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Court Holds Florida's Administrative Processing Fee is Constitutional

by David M. Reutter

On December 21, 2004, Florida's Leon County Circuit Court held that a 2004 law that imposed an administrative processing fee on monies deposited into prisoner accounts does not violate the Florida Constitution's single-subject rule. The December 2004 PLN reported the enactment of this law and ensuing lawsuit.

Before the Court was summary judgment motions filed by both parties. This class action suit was brought against the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) by prisoners Jesus Scull and John O'Callaghan. The lead plaintiff was Kindred Spirits Charitable Trust, who is dedicated to addressing the spiritual and emotional needs of Florida's prisoners and their families.

The Court said it had three issues to determine. The first concerned the standing of the plaintiffs. The Court said there is no doubt Scull and O'Callaghan had standing, as their meager prisoner accounts, comprised of funds they receive from Kindred Spirits, are directly and adversely affected by the imposition of the processing fee, which will substantially reduce their available funds. Kindred Spirits, however, had no standing to bring the suit. In so holding, the Court said Kindred Spirits gave the funds to the prisoners and no longer had an interest in those funds. While the new law may frustrate Kindred Spirits' charitable mission, Kindred Spirits does not have an actual, present, adverse, or antagonistic interest in the subject matter," the Court held. FDOC was granted summary judgment against Kindred Spirits on that basis.

The Court then decided if Scull and O'Callaghan were required to exhaust administrative remedies before seeking relief from the Court. The Court held administrative remedies cannot resolve the constitutional issues challenging the law under attack. This is the type of claim that does not call for administrative remedy exhaustion, the Court held.

Finally, the Court turned to the constitutional challenge. The specific constitutional question is whether the act embraces more than one subject, rendering it violative of article III, section 6 of the Florida Constitution.

The first sentence of the act states: An act relating to the operational authority for state correctional facilities." The Court held the administrative processing fee is logically connected to the operational authority of the state prisons. While the act also contained sections dealing with private prisons." While the act also contained sections dealing with private prisons, the collection of an administrative processing fee falls within the operational functions of the prisons." Accordingly, the Court held the law was not violative of the single subject rule and it entered summary judgment in favor of FDOC. See: Kindred Spirits Charitable Trust v. Crosby, Florida Second Judicial Circuit, Case No: 04-CV-1799. The plaintiffs have appealed.

As of mid-January 2005, FDOC had yet to remove funds from prisoner accounts under the administrative processing fee law. FDOC, nonetheless, has established procedures to take prisoners' money by enacting rules in the Florida Administrative Code. Those procedures became effective January 23, 2005.

Under the new procedures, prisoners shall be charged an administrative processing fee of no more than $6.00 per month." The fee will be based upon account activity. No fee will ensue if there is no account activity for the month. Account activity will be charged as such: $1.00 for each weekly draw, $0.50 for each deposit and each special withdrawal." See: Rule 33 203.201(h), Fla. Admin. Code.

The processing fee is a continuation of the Florida Legislature's efforts to squeeze every penny they can out of prisoners and their families. In the last 10 years, the legislature has enacted a $4.00 fee for sick call use, raised canteen prices to fair-market value," and required canteen profits to be placed in the general revenue fund rather than used for recreation and vocational programs. The administrative processing fee is just another wheel in the prison industrial complex's machine.

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Related legal case

Kindred Spirits Charitable Trust v. Crosby