Eklund v. State, Dep't of Corr., S-18248

CourtSupreme Court of Alaska (US)
PartiesLOUIS HOLGER EKLUND, Appellant, v. STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Appellee.
Docket NumberS-18248
Decision Date23 November 2022

LOUIS HOLGER EKLUND, Appellant,
v.

STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Appellee.

No. S-18248

Supreme Court of Alaska

November 23, 2022


UNPUBLISHED See Alaska Appellate Rule 214(d)

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Superior Court No. 2KB-19-00201 CI Second Judicial District, Kotzebue, Nelson Traverso, Judge.

Louis Holger Eklund, pro se, Springfield, MO, Appellant.

No appearance by Appellee State of Alaska.

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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND JUDGMENT [*]

I. INTRODUCTION

A self-represented, incarcerated litigant filed a complaint against the Department of Corrections (DOC). He requested an exemption from having to pay the associated filing fee, and submitted all but one of the forms required to support his filing fee exemption request. The superior court denied the request and subsequently

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dismissed the case. Because the superior court abused its discretion when it denied the litigant's fee exemption request without first informing him of the procedural error and giving him an opportunity to correct it, we vacate the superior court's order and remand for further proceedings.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Louis Holger Eklund[1] was incarcerated at the Anchorage Correctional Complex in August 2019 when he filed the complaint in this case. Along with his complaint, Eklund submitted a "Prisoner Request for Filing Fee Exemption" on court form CIV-670. He explained that he had "spent all of [his] money" in previous litigation and was "going without food to pay filing fees." Eklund also attached his DOC account statement, which showed that he had $0.48 remaining at the end of the statement period. The statement also revealed that much of his money from the past six months had gone to copies, postage, and court fees. He did not attach the required financial statement on court form CR-206 and instead crossed out "on court form CR-206" on form CIV-670.

The superior court denied Eklund's fee waiver request in September 2019, "find[ing] that no exceptional circumstances prevent the prisoner from paying the full filing fee." Eklund took no further action in the case. In October 2021 the court dismissed the case without prejudice under Alaska Administrative Rule 9(f)(4) for failure to pay the filing fee.[2]

Eklund appeals. The State did not participate in this appeal.

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III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

We review "a trial court's decisions concerning whether to inform a [self-represented] litigant of specific defects in a pleading and whether to provide an opportunity to remedy those defects" for abuse of discretion.[3] We will find abuse of discretion "when the decision on review is manifestly unreasonable."[4]

IV. DISCUSSION

Eklund argues on appeal that Administrative Rule 9(f)(4) is unconstitutional on multiple grounds. We decline to address these constitutional arguments, and instead hold that the superior court abused its discretion when it failed to inform Eklund of his procedural error and provide him an opportunity to correct it.

To be exempt from filing fees under AS 09.19.010, a prisoner suing the state must show that "exceptional circumstances" exist that prevent the prisoner from paying the full filing fee.[5] To show exceptional circumstances, prisoners must submit an affidavit that sets out "the prisoner's complete financial situation" and "the circumstances that prevent the prisoner from paying full filing fees,"[6] along with "a certified copy of the prisoner's account statement from the correctional facility" where the prisoner is held.[7]

To facilitate compliance with these requirements, the Alaska Court System Prisoner Request for Filing Fee Exemption form (form CIV-670) instructs prisoners to submit a "certified copy of [the prisoner's] account statement for the...

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