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$60,411 Attorney Fee Award in Maryland Prisoner’s Public Information Act Suit

The State of Maryland has agreed to pay more than $60,000 in attorney fees to settle a longstanding lawsuit brought by a prisoner who had requested public records pursuant to the state’s Public Information Act.

While incarcerated at the Western Correctional Institution (WCI) in May 2002, Richard L. Massey, Jr. filed requests for four different types of information with then-Warden Jon P. Galley. The requests were made under Maryland’s Public Information Act, § 10-623 of the State Government Article.

Concerned that WCI’s practices may be exposing prisoners to hepatitis C, Massey asked for records related to the facility’s contract with Prison Health Services. He also requested information concerning testing, treatment and education programs for prisoners with hepatitis C. Finally, he made several requests related to photocopy costs charged to prisoners and prison commissary costs.

Massey filed suit in circuit court in July 2002 after Warden Galley and the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services failed to answer his requests in a timely manner. Over the course of almost ten years, the case bounced between the circuit court and appellate courts. Prison officials argued that under the state’s Prisoner Litigation Act, Massey needed to pursue administrative grievances before filing suit.

However, on May 11, 2006, the Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court, held “that the exhaustion of administrative remedies provision of the Prisoner Litigation Act has no application to, and thus does not preclude, the statutory cause of action under the Public Information Act,” and remanded the case. See: Massey v. Galley, 392 Md. 634, 898 A.2d 951 (Md. 2006) [PLN, April 2007, p.33].

Thus, prisoners do not need to go through an “elaborate” administrative grievance process and may file a lawsuit when denied public records they request under the Public Information Act, said Deborah Jeon of the Maryland ACLU, one of the attorneys who represented Massey. “It was necessary to litigate this case,” she added.

Meanwhile, Massey, who has since been released, received the records that he originally requested.

The parties agreed to withdraw their appeals in the case with resolution of the attorney fee award, which the Maryland Board of Public Works approved on December 21, 2011 – almost a decade after the suit was filed. “The state wanted to avoid paying the attorney’s fees and it just really dragged out,” said Jeon. The Public Justice Center, which was lead counsel, received $44,388 while the Maryland ACLU received $16,023. See: Massey v. Galley, Circuit Court for Allegany County (MD), Case No. 01C02020975.

Sources: Cumberland Times-News,

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Related legal case

Massey v. Galley