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$491,668 Settlement in Class-Action Suit Against Spokane County Jail

by Matt Clarke

On September 18, 2009, a U.S. District Court in Washington state granted preliminary approval to a settlement in a class-action lawsuit that challenged booking fee procedures at the Spokane County Jail.

Shawn Huss, a former jail prisoner, filed suit against Spokane County pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging the county’s method of collecting booking fees violated his federal due process rights and that the statute authorizing the fees, RCW § 70.48.390, was unconstitutional. The class was certified as “all individuals, from May 5, 2004, to December 20, 2006, who were deprived of their property pursuant to the booking fee policy of the Spokane County Jail without being provided the constitutionally guaranteed due process of law.”

RCW § 70.48.390 allows a jail to charge a booking fee for the actual costs of booking or $100, whichever is less. The jail can immediately collect the fee from the person being booked, or can assess the fee against arrestees who don’t have sufficient funds at the time. The statute requires the county to refund the fee to defendants who are not convicted by sending the refund to their last known address. Spokane County charged federal prisoners the daily rate of $69.12, while non-federal prisoners were charged actual booking costs of $89.12.

During the litigation the district court determined that RCW § 70.48.390 was unconstitutional because it violated the Due Process Clause. [See: PLN, Feb. 2007, p.22]. However, that ruling was withdrawn after the court granted the defendants’ motion for reconsideration.

The court then granted Huss partial summary judgment on the issue of liability. Mediation was attempted unsuccessfully, and the court certified the class on August 25, 2008. The defendants filed an interlocutory appeal of the court’s partial summary judgment and class certification orders.

Before the Ninth Circuit could rule, the parties again entered into mediation and reached a settlement agreement. The settlement requires Spokane County to pay 137% of the booking fee to defendants who had paid the fee but were not convicted of a crime and did not receive a refund. The amount drops to 37% of the booking fee if the person was not convicted but did receive a refund. This subclass of defendants who were not convicted is limited to a total settlement amount of $231,668. Any funds remaining after the payouts will be used to provide mental health benefits to prisoners at the jail.

Defendants who were convicted of a crime are, by statute, not entitled to a refund of the jail booking fees. A total of $260,000 was allocated to compensate those class members, pay the class counsels’ attorney fees, and pay an incentive award to Huss for bringing the lawsuit. Any amount remaining after those payments will be used to provide legal services to former jail prisoners.

A hearing was held on March 16, 2010 to determine the fairness of the settlement agreement and the amount of attorney fees and the incentive award. The court approved the settlement and awarded a $10,000 incentive payment, $147,487.48 in attorney’s fees and $3,376.39 in costs.

Huss and the class members were represented by attorneys Breean Lawrence Beggs, Jeffry Keith Finer and John D. Sklut with the Spokane-based Center for Justice. See: Huss v. Spokane County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Wash.), Case No. 2:05-cv-00180-FVS.

Additional source: Spokesman Review

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Related legal case

Huss v. Spokane County

Please see the brief bank for documents related to this case.