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Alaska Supreme Court Revives Prisoner’s “Shy Bladder” Suit

On August 31, 2012, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s dismissal of a prisoner’s paruresis (i.e., “shy bladder”) and visiting rule claims.

Alaska state prisoner Loren J. Larson, Jr. suffers from paruresis, a condition that makes it physically impossible for him to urinate while another person is watching. While incarcerated, he was required to provide a urine sample for random drug testing every three to four months.

Larson claimed that to provide a sample while a guard is watching, “he ‘must drink water until the volume of urine makes the bladder so intensely painful, urination becomes an involuntary function,’” which “amounts to ‘physical torture.’” He sued in state court, alleging that the Department of Corrections’ refusal to accommodate his medical condition, by offering an alternative urinalysis testing procedure, violated state and federal prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.

In a separate action Larson challenged a revised visitor application form for minors, arguing it violated his right to rehabilitation under Article I, section 12 of the Alaska Constitution. He sought declaratory and injunctive relief in both cases.

The state moved, pursuant to Alaska Civil Rule 12(b)(6), to dismiss both complaints for failure to state a claim for re-lief. The superior court then dismissed the actions.

The Alaska Supreme Court consolidated the cases and reversed, holding that suits brought by pro se prisoner litigants “must be liberally construed,” and that dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is viewed with disfavor and should rarely be granted.

Applying these rules, the Court found that “both of Larson’s complaints alleged facts which, if proven, are sufficient to entitle him to some form of relief.” The Supreme Court also rejected the defendants’ argument that Larson lacked standing or was otherwise barred from bringing a direct cause of action for the alleged constitutional violations.

The Court reversed the superior court’s dismissals under Rule 12(b)(6) and remanded for further proceedings, allowing Larson to file an amended complaint. “If the State wishes to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting Larson’s claims,” the Supreme Court wrote, “the State can file a summary judgment motion and Larson will have an adequate opportunity to respond, including obtaining appropriate discovery.” See: Larson v. State of Alaska DOC, 284 P.3d 1 (Alaska 2012).

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Related legal case

Larson v. State of Alaska DOC