Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Missouri Ordered to Pay Prisoner's $250,000 Judgment Plus Fees and Costs for Sexual Assaults by Work Supervisor

by John E. Dannenberg

On June 29, 2007, the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that the state must pay a $250,000 judgment awarded in federal district court to a prisoner who had been sexually assaulted by his prison work supervisor.

In granting the writ of mandamus, the state appellate court denied Missouri's claims of sovereign immunity and its defense that since sexual assault was not an assigned duty of the supervisor, it was not an "official duty" for which a state employee could be held liable. Additionally, the court ordered the state to pay all attorney fees, costs and interest, including those associated with the appeal.

Prisoner Robert Cravens worked in the Algoa Correctional Center bakery under the supervision of state prison employee Jerry Tolson. On six occasions in 2004, Tolson took Cravens into secluded areas of the bakery and sexually assaulted him by engaging in forcible anal sex and oral copulation, using threats and coercion. Tolson subsequently pleaded guilty to one count of sexual contact with a prisoner and was fired.

In April 2005, Cravens filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights complaint against Tolson in U.S. District Court. Missouri's attorney general refused to defend Tolson. In November 2005, the federal court found that Tolson?s actions had violated Cravens' civil rights and were performed under color of law in connection with Tolson's official duties on behalf of the State of Missouri. Judgment was entered against Tolson for $250,000 plus costs, fees and interest, which was not appealed.

The state subsequently refused to pay the judgment from the State Legal Expense Fund ("Fund"), arguing that Tolson was not performing an official duty when he committed the forcible sexual assaults. The state further claimed that the Fund did not cover such liability. Those arguments were rejected as being contrary to the plain language of Missouri Revised Statutes § 105.711.

The court relied upon Dixon v. Holden, 963 S.W.2d 306, 307 (Mo. App. W.D. 1997) to find that § 1983 awards were covered by the Fund. Moreover, the state appellate court accepted the final ruling of the federal court that Tolson's acts were performed in connection with his official duties.
Regarding the state's claim that the district court had no jurisdiction to, in effect, attach the state Fund, the appellate court found that the Fund's liability encompassed judgments arising from courts of competent jurisdiction, which clearly included the U.S. District Court.

Rebuffing the state's defense of sovereign immunity [a state may not be sued unless it agrees to be sued], the appellate court noted that Dixon held that when the claim is against a state employee (as in this case) rather than the state itself, sovereign immunity is "simply not applicable." Moving to attorney fees, the court rejected the state's argument that it was not liable for attorney fees and costs in Cravens' state mandamus action to compel payment of the federal judgment. The appellate court held that under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, Cravens was entitled to fees for winning an award made under § 1983.

Accordingly, the Missouri Court of Appeals issued the writ of mandamus and ordered Missouri to pay Cravens' judgment award, fees, costs and interest from the Fund. See: State ex rel. Cravens v. Nixon, 234 S.W.3d 442 (Mo.App.D. 2007), rehearing and application for transfer denied.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

State ex rel. Cravens v. Nixon