Jail Booking Fee Suit
The Sheriff and Commissioners of Butler County, Ohio, settled a lawsuit over its Pay-to-Stay program brought in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Western Division, by a citizen of Liberty Township, Ohio, in Butler County. The victorious plaintiff was represented by Cincinnati attorneys Stephen R. Felson and Robert B. Newman. The settlement will result in refunds of booking fees for about 5,500 former Butler County Jail prisoners and will cost the county about $165,000.
On June 21, 1999, Butler County, like several Ohio counties, initiated a Pay-to-Stay program, in which arrestees brought to the Butler County Jail had up to $30 of whatever cash was in their possession at arrest confiscated to cover booking fees at the jail. Although procedures existed to refund money to persons whose charges were dropped or acquitted, the process was so slow, complicated, and frustrating-that-most-former-prisoners-gave-up on trying to recover their money. The Pay-to-Stay program generated about $100,000 annually for Butler County's general fund.
On May 3, 2001, David Runyan of Liberty Township, Ohio, was arrested on a domestic violence charge and jailed in the Butler County Jail. He had personal property and $33 cash on him when arrested. Runyan bonded out the following morning and received his personal property, $3 cash, and a "Billing Statement" for $30 "to reimburse the county for any expense incurred by reason of [his] confinement in jail."
Representing himself at trial, Runyan won acquittal of the charges. When he tried to get the $30 booking fee refunded, County officials promised him his money would be returned, but they repeatedly failed to follow through on that promise.
Through attorneys Felson and Newman, Runyan filed suit under 42 U.S.C. §1983, against Butler County Sheriff Harold Don Gabbard and County Commissioners Courtney Combs, Charles Furmon, and Michael Fox. Runyan claimed that the Pay-to-Stay program violated his Fifth Amendment right against government taking of personal property without just compensation and procedural and substantive due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Unlike Hamilton County, which has fought a losing effort to preserve its Pay-to-Stay program [See Page 20], Butler County officials moved quickly to settle. The settlement, agreed to in April 2002, and approved by the district court in September 2002, refunds Jail prisoners who had booking fees taken by the Pay-to-Stay program. Refunds are for the amount of money taken, plus 10% simple interest, offset by any fines or court costs owed by the former prisoner to the County. Counsel received fees of $3,500.
Butler County has since created a new program in which a "Reimbursement Coordinator" meets with each prisoner before he or she leaves the Jail. The Coordinator reviews the reimbursement policy with the prisoner, assesses the prisoner's present and future ability to pay the County, and arranges a voluntary payment plan with the prisoner.
In a personal communication with Prison Legal News, attorney Stephen R. Felson stated that his firm was available and willing to bring legal action in any jurisdiction where Pay-to-Stay or booking fee programs exist. Mr. Felson can be reached at: Stephen R. Felson, Attorney at Law, 36 East Seventh Street, Suite 1650, Cincinnati, OH 45202. Phone: 513-721-2500.
This case is not published. See: Runyan v. Gabbard, U.S. DC SD OH, Western Division, Case Number C-1-01-1414.
Additional sources: Cincinnati Post; Hamilton Journal-News
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Related legal case
Runyan v. Gabbard
|USDC SD OH, West. Div. No. C-1-01-1414