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MN Passes Laws Against Prison Litigators

The 1995 session of the Minnesota state legislature passed laws aimed directly at jailhouse layers. MN Statute § 243.241 titled "Civil Action Money Damages" was created. It states: "Money damages recovered in a civil action by an inmate confined in a state correctional facility or released from a state correctional facility under section 244.065 or 244.07 shall be deposited in the inmate's inmate account and disbursed according to the priorities in section 243.23, subdivision 3."

Minnesota readers should note that any attempts by the DOC to seize damage awards from federal civil rights actions are unconstitutional. A similar Missouri law was struck down by the eighth circuit three years ago. In Hankins v. Finnel, 964 F.2d 853 (8th Cir. 1992) the circuit court struck down Missouri's "Incarceration Reimbursement Act" which required that 90% of a prisoner's assets be seized to pay for the costs of his incarceration. At 861: "We thus conclude that Section 1983 preempts the Missouri Incarceration Reimbursement Act as it is applied in this case. To the extent that the Act permits the state to recoup the very moneys it has paid to satisfy a section 1983 judgment against one of its employees, the Act is invalidated under the Supremacy Clause." There is additional case law on this issue which should be researched by Minnesota prisoners.

The other new law passed was MN Statute § 244.035, "Sanctions Related to Litigation." "The commissioner shall develop disciplinary sanctions to provide infraction penalties for an inmate who submits a frivolous or malicious claim as determined under section 563.02, subdivision 3, or who is determined by the court to have testified falsely or to have submitted false evidence to a court. Infraction penalties may include a loss of privileges, punitive segregation, loss of good time, or adding disciplinary confinement time."

The constitutionality of this law will likely depend on how it is applied. Other states, such as Texas and Arizona, have passed similar statutes recently (See PLN, February, 1995) but to our knowledge none have yet been challenged in court. The Minnesota legislature passed the above laws unanimously.

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