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Missouri County Ordered to Present Civil Detainees Before Court within 27 Hours; $75,000 Damages Settlement

A Missouri federal district court has entered a consent decree in a class-action lawsuit that prohibits county officials from holding people detained for more than 27 hours, excluding weekends and holidays, on a civil body attachment or other civil process related to child support unless they have seen a judge within that time period. The lead plaintiff received $75,000 to settle his individual claims.

The class-action suit was filed on behalf of Michael Bauer, 41, who was arrested on February 18, 2009 when he went to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to obtain a background check for a prospective job.

He was jailed based on a body attachment issued by the Jefferson County Circuit Court related to child support payments. Despite his claims of innocence, Bauer was held in the Madison County Jail for 10 days and in the Jefferson County Jail for 27 days. When he was finally taken before the court on March 27, 2009, an assistant prosecutor discovered the body attachment had been withdrawn and recalled nearly two years earlier.

“What can you do? You sit there and wait it out,” Bauer said about the situation he found himself in. As a result of his arrest, Bauer lost his job as a dishwasher, lost his apartment and was homeless for several months.

He filed suit, but the district court granted the defendants’ partial motion to dismiss on June 25, 2010, finding that Bauer failed to state an Eighth Amendment claim because he was a pre-trial detainee, and thus his claims fell under the 14th Amendment. See: Bauer v. Jefferson County, Missouri (E.D. Mo. 2010), 2010 WL 2628380. The claims against Madison County were voluntarily dismissed in January 2011.

The court subsequently issued an order certifying the class and for entry of a proposed consent judgment on July 20, 2011, then entered a final judgment on October 5, 2011.
The orders granted injunctive relief, on due process grounds, that prohibit Jefferson County from holding persons on civil body attachments for prolonged periods of time without an appearance before a judge.

In addition to a requirement that people arrested on civil body attachments be brought before a judge within 27 hours, Jefferson County was ordered to “develop and implement a procedure to verify every sixty days that each outstanding body attachment remains valid.” The court further ordered the county to provide class counsel with a list of all persons arrested on a civil body attachment – plus the date and time of their arrest, placement into jail and appearance before a judge – for the next seventeen months. Bauer received $75,000 to settle his individual claims.

Washington University law professor Peter Joy said that if Bauer could have afforded an attorney he most likely would have been released sooner. “If anyone had taken a closer look, they would have determined they didn’t have any authority to be holding him,” Joy noted.

Bauer was represented by the ACLU of Eastern Missouri and attorney Robert L. King with the law firm of Korein Tillery LLC. See: Bauer v. Jefferson County, Missouri, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Mo.), Case No. 4:09-cv-02116-TIA.

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Related legal cases

Bauer v. Jefferson County, Missouri

Bauer v. Jefferson County, Missouri