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Missouri Court Reverses $244,636 Incarceration Cost Award Against Prisoner

Missouri Court Reverses $244,636 Incarceration Cost Award Against Prisoner

by Mark Wilson

The Missouri Court of Appeals has concluded that a factual dispute as to whether the state had “good cause” to seek reimbursement of incarceration costs barred summary judgment in an action brought against a state prisoner.

Under the Missouri Incarceration Reimbursement Act (MIRA), Sections 217.825 to 217.841 R.S.Mo., the state is authorized to “seek reimbursement for incarceration costs if it has good cause to believe that an offender has sufficient assets to allow recovery of not less than 10% of the estimated costs of his care for two years.”

The appellate court held that good cause is a condition precedent to filing a MIRA petition, citing State ex rel. Nixon v. Koonce, 173 S.W.3d 277, 283-85 (Mo.App. 2005). If that condition is not met, “the state cannot seek reimbursement. This threshold requirement serves as a cost-effective limitation on the state’s authority to seek reimbursement only when there is an expectation of reasonable return.”

Bernie Farmer had been incarcerated in the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) since 1988. On October 5, 2006, the state sought to recover incarceration costs from him, claiming that his estimated cost of imprisonment was $14,000 per year. State officials further “alleged there was ‘good cause’ to believe that Farmer had sufficient assets from which the State could recover at least ten percent of the cost of his care for two years (i.e. $2,800).”

Farmer challenged the good cause assertion, but the trial court granted the state’s summary judgment motion and allowed the MDOC to recover $244,636.14 for the total cost of his incarceration since 1988. The court found that $1,956.40 had been deposited in Farmer’s prison account between May 2006 and November 2006, and ordered that 90% of the funds in his account be used to pay his incarceration costs.

Farmer had presented evidence in the trial court that the state “regularly waives incarceration reimbursement as to any funds being used for approved college classes.” He also submitted an affidavit from a retired college professor, who testified “that he gave Farmer $1,225 for tuition payments, and, thus, the funds were not available for purposes of incarceration reimbursement.” Excluding those funds, Farmer had received only $731 in his prison account.

The Court of Appeals found that “Farmer’s evidence was sufficient to show a factual dispute as to whether he would have at least $2,800 available for incarceration reimbursement during a two-year period.” Citing State ex rel. Nixon v. Peterson, 253 S.W.3d 77, 83-84 (Mo. En Banc 2008), the appellate court reversed the grant of summary judgment, concluding that “summary judgment was improper because there was a genuine issue of fact as to whether the State had good cause for seeking incarceration reimbursement.”

The Court of Appeals held that “Farmer is entitled to a hearing where the circuit court can review the sufficiency of the evidence to determine whether the good cause requirement has been met.” See: State ex rel. Nixon v. Farmer, 268 S.W.3d 402 (Mo.Ct.App. 2008).

Of course the state has likely spent more on its own legal expenses in this case than it can ever expect to recover from a prisoner who has been incarcerated for the past two decades, but that is probably beside the point.

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Related legal cases

State ex rel. Nixon v. Farmer

State ex rel. Nixon v. Peterson

State ex rel. Nixon v. Koonce