Prison Video Game Case Revived in Alaska

     (CN) – The Alaska Supreme Court revived a pro se lawsuit by prisoners unhappy with limits on their gaming options, especially with regard to mature-rated video games.
     Of the six inmates who brought the 2012 lawsuit in Anchorage, only Jack Earl Jr. and James Barber appealed when the court dismissed their case after denying them class certification and appointment of counsel.
     The inmates contend that Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Schmidt and other prison officials violated their constitutional rights by limiting their access to Xbox and PlayStation systems, and restricting their access to mature-rated titles.
     On Friday, the state high court was unanimous that dismissal of the case for failure to state a claim was improper.
     “Taking the allegations in the complaint as true – as we must when evaluating a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim – the department’s policy changes apply to all of the named plaintiffs similarly,” Justice Craig Stowers wrote for the five-person court. “The named plaintiffs in their individual capacities may be entitled to individual relief. We therefore conclude that it was error for the superior court to dismiss the case on the grounds that no individual claims were stated in the complaint.”
     The 10-page ruling does affirm rejection of the class-certification and counsel-appointment demands.
     “All parties agree that a pro se litigant cannot represent a class given current precedent,” Stowers wrote. “Whether counsel should therefore have been appointed is a separate issue altogether, but a class simply cannot be certified with pro se plaintiffs at the helm. The superior court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion for class certification.”
     As for the appointment of counsel, Stowers said the case does not belong to the categories that the court has found such appointment requires.
     These cases typically involve the “termination of parental rights, child custody, paternity suits, and civil contempt proceedings for nonpayment of child support,” according to the ruling.
     The court did not buy Barber and Earl’s attempt at portraying the issue as one of due process.
     “They argue that these policies pertain to their economic interests (e.g., the possession of property),” Stowers said, before adding that “these economic interests are insufficient to require the appointment of counsel as a matter of due process.”

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