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State of Alaska v. Greenfield (12/19/97), 950 P 2d 1128
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to correction before publication in
the Pacific Reporter. Readers are requested to bring errors to the attention of the
Clerk of the Appellate Courts, 303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501; phone (907)
264-0608; fax (907) 264-0878.
THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA
STATE OF ALASKA, )
) Supreme Court No. S-6384
) Superior Court No.
v. ) 3AN-92-9108 CI
GLENDA J. GREENFIELD, ) O P I N I O N
Appellee. ) [No. 4918 - December 19, 1997]
Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of
Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage,
Joan M. Woodward, Judge.
Appearances: Patrick J. Gullufsen, Assistant
Attorney General, Bruce M. Botelho, Attorney General, Juneau, for
Appellant. Thomas M. Daniel, Katherine C. Tank, Leif Fonnesbeck,
Perkins Coie, Anchorage, for Appellee.
Before: Compton, Chief Justice, Rabinowitz,
Matthews and Eastaugh, Justices, and Carpeneti, Justice pro tem.
[Fabe, Justice, not participating.]
COMPTON, Chief Justice, with whom RABINOWITZ, Justice,
joins, concurring.I. INTRODUCTION
The State of Alaska appeals from a partial grant of
summary judgment in favor of Glenda Greenfield. The superior court
ruled that the Alaska Whistleblower Act waived the State's immunity
from punitive damages and the jury awarded punitive damages against
the State. We reverse.
II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
In early 1992 Glenda J. Greenfield was employed by the
State of Alaska as the Acting Director of Nursing at the Alaska
Psychiatric Institute (API). In January and March she reported
that Frank Crum, then an acting assistant director, had engaged in
sexual harassment and other inappropriate conduct toward the API
staff. After an investigation into her allegations, Crum was
disciplined. In late March Greenfield's appointment as Acting
Director of Nursing was allowed to expire, although no replacement
for her had been selected. In June Greenfield resigned "because
her working conditions had become so intolerable that she could no
longer effectively perform her job, and she saw no reasonable
likelihood that the situation would improve."
Greenfield sued the State and the director of API,
asserting various civil rights complaints, among them violation of
the Whistleblower Act, AS 39.90.100. She filed a motion for
partial summary judgment seeking a holding from the superior court
that she was entitled to pursue a punitive damage award against the
State. Specifically, she argued that AS 39.90.120(a) provided for
a waiver of the State's immunity from punitive damages. The
superior court granted the motion.
The jury found the State liable under several statutes
and awarded Greenfield $160,000 in punitive damages pursuant to the
Whistleblower Act. The State appeals only the punitive damage
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
This appeal requires us to interpret the text of the
Whistleblower Act. We apply our independent judgment to questions
of statutory interpretation. Sauve v. Winfree, 907 P.2d 7, 9
The Whistleblower Act authorizes public employees to
bring suit against individuals and public employers, including the
State. Alaska Statute 39.90.120 provides:
(a) A person who alleges a violation of
AS 39.90.100 may bring a civil action and the court may grant
appropriate relief, including punitive damages.
(b) A person who violates or attempts to
violate AS 39.90.100 is also liable for a civil fine of not more
than $10,000. The attorney general may enforce this subsection.
(c) A person who attempts to prevent
another person from making a report or participating in a matter
under AS 39.90.100(a) with intent to impede or prevent a public
inquiry on the matter is liable for a civil fine of not more than
In Alaska Housing Finance Corporation v. Salvucci, ___
P.2d ___, Op. No. 4917 (Alaska, December 19, 1997), we addressed
this issue. The reasoning and holding of Salvucci apply to the
present case. In Salvucci we said:
AS 39.90.120(a) does not expressly and specif-
ically authorize awards of punitive damages
against government entities. The text of the
statute is ambiguous as to whether such
damages were meant to be authorized against
such defendants. The presumption disfavoring
punitive damage awards against government
entities therefore applies and the statute
will not be construed as authorizing such
awards. Moreover, the legislative history of
the amendment which added reference to
punitive damages to the statute shows that the
amendment was added not to make government
entities liable for punitive damages, but to
ensure that individual defendants would not be
immunized from punitive damages. That purpose
is consistent with the reasons underlying the
presumption disfavoring punitive damage awards
against government entities.
Id. at 24.
For the reasons that this court expressed in Salvucci, we
hold that punitive damages are not available against the State
under the Whistleblower Act. We therefore REVERSE the superior
court's award of partial summary judgment to Greenfield on the
issue of punitive damages. COMPTON, Chief Justice, with whom RABINOWITZ, Justice,
I concur in the result. For the reasons I expressed in
Alaska Housing Finance Corporation v. Salvucci, ___ P.2d ___, Op.
No. 4917 (Alaska, December 19, 1997), I believe it unnecessary to
rely on the legislative history of AS 39.90.120(a) to resolve the
issue of the availability of punitive damages under the