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You can search the entire site. or go to the recent opinions, or the chronological or subject indices. Elias Robinson v. Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (6/14/2019) sp-7377

Elias Robinson v. Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (6/14/2019) sp-7377

           Notice:   This opinion is subject to correction before publication in the P                    ACIFIC  REPORTER.  

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                      THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA                                      

ELIAS  ROBINSON,                                                     )  

                                                                     )    Supreme  Court  No.  S-17055  

                                Appellant,                           )  


                                                                     )    Superior Court No. 3AN-16-09563 CI  

           v.                                                        )  


                                                                     )    O P I N I O N  


ALASKA HOUSING FINANCE                                               )  


                                                                     )    No. 7377 - June 14, 2019  


                                Appellee.                            )  




                        ppeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third  


                     Judicial District, Anchorage, Eric A. Aarseth, Judge.  


                     Appearances: Elias Robinson, pro se, Anchorage, Appellant.  


                     JonathanP.Clement, Assistant AttorneyGeneral,Anchorage,  


                     and   Jahna   Lindemuth,   Attorney   General,   Juneau,   for  



                     Before:  Bolger, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen,  


                     and Carney, Justices.  


                     WINFREE, Justice.  



                     A self-represented litigant appeals from the dismissal of his complaint  


against Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) for failure to state a claim upon  


which relief could be granted.   Because the superior court gave the litigant multiple  


opportunities to amend his complaint before it correctly concluded that all of his claims  

----------------------- Page 2-----------------------

were either time-barred, subject to a res judicata defense, or inadequately pleaded, we  


affirm the superior court's decision.  




                    Elias Robinson appeals from the dismissal of his 2016 complaint against  


AHFC.   Because his complaint refers to previous administrative and superior court  


proceedings, relevant history is summarized below in Subsections A-C.  Subsection D  


describes the superior court proceedings from which Robinson appeals.  


          A.        2009 Landlord-Tenant Litigation  


                    Robinsonandhis familyrentedanAnchorageapartment fromtheJohnsons.  


Robinson's daughter was bitten by another tenant's dog in June 2008.  The Robinsons'  


relationship  with  the  Johnsons  soured  quickly  thereafter.                             The  Johnsons  asked  the  


Robinsons to pay for repairing damage to their apartment, and the Robinsons disagreed  


that  they  were  responsible.                 The  parties  mutually  agreed  to  a  termination  of  the  


Robinsons' tenancy, and they moved out in January 2009.  


                    Robinson's wife then sued the Johnsons for the daughter's dog-bite-related  


injuries. The Johnsons counterclaimed for the alleged apartment damage.  The superior  


court  dismissed  the  Robinsons'  personal  injury  claim and  entered  judgment  in  the  


Johnsons' favor on their property damage counterclaim in September 2009.  Robinson  


and his wife subsequently filed for bankruptcy protection, and the judgment debt was  




          B.        2010 To 2011 Housing Voucher Termination  


                    When the Robinsons lived in the Johnsons' apartment, AHFC paid part of  


their monthly rent through a federal housing voucher program. After the Johnsons were  


awarded judgment on their property damage claim, AHFC notified the Robinsons that  


they were being terminated fromthe programfor failure to comply with its terms because  


they had damaged their apartment.  The Robinsons requested an administrative review,  


                                                               -2-                                                        7377

----------------------- Page 3-----------------------


andin December 2009 anAHFChearing officer affirmed theRobinsons' housing benefit  


termination.  The Robinsons then requested an informal hearing.  


                    At the informal hearing two AHFC employees testified that it was AHFC's  


policy to terminate a family from the voucher program if a landlord obtained a judgment  


against the family for damaging an apartment.  The Robinsons argued that because the  


judgment against them had been discharged in bankruptcy, AHFC could not rely on the  


judgment  to  terminate  them  from  the  voucher  program.                                 AHFC's  hearing  officer  


disagreed and upheld the termination in September 2010.  


                    Robinson,  with  attorney  assistance,  appealed  AHFC's  administrative  


determination to the superior court in October.  The appeal was stayed in November for  


AHFC to  consider  possible  mitigating  circumstances  in  the  Robinsons'  case.                                          The  


superior  court  ordered  AHFC  to  keep  the  Robinsons'  subsidy  in  place  while  


reconsideringthetermination decision. At asubsequent hearing theRobinsons presented  


evidence of medical problems they had had during their tenancy.  In March 2011 an  


AHFC hearing officer again upheld AHFC's termination decision, concluding that the  


Robinsons  had  failed  to  demonstrate  mitigating  circumstances  that  would  excuse  


damaging or failing to maintain the apartment.  

                    In August Robinson's attorney withdrew as counsel in the superior court  


appeal of AHFC's decision. In September 2011 Robinson and AHFC agreed to dismiss  


the appeal with prejudice.  


          C.        2011 Eviction Action  


                    WhiletheRobinsons wereappealing AHFC'shousingvouchertermination,  


they resided in an Anchorage apartment owned by T. McGlohn.   In January  2011  


McGlohn initiated an eviction action against them, alleging nonpayment of rent.  The  


Robinsons answered, claiming as an affirmative defense that AHFC had failed to pay  


part of its portion of the rent.  

                                                               -3-                                                        7377

----------------------- Page 4-----------------------

                    Trial was held over the course of three days in November 2012 and May  


2013.  McGlohn called AHFC's housing specialist to testify on his behalf on the first  


day.  She apparently testified about the Robinsons' housing voucher being terminated  


for failure to comply with program rules. The district court ultimately entered judgment  


for McGlohn in November 2013.  


                    The Robinsons appealed the district court's decision to the superior court  


in  December.           The  Robinsons  appear  to  have  prevailed  on  appeal  at  least  in  part;  


jurisdiction was returned to the district court in January 2015.  The case apparently was  


settled in December and the court vacated a scheduled trial.  The parties then stipulated  


to dismiss the case with prejudice in February 2016.  


          D.        2016 Complaint Against AHFC  


                    In October 2016 Robinsonfiledaone-pagecomplaintagainst AHFC. Read  


liberally, the complaint appears to bring four claims:  (1) AHFC improperly terminated  


Robinson's housing choice voucher; (2) Robinson did not receive a fair hearing from  


AHFC regarding the voucher termination; (3) Robinson's wife would not have had  


judgment entered  against her for damage to the Johnsons' apartment if AHFC had  


completed  necessary  inspections  and  walk-throughs  that  would  have  shown  the  


Robinsons had not, in fact, damaged the apartment; and (4) AHFCemployees' testimony  


at McGlohn's eviction action "secur[ed] the termination of [the Robinsons'] housing  




                    After considerable wrangling about service of process and Robinson's  


efforts to obtain entry of default against AHFC, the court ordered AHFC to answer  


                                                               -4-                                                        7377

----------------------- Page 5-----------------------

Robinson's complaint. AHFC instead filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Robinson's                                                                  


 complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.                                                                     

                           AHFC interpreted Robinson's claims as arising entirely out of its housing  


voucher termination, the litigation of which had concluded in 2011 when the parties  


 stipulated to dismiss the superior court appeal with prejudice, and AHFC thus asserted  


that Robinson's claims were barred by the statute of limitations and the doctrine of res  


judicata.  AHFC argued that if Robinson had tort claims, the statute of limitations was  

two years2  and that if Robinson had contract claims, the statute of limitations was three  


years.3          Robinson opposed AHFC's motion, arguing that AHFC's failure to file an  


 answer entitled him to a default judgment.  He also seemed to contend that the statute of  


 limitations had not yet run because McGlohn's eviction case had not concluded until  


February 2016.  


                           The court rejected Robinson's default judgment argument, concluding that  


AHFC had timely responded to the court's orders and that any delay was insignificant  


 and  had  not  prejudiced  Robinson.                                          The  court  then  directed  Robinson  to  file  a  


 supplemental opposition providing a "clearer and more definite statement of what action  


 or inaction by AHFC he believes was wrong" and explaining why he should not be  


 "barred from renewing the action he agreed to dismiss with prejudice in 2011."  


                           Robinsonfiledatimely supplementalstatement,assertingthathiscomplaint  


was "not about what happened at [the] time [his voucher was terminated,] it is about  


what  has  been  happening  since  then."                                            He  appeared  to  claim  that  AHFC  and  its  


              1            See  Alaska R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) (authorizing, prior to answer, filing motion                                                        

to dismiss complaint for failure to state claim upon which relief could be granted).                                                               

              2            See AS 09.10.070(a).  


              3            See AS 09.10.053.  


                                                                                    -5-                                                                           7377

----------------------- Page 6-----------------------


employees  who  had  testified  at  the  voucher  termination  hearing  harmed  him  by:  


(1) testifying against him in McGlohn's eviction action; (2) causing Cook Inlet Housing  


Authority to deny his rental  application; (3) interfering with his apartment-hunting  


process in other unspecified ways; and (4) wrongfully terminating his housing voucher,  


causing him to have to pay more rent than he otherwise would have.  


                    AHFC responded that Robinson still had not presented a claim upon which  


relief could be granted.  AHFC had "little doubt" that Robinson continued to suffer the  


consequences of the housing choice voucher termination, but it argued that despite those  


consequences,  Robinson  could  "not  escape  the  legal  bar"  imposed  by  the  2011  


stipulation dismissing his appeal with prejudice.  


                    The court largely agreed with AHFC and granted its motion to dismiss "to  


the extent [Robinson] raises or attempts to raise any complaint regarding conduct of  


AHFC or its employees in 2011 or earlier."  But the court gave Robinson one more  


opportunity to amend his complaint to supply more detail about his claims related to  


AHFC's testimony against him and its efforts to interfere with his housing applications.  


The court warned Robinson that if he failed to file a motion to amend his complaint and  


a proposed amended complaint complying with the court's order, his case would be  




                    Robinson responded with a "[m]otion not to dismiss 2011 or . . . 2009  


events by AHFC," reiterating his claims about AHFC's failure to conduct required  


inspections  or  walk-throughs,  its  termination  of  his  housing  voucher,  its  alleged  


testimony against him in the eviction case, and its role in Cook Inlet Housing Authority  


denying his rental application in 2013.  AHFC opposed the motion, pointing out that all  


of the dates Robinson referenced were outside the statutes of limitations for tort and  


contract claims.  

                                                               -6-                                                         7377

----------------------- Page 7-----------------------

                               In March 2018 the superior court dismissed all of Robinson's claims with                                                                                        

prejudice.   The court stated that Robinson had "failed to show why he should not be                                                                                                               

bound by his 2011 agreement and ha[d] not shown any basis for a complaint regarding                                                                                                

 events occurring after the 2011 agreement."                                                            

                               Robinson appeals.                            

 III.           STANDARD OF REVIEW                          

                               We review a superior court's "grant of a motion to dismiss a complaint for                                                                                          


 failure to state a claim under Alaska Civil Rule 12(b)(6) . . . de novo."                                                                                                               

                                                                                                                                                                     We also review  



 de novo whether a claim is within an applicable statute of limitations                                                                                                or whether res  



judicata applies. 

 IV.            DISCUSSION  


                A.             Legal Standards And Robinson's Claims  


                               "Inreviewing aRule12(b)(6) dismissal,weliberallyconstruethecomplaint  



 and treat all factual allegations in the complaint as true."                                                                                                                   

                                                                                                                                                And we also "liberally"  



 construe the claims ofself-represented litigants like Robinson.                                                                                 Rule 12(b)(6) dismissals  

                4               Clemensen  v.  Providence  Alaska  Med.  Ctr.,  203  P.3d  1148,   1151  (Alaska  


                5              See  Richardson  v.  Municipality   of  Anchorage ,   360  P.3d   79,   84   (Alaska  

 2015)  (quoting  Brotherton  v.  Brotherton,   142  P.3d   1187,   1189  (Alaska  2006)).  

                6              Patterson v. Infinity Ins.  Co., 303 P.3d 493, 497 (Alaska 2013) (quoting  


Smith v. CSK Auto, Inc., 132 P.3d 818, 820 (Alaska 2006)).  


                7              Patterson v. Walker, 429 P.3d 829, 831 (Alaska 2018) (quoting Bachner  


 Co. v. State, 387 P.3d 16, 20 (Alaska 2016)).  


                8              Id. (quoting Barber v. Schmidt, 354 P.3d 158, 162 (Alaska 2015)).  


                                                                                                 -7-                                                                                         7377

----------------------- Page 8-----------------------

 should be granted only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of                                                                               


 facts in support of the claims that would entitle the plaintiff to relief."                                                                  

                           Based on a liberal reading of Robinson's filings, we have identified six  


potential claims:  (1) AHFC's failure to conduct required inspections of the apartment  


the Robinsons rented from the Johnsons resulted in the Johnsons' September 2009  


judgment and the Robinsons' subsequent bankruptcy; (2) AHFC wrongfully terminated  


the Robinson family's housing voucher benefit; (3) AHFC's voucher termination appeal  


procedures  did  not  comply  with  due  process;  (4)  AHFC  wrongfully  caused  the  


Robinsons' Cook Inlet Housing Authority rental application to be denied; (5) AHFC  


wrongfully interfered with the Robinsons' housing search in other ways; and (6) AHFC  


harmed  the  Robinsons  when  its  employees  testified  against  them  in  the  McGlohn  


                               10   Because we conclude that all of these claims were either time-barred,  

 eviction action.                                                                                                                                   


barred  by  the  doctrine  of  res  judicata,  or  inadequately  pleaded,  we  agree  with  the  


 superior court that Robinson failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.  


              B.	          Three  Claims  Are  Clearly  Outside  The  Applicable  Statute  Of  



                            "Failing to file a complaint within the time set out by a statute of limitation  


 is a ground for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6)."11   In Alaska tort claims must be brought  


              9            Clemensen, 203 P.3d at 1151 (quoting                                          Jacob v. State, Dep't of Health &                               

Soc. Servs., Office of Children's Servs.                                      , 177 P.3d 1181, 1184 (Alaska 2008)).                         

              10           Robinson appears also to contend that, as a procedural matter, the superior  


 court erred by not having an in-person hearing on AHFC's motion to dismiss.   But  


Robinson never requested such a hearing.  


              11           Jacksonv. MunicipalityofAnchorage, 375 P.3d1166,1170 (Alaska2016).  


                                                                                    -8-	                                                                          7377

----------------------- Page 9-----------------------


within two years of the cause of action's accrual                                  and contract claims must be brought             


within three years.                                                                                                                   

                                   Although in some cases "the statute of limitations does not begin  


to run until the plaintiff discovers, or reasonably should discover, the existence of all the  

                                                                 14 Robinson made no argument that he was not  



elements of his or her cause of action," 

aware of his claims when they accrued.15  



                      1.         AHFC's alleged failure to conduct required inspections  


                      Robinson contends that AHFC's failure to conduct required inspections of  


the Johnsons' apartment resulted in his wife's inability to defend against the Johnsons'  


counterclaim for damages and the subsequent judgment in their favor. Putting aside that  


Robinson's wife is not a party to this case, this claim is untimely. The Robinsons moved  


out of the Johnsons' apartment in January 2009; the Johnsons obtained the judgment for  


damages  to  the  apartment  in  September  2009.                                   Robinson  should  reasonably  have  


discovered the existence of all the elements of any cause of action by September 2009,  


at the latest.  Because he did not file his claim for over seven years, the superior court  



properly dismissed it as untimely. 

           12         AS  09.10.070(a).  

           13         AS  09.10.053.  

           14         Hutton  v.  Realty  Execs.,  Inc.,   14  P.3d  977,  980  (Alaska  2000).  

           15         At  oral  argument  to  us,  Robinson  alleged  that  his  claims  were  timely  under  

a   federal   statute,   28  U.S.C.      1658(a)   (2012).   Section   1658(a)  provides   a   four-year  

statute  of  limitations  for  actions  arising  under  federal  law.   See  id.   Because  Robinson  did  

not  plead  any  federal  causes  of  action,  the  statute  is  inapplicable  to  his  claims.  

           16         See AS 09.10.053, .070(a).  


                                                                     -9-                                                              7377

----------------------- Page 10-----------------------

                                 2.	             AHFCemployees'allegedwrongful                                                              testimony against Robinson  

                                 Robinson alleges AHFC harmed him when its employees testified against                                                                                            

him in McGlohn's eviction case.                                                  To the extent Robinson is arguing he was defamed or                                                                          

that AHFC committed some other tort by way of the testimony, such a claim accrued                                                                                                               

when the testimony occurred in November 2012, more than three years before Robinson                                                                                                         

                                              17                                                                                                                                                               18  

filed his complaint.                                                                                                                                                                                                 

                                                    The superior court thus properly dismissed the claim as untimely. 

                                 3.	             AHFC's alleged role in Cook Inlet Housing Authority's denial  


                                                 of Robinson's rental application  

                                 Robinson alleges that AHFC was responsible for his housing application  


being denied by Cook Inlet Housing Authority in February 2013.  This denial occurred  


more than three years before Robinson filed his complaint; the superior court thus  



properly dismissed the claim as untimely. 


                D.	              Two Claims Are Clearly Barred By Res Judicata.  


                                  Although res judicata typically is an affirmative defense, it can be raised  


in a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be  



                          We give a judgment res judicata effect "when it is (1) a final judgment on the  

                17              See McCutcheon v. State, 746 P.2d 461, 464 (Alaska 1987) ("The statute                                                                                             

 [of limitations in a defamation action] begins to run upon 'publication' of the allegedly                                                                                                   

defamatory statements." (quoting                                                  Chiei v. Stern                    , 561 P.2d 1216, 1217 (Alaska 1977))).                                     

                18              See AS 09.10.070(a).  


                19              See AS 09.10.053, .070(a).  


                20              See 61A AM.  JUR.   2D PLEADING     334  ("[R]es  judicata  is  an  affirmative  


defense  that is generally pleaded in a defendant's answer, but is also properly brought  

in  a  preanswer motion  to  dismiss  for  failure  to  state  a  claim  upon  which  relief  can  be  

granted  when  all  relevant  facts  are  shown  by  the  court's  own  records,  of  which  the  court  

takes  notice,  or  if  it  is  clear  from  the  face  of  the  complaint  that  the  plaintiff's  claims  are  

barred  as  a  matter  of  law."  (internal  citations  omitted)).  

                                                                                                    -10-	                                                                                             7377

----------------------- Page 11-----------------------

merits, (2) from a court of competent jurisdiction, (3) in a dispute between the same                                                                    


parties (or their privies) about the same cause of action."                                                                                                

                                                                                                                    For purposes of the first  


requirement, "a dismissal with prejudice is treated as a dismissal on the merits and is,  

                                                                                22   For purposes of the last requirement, the  



therefore, a final judgment on the merits." 

"same cause of action" includes "[n]ew claims arising from 'the same transactions as  


those in the first suit.' "23  


                         Robinson's claims that AHFC wrongfully terminated his housing voucher  


and that it denied him due process when he appealed the termination both are barred by  


res judicata.  Robinson stipulated to dismiss his appeal of AHFC's termination decision  


with prejudice in 2011.  Dismissal with prejudice operates as a final judgment on the  


merits for res judicata purposes,24 it was entered by a court of competent jurisdiction, and  


it was between the same parties as this case, Robinson and AHFC. Robinson's wrongful  


housing voucher termination claim was directly at issue in his previous case against  


AHFC, and whether its procedures complied with due process arises out of the same  


                      25  We thus conclude that the superior court properly granted AHFC's motion  


to dismiss those two claims.  


             21          Patterson v. Infinity Ins. Co.                        , 303 P.3d 493, 497 (Alaska 2013) (quoting                          

Angleton v. Cox                , 238 P.3d 610, 614 (Alaska 2010)).                   

             22          Smith v. CSK Auto, Inc., 132 P.3d 818, 820 (Alaska 2006).  


             23          Id. at 820-21 (quoting Alderman v. Iditarod Props., Inc. , 104 P.3d 136, 141  


(Alaska 2004)).  


             24          See id. at 820.  


             25          See id. at 821 (quoting Alderman , 104 P.3d at 141).  


                                                                              -11-                                                                       7377

----------------------- Page 12-----------------------

            E.	         Robinson's               Claim          Regarding               AHFC's              Other          Housing-Search  

                        Interference Was Inadequately Pleaded.                       

                        Alaska Civil Rule 8(a) requires a complaint to contain "(1) a short and plain                                             

 statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and (2) a demand for                                                         

                                                                               26                                                                      27  

judgment for             the relief the pleader                  seeks."                                                                                   

                                                                                     Alaska has  "liberal pleading rules." 


Plaintiffs must present only "a brief statement that 'give[s] the defendant fair notice of  



the claim and the grounds upon which it rests.' "                                       But Robinson made only a vague and  


non-specific statement alleging AHFC interfered with his attempts to find housing, and  


his complaint does not give AHFC "fair notice" of the grounds for his claim.  


                        Robinson stated in response to AHFC's motion to dismiss that he "was  


homeless for about a year because of [AHFC] interfering in [his] process of [apartment]  


hunting." The only specific example he pointed to was alleging that an AHFC employee  


told Cook Inlet Housing Authority not to rent to the Robinsons.  As noted in Subsection  


 C, that claim is outside the statute of limitations.   Beyond that allegation, Robinson  


provided no details about how or when AHFC interfered in his apartment search.  


                        AHFC would be hard-pressed to mount a defense to this claim because it  


is unclear what Robinson alleges it did.  We conclude that the superior court properly  


dismissed the claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.  

V.	         CONCLUSION  


                        The superior court's decision is AFFIRMED.  

            26          Alaska  R.  Civ.  P.  8(a).  

            27          See  Griffith  v.  Taylor,  937  P.2d  297,  307  (Alaska   1997).  

            28          Alaska   Commercial  Fishermen's  Mem'l  in  Juneau  v.   City  &  Borough  of  

Juneau,   357   P.3d   1172,   1178   (Alaska   2015)   (alteration   in   original)   (quoting   Valdez

Fisheries  Dev.  Ass'n  v.  Alyeska  Pipeline  Serv.  Co.,  45  P.3d  657,  673  (Alaska  2002)).

                                                                         -12-	                                                                   7377

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