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Tenth Circuit Faults Kansas Prisoners' Representation; Upholds Dismissal of Compulsory Savings Account Challenge

Thanks largely to profoundly incompetent representation, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a constitutional challenge to compulsory Kansas prison savings account policies.

The Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) adopted policies requiring that 10 percent of all prisoner funds from outside sources be placed in compulsory savings accounts. Prisoners must also deposit a portion of their prison labor earnings into these accounts. The funds may be used before release only for garnishments, identification documents such as birth certificates and driver's licenses, and, if the prisoner is otherwise indigent, for civil filing fees and subpoena fees. If the prisoner dies in custody, the savings account balance is released to the prisoner's estate.

Kansas lawyer Leroy T. Messenger brought federal suit on behalf of 176 KDOC prisoners, challenging the compulsory savings account policies. The district court granted Defendants' FRCP 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss "Plaintiffs' imprecise amended complaint" for failure to state a claim and non-exhaustion.

The Tenth Circuit spared no criticism of Messenger's disgracefully deficient work. Noting that "Plaintiffs' opening brief is not much more cogent than their amended complaint," the court refused to liberally construe Plaintiffs' pleadings. "Attorneys appearing before this court" are expected "to state the issues on appeal expressly and clearly, with theories adequately identified and supported with proper argument." Citing the briefing requirements of FRAP 28(a)(9), the court found that "on most issues, Plaintiffs' brief has failed to meet this standard."

Plaintiffs waived their vagueness, cruel and unusual punishment and ex post facto claims by failing to even mention, much less brief, them in their opening brief. "Although Plaintiffs argue in their reply brief that the district court failed to rule on a number of claims," the court found that "the argument, apart from being largely incorrect, comes too late" and is, therefore, waived.

"Plaintiffs hardly do much better in their argument that the district court did not rule on their request for injunctive relief." Their "argument" consisted of two ridiculous sentences about qualified immunity and a single case citation. The court did not consider the argument because "nowhere do Plaintiffs state the standards applicable to the grant of injunctive relief (or) explain why the facts and the law support that remedy."

The only claim the court found "adequately (though barely) raised" was a substantive due process challenge. The court held that "compulsory savings accounts for release-eligible prisoners do not violate substantive due process because they are rationally related to the legitimate penological purpose of ensuring that inmates have funds upon release to ease their transition into free society."

"There can be no legitimate penological interest," however, "in accruing funds to help ease (the) transition into society" of lifers who will never be released. The court was barred from reaching the merits of this claim, however, because none of the 176 prisoners exhausted administrative remedies as to this issue. See: Reedy v. Werholtz, 660 F.3d 1270 (10th Cir. 2011).

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Related legal case

Reedy v. Werholtz