prepay his filing fee, as required by statute.

The prisoner appeals. We conclude that it was an abuse of discretion to dismiss the appeal on the ground that the prisoner failed to submit a copy of the decision being appealed because he did in fact comply with that requirement. Further, we note that the prisoner's appeal may involve a punitive segregation sanction that would entitle him to relaxation of the filing fee requirements. We therefore reverse the order dismissing the appeal and remand for further proceedings.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Steve Bachmeier, while a prisoner at the Anchorage Correctional Complex (ACC), was involved in an incident for which he was sanctioned by a disciplinary tribunal.[1] The sanctions included a 60-day loss of commissary privileges and - apparently - 40 days of punitive segregation.[2] Bachmeier appealed the disciplinary tribunal's decision to the ACC superintendent, who denied the appeal.

Bachmeier then filed an appeal with the superior court in Juneau. With his appeal he submitted a copy of the superintendent's written denial of his appeal from the disciplinary tribunal's decision; he also requested that his appeal be accepted without prepayment of the filing fee and that he be exempted from the full filing fee under

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AS 09.19.010.[3] The court granted a partial filing fee exemption; it calculated that the filing fee required by the statute was $5.09.[4] But the court declined to waive prepayment, because the sanction it believed Bachmeier was appealing - loss of commissary privileges - was not serious enough to warrant a waiver under our decision in Barber v. State, Department of Corrections.[5]

DOC then moved to dismiss Bachmeier's appeal for "failure to include agency decision appealed." DOC argued that Bachmeier was required to provide a copy of the disciplinary tribunal's decision:

Pursuant toAlaskaRuleof AppellateProcedure602(c)(1)(D) a party appealing an agency decision must serve with their notice of appeal "a copy of the district court judgment or agency decision from which the appeal is taken." Bachmeier did not attach a copy of the disciplinary board's decision, and Rule of Appellate Procedure 602(c)(3) dictates that the clerk of the superior court "shall refuse to accept for filing any notice of appeal not conforming with the requirements of the rule."

The superior court conditionally granted DOC's motion to dismiss, allowing Bachmeier an extension of time to file "the agency decision he appeals from" if he wished to avoid dismissal.

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Bachmeier filed a tardy opposition arguing that he had already provided the correct agency decision, again attaching a copy of the superintendent's decision denying his appeal. He also requested a recalculation of the filing fee, which he argued should be "less than a [dollar]." The superior court, in response, acknowledged that Bachmeier had filed the superintendent's decision multiple times but insisted that he "instead needs to file with the court the DOC Report of Disciplinary Decisions . . . which is the original written decision of the agency's disciplinary tribunal."

The case was then transferred from Juneau to Anchorage on DOC's motion for a change of venue. The Anchorage clerk of court mailed Bachmeier a notice requiring that the filing fee previously calculated - $5.09 - be paid within six weeks or "the case will be dismissed." Bachmeier responded with several motions, urging the court to "set correct filing fee amount, accept appeal without prepayment of minimum filing fee amount and use correct final agency [decision] for filing of brief." But the superior court ultimately denied Bachmeier's appeal:

Mr. Bachmeier still has not included a copy of the final agency decision in this case - the DOC Record of Disciplinary Decisions. Without that document, the court cannot examine the underlying decision before this court. [TheJuneau superior court] gave Mr. Bachmeier twochances to file the appropriate decision. Because Mr. Bachmeier has failed to do so, this appeal is DENIED

A week later the court issued another order "to clarify the effect of the court's prior order." The court noted an alternative ground for dismissal of Bachmeier's appeal:

The civil division of the court issued [a] notice on January 30, 2020. It informed Mr. Bachmeier that the court would dismiss his appeal if he did not pay the $5.09 filing fee by March 16, 2020. The court has refused to accept Mr. Bachmeier's repeated requests to adjust the filing fee.
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Because Mr. Bachmeier has failed to pay the fee, the notice would be an independent ground to dismiss this case[.]

Bachmeier appeals the dismissal of his appeal.

III. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

"The interpretation of a statute is a question of law to which we apply our independent judgment, interpreting the statute according to reason, practicality, and common sense, considering the meaning of the statute's language, its legislative history, and its purpose."[6] "We review procedural dismissals for abuse of discretion."[7] "Under the abuse of discretion standard, the trial court's decision will only be overturned if this court has 'a definite and firm conviction that the judge made a mistake.' "[8] "[W]e review the trial court's factual findings for clear error and its legal determinations de novo."[9]

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Because Bachmeier Submitted The Correct Final DOC Decision With His Appeal, It Was An Abuse Of Discretion To Dismiss The Appeal For Failure To Include The Final Agency Decision.

When a superior court is acting as an appellate court on an appeal from an agency decision, Alaska Appellate Rule 602(c)(1)(D) requires that "[a]t the time the notice of appeal is served and filed, it must be accompanied by ... a copy of the . .. agency decision from which the appeal is taken." Bachmeier...

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