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TDCJ’s $100 Annual Fee for Prisoner Health Care Held Constitutional

TDCJ’s $100 Annual Fee for Prisoner Health Care Held Constitutional

by David M. Reutter

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has found constitutional a Texas statute requiring prisoners to pay a $100 annual health care services fee when they receive medical treatment.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Texas prisoner Robert C. Morris, who challenged a 2011 amendment to Texas Government Code § 501.063, naming Governor Rick Perry as the defendant. As amended, the statute provides that any prisoner “who initiates a visit to a health care provider shall pay a health care services fee to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) in the amount of $100.”

The annual fee “covers all visits to a health care provider that the inmate initiates until the first anniversary of the imposition of the fee.” If the prisoner’s trust fund balance is insufficient, then “50 percent of each deposit to the fund shall be applied toward the balance owed until the total amount owed is paid.” Prison officials “may not deny an inmate access to health care as a result of the inmate’s failure or inability to pay a fee.”

The amendment to § 501.063 further removed exemptions for fees related to emergency care, routine follow-up health care recommended by staff, chronic care, prenatal care, and health screenings and evaluations related to the intake process.

The appellate court found no constitutional violations as a result of the fee and held Governor Perry was not a proper defendant. Morris’ Eighth Amendment claim failed because he was not denied medical care, nor did he face the functional denial of care by being forced to choose between medical care and basic hygiene necessities. His due process claim failed because the notice provided during the administrative rule adoption process was adequate. Finally, the Court of Appeals was skeptical that the assessment of the fee constitutes a seizure under the Fourth Amendment “given its nature as a fee exchanged for the provision of medical care,” and also rejected Morris’ ex post facto argument.

Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the case for failure to state a claim. See: Morris v. Livingston, 739 F.3d 740 (5th Cir. 2014), cert. denied.


Related legal case

Morris v. Livingston