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Oregon Prison Officials Not Immune for Sentence Miscalculation

The Oregon Court of Appeals held that prison officials are not immune from suit for miscalculating a prisoner's sentence by 13 months.

In 2000, Chester Westfall was convicted of charges in Jackson County, Oregon, and sentenced to 34 months in prison. After escaping in Marion County, Westfall was sentenced to another 20 months in prison.

In 2002, Westfall was convicted of several Josephine County offenses. He was sentenced to 36 months on two counts, consecutive to his other sentences. The court imposed concurrent 13 month sentences on two other convictions.

Eventually, Westfall's 20 month Marion County sentence was vacated on appeal. ODOC then recalculated Westfall's sentences, adding 13 months to his sentence, by incorrectly treating one of his concurrent 13 month Josephine County sentences, consecutively.

After Westfall's release from prison, he sued prison officials in state court for negligence and false imprisonment. The trial court granted Defendants summary judgment, finding that their calculation of his sentences was a discretionary function for which they were entitled to tort liability under ORS 30.265(3)(c).

While ORS 30.265(3)(c) "insulates public bodies from tort liability for acts or decisions that constitute ‘a choice among alternative public policies by persons to whom responsibility for such policies (has) been delegated,’" the Oregon Court of Appeals explained that "immunity does not come to bear on the mere routine decisions that a public employee makes in the course of everyday governmental activities."

The court reversed the summary judgment, concluding that "when the DOC employees implemented the sentencing policy, they made routine decisions in the course of their everyday activities — viz., computing an inmate's prison sentence — that were not choices among competing policy objectives, and, therefore, those decisions are not insulated by the immunity provided in ORS 30.265(3)(c)." See: Westfall v. State, ex rel. Oregon Dept. of Corrections, 247 Or. App 384 (Or. 2011).

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Related legal case

Westfall v. State, ex rel. Oregon Dept. of Corrections