Israel v. State, Department of Corrections, 032020 AKSC, S-16990

Docket NºS-16990
Opinion JudgeSTOWERS, JUSTICE.
Party NameADAM ISRAEL, Appellant, v. STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Appellee.
AttorneyAdam Israel, prose, Seward, Appellant. Mark Cucci, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Kevin G. Clarkson, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.
Judge PanelBefore: Bolger, Chief Justice, Stowers, Maassen, and Carney, Justices. Winfree, Justice, not participating.
Case DateMarch 20, 2020
CourtSupreme Court of Alaska

ADAM ISRAEL, Appellant,

v.

STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Appellee.

No. S-16990

Supreme Court of Alaska

March 20, 2020

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska No. 3 AN-14-11063 CI, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Frank A. Pfiffner, Judge.

Adam Israel, prose, Seward, Appellant.

Mark Cucci, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Kevin G. Clarkson, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

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

Winfree, Justice, not participating.

OPINION

STOWERS, JUSTICE.

I. INTRODUCTION

Psychiatrists employed by the Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) diagnosed an inmate with paranoid schizophrenia. The inmate disputes his diagnosis, contending that his claimed rare genetic ability to see the electro-magnetic radiation of poltergeists is misunderstood as a delusion. The inmate brought a medical malpractice action against the psychiatrists and DOC seeking rescission of his diagnosis and damages. DOC filed a motion for summary judgment supported by an affidavit from DOC's chief medical officer. The affidavit confirmed the inmate's diagnosis and asserted that the inmate received treatment consistent with his diagnosis. After notifying the inmate that he needed expert testimony to oppose the motion for summary judgment, the superior court granted DOC's summary judgment motion because the inmate failed to provide expert testimony to rebut DOC's evidence.

The inmate appeals, arguing that DOC s medical director was not qualified to testify about the standard of care under AS 09.20.185. We do not resolve this issue because the inmate failed to create a genuine issue of material fact about the correctness of his diagnosis. We affirm the superior court's grant of summary judgment. We also reject the inmate's other arguments on appeal.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Facts

Adam Israel has been an inmate in DOC custody since January 2005. He was convicted of second-degree murder for stabbing and killing his mother, and he was sentenced to 60 years' imprisonment with 20 years suspended.1 For over three years, Israel was incarcerated in Colorado in a correctional facility under contract with DOC. When he returned to Alaska in May 2013 he did so with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. Dr. William Worrall, a psychiatrist employed by DOC, also diagnosed Israel with paranoid schizophrenia. DOC placed Israel in a facility for inmates with mental health issues. Israel's issues stem from two sets of beliefs. The superior court summarized one of them: [Israel] testified that [members of] his extended family, perhaps including comedian Steve Martin, are involved in a conspiracy to keep him in prison by bribing or coercing [DOC] personnel including the [defendant] doctors. He testified that his family does this to discredit him and keep him in prison in order to prevent him from testifying to murders and rapes committed by his family. He testified that family members have told him that they bribed [DOC] employees including Dr. Worrall.

Israel believes DOC staff are involved in this conspiracy, and he is sometimes hostile toward them. Israel's second set of beliefs is central to the dispute in this case: he contends there is "inbreeding" among his family and as a result he has a rare genetic trait affecting his eyes that enables him to see poltergeists. In an April 21, 2016 hearing Israel stated:

I'm able to see electro-magnetic radiation at a very low level, and that's a result of a defect in the pigment epithelium of my eye, and there's a dystrophied stroma in the iris. What that does is it makes my eyes more susceptible to sensitivity toward the light. Now, poltergeists are essentially plasma. When you stop breathing, the ions in your atoms - and there's roughly 10, 000 atoms in a single cell - remain magnetically charged, and they're bonded together still. So the direct current from the earth is, it repels the light-charged particles from your body and essentially excretes them, and they are absorbed into the gaseous air, becoming plasma. So as a result of that, there is like a prismatic effect. You have these charged particles within the oxygen molecules, nitrogen molecules, and I'm able to see - even though it's very low-energy photons - I can see them.2

Israel asserts that "any respected physician knows this phenomenon" exists, and he faults Dr. Worrall for diagnosing him with paranoid schizophrenia without allowing Israel to demonstrate his rare retinal trait. Israel proposed to prove that he can see poltergeists: "To perform a demonstration, insects are secured in jars containing ethanol, and their corpses are then removed. Israel can then identify from the seemingly empty jars which species of insects had been contained therein, with no prior knowledge of which insects had been selected for exhibition."

B. Proceedings

1. Background and early proceedings

In October 2014 Israel, representing himself, filed a complaint for medical malpractice in the superior court. He named as defendants DOC, Dr. Worrall, and Dr. Dwight Stallman, another DOC psychiatrist. Israel claimed the psychiatrists "fraudulently misdiagnosed [him] with a severe mental illness" due to his "well documented ability to see poltergeists." He sought rescission of his diagnosis and monetary damages and claimed the diagnosis impaired his access to rehabilitative services while in prison, his prospects for release on parole, and his ability to become a productive member of society.3

Because Drs. Stallman and Worrall were both DOC employees at the time Israel's claims arose, the Attorney General certified that they were acting within the scope of their employment and proposed making DOC the sole defendant.[4] Israel challenged this, and the superior court held a hearing on the matter. The court took the opportunity to make factual findings in addition to resolving the certification issue. The court found that "Mr. Israel testified honestly about his understanding of events but that this understanding does not reflect reality. Much of Mr. Israel's testimony was bizarre and, at least from a lay perspective, consistent with [that of] someone suffering from paranoid schizophrenia." The court concluded, "Mr. Israel believes he testified truthfully. But Mr. Israel's claims are incredible. Without supporting evidence, the court cannot find that Mr. Israel's testimony is based in reality." The court determined both doctors were acting within the scope of their employment and directed the case to proceed with DOC as the only defendant.

As the case proceeded Israel made several requests for assistance in disproving his diagnosis. These included a "psych eval or a physical examination" of himself pursuant to Alaska Civil Rule 35, assembling a panel of psychiatrists and other experts pursuant to AS 09.55.536, 5 and discovery requests for his DOC mental-health records as well as objects (e.g., insects, glass jars) for him to demonstrate his retinal trait. The court denied these requests.

2. Motions for summary judgment

Israel moved for summary judgment, arguing that because DOC had no evidence that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia - other than Dr. Worrall's diagnosis, which wrongly failed to consider his retinal trait - it could not substantiate that diagnosis. DOC responded that Israel's argument was conclusory and inverted the burden of proof in the case.

DOC filed its own motion for summary judgment, which it supported with the affidavit of Dr. Robert Lawrence, chief medical officer for DOC. Dr. Lawrence summarized Israel's treatment history while in DOC custody, and he noted Israel's delusional thoughts concerning his "special eyes," special powers including extrasensory perception, and relations to celebrities and serial killers. Dr. Lawrence explained that Drs. Stallman and Worrall were Israel's treating psychiatrists. As Israel continued to verbalize delusions, refuse medication, and become hostile toward staff, they decided to medicate him involuntarily. Dr. Lawrence concluded: The steps taken by the DOC medical staff with regard to providing Mr. Israel with proper mental health care are consistent with DOC policies and procedures and fully satisfied the applicable medical standard of care. I am aware of no evidence that Mr. Israel has suffered harm attributable to DOC medical staff s failure to provide him with necessary and proper medical care and medication.

In support of its motion DOC also submitted portions of Israel's mental-health records while in DOC's care.

DOC's motion noted Israel's statutory burden to prove the applicable standard of care, that the standard of care was not met, and that this failure was causally linked to cognizable injuries.6 DOC argued that Dr. Lawrence's affidavit established that DOC's psychiatrists met the standard of care and because Israel failed to produce medical expert testimony to counter Dr. Lawrence's affidavit, he could not carry his statutory burden and defeat DOC's motion for summary judgment.

Israel responded that his case came within the exception for medical malpractice claims arising from non-technical issues, so no expert testimony was needed.7 He argued the State's determination that he suffered from delusions was central to its diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. He then defined "delusion" as a false belief, "in spite of what constitutes inconvertible ... proof to ... the contrary" and that is "not one ordinarily accepted by other members of [a] person's culture." He argued that because a lay person could readily determine whether a person was delusional, expert testimony would not be necessary to establish the standard of care for a diagnosis of paranoid...

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