Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Tenth Circuit: No Clearly-Established Right to Oklahoma Trust Fund Money

by Matt Clarke

On November 22, 2010, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Oklahoma state prisoners had no clearly-established right to the funds in their trust fund accounts in 2007.

Herman T. Clark, an Oklahoma state prisoner, was sued by a woman he had been convicted of shooting. She received a $2 million judgment and filed a garnishment action against Clark. The garnishment documents were served on the Oklahoma Department of Corrections which, in 2007, froze Clark's trust fund account to comply with civil garnishment statutes. Clark filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1963 in federal court against Leon Wilson, the prison official responsible for freezing the account. Clark alleged denial of access to the courts, retaliation and denial of procedural due process.

Wilson filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. The court denied summary judgment citing a Tenth Circuit case which held that, based upon mandatory Oklahoma statutory language, prisoners had a property interest in the money in their trust fund accounts after mandatory deductions had been made. Gillihan v. Shillinger, 872 F.2d 935 (10th Cir. 1989). Wilson appealed.

The Tenth Circuit held that the method of determining whether a prisoner had a property interest based upon mandatory language in a statue had been superseded by the determination of whether the "punishment 'imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life'" used in Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472 (1995) to determine whether a prisoner had a liberty interest.

Holding that neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor any federal court of appeals had held that depriving a prisoner of trust fund monies constituted such an "atypical and significant hardship," prior to 2007, the Tenth Circuit held that Wilson should have been granted summary judgment.
The court noted that the Third Circuit had found a property interest in prisoner trust fund monies in Burns v. PA Department of Correction, 544 F.3d 279 (3d Cir. 2008), but this occurred after the 2007 deprivation and thus did not help Clark defeat qualified immunity. The denial of qualified immunity was reversed and the case returned to the district court with instructions to enter judgment in favor of Wilson. See: Clark v. Wilson, 625 F.3d 686 (10th Cir. 2010), cert. denied.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Clark v. Wilson