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Ninth Circuit Revives Prison Trust Account Seizure Claim; Disputed Ownership Requires Due Process Protections

Ninth Circuit Revives Prison Trust Account Seizure Claim; Disputed Ownership Requires Due Process Protections

In an unpublished ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal district court’s sua sponte dismissal of a California prisoner’s claims that prison officials improperly removed money from his trust account without adequate due process protections.

California state prisoner Anthony Brazier filed a federal civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that prison officials deprived him of due process when they seized erroneously-issued tax refund checks from his prison trust account. The district court dismissed the complaint sua sponte on initial screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

On de novo review, the Ninth Circuit held that dismissal without leave to amend was improper. Citing Sanders v. City of San Diego, 93 F.3d 1423 (9th Cir. 1996), the Court of Appeals explained that “the procedural protections of the Fourteenth Amendment apply to protect a significant property interest even if there is a dispute over ownership.”

As such, the Court remanded the case “for the sole purpose of allowing Brazier to amend his due process claim ... to allege that Brazier did, in fact, have an ownership interest in the tax refunds credited to his inmate trust account.” However, in the absence of such an allegation, “Brazier’s claim must fail.”

The appellate court upheld the dismissal of claims against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as barred by the Eleventh Amendment. It also affirmed the dismissal of individual capacity claims which did not allege personal involvement of individual prison officials. See: Brazier v. California Department of Correction & Rehabilitation, 523 Fed. Appx. 477 (9th Cir. 2013).

Following remand, on August 7, 2013, Brazier moved to withdraw his consent to proceed before a magistrate judge; his motion was denied in a tersely-worded order, with the court noting that he had “not shown good cause to withdraw his consent.” The case remains pending with Brazier filing a motion for summary judgment in March 2014.


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Related legal case

Brazier v. California Department of Correction & Rehabilitation