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Prisoner Education Guide

Federal Court Certifies Class in Ohio County Jail Debit Card Case

by Chad Marks

On November 16, 2018, a federal judge in the Northern District of Ohio granted a motion for class certification in a case where jail staff were accused of issuing unsolicited fee-laden debit cards to prisoners upon their release.

Amber Humphrey was arrested in September 2017. At the time of her arrest, upon being booked into the Lorain County jail, she had approximately $50 in cash. Those funds were placed in a jail trust account. When she was released, she had $30 left in the account after using some of the money to purchase products from the commissary. However, rather than returning her cash, jail staff gave her a debit card issued by Stored Bank Cards d/b/a Numi Financial, sponsored by Republic Bank & Trust Company. According to Humphrey, her funds were put into a Republic account without her permission. Within days of her release she was charged service fees, decline fees and transaction fees. She said she never agreed to the debit card fees.

Humphrey moved to certify three classes. The first was a nationwide class under the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA), for all persons in the United States who were taken into custody at a jail, correctional facility, detainment center or other law enforcement facility, and upon release were issued a pre-activated debit card by the defendants to access an account containing any funds remaining in their prisoner trust account, within one year prior to the filing of the complaint and while it remains pending. The other two classes were under Ohio state law and applied to all persons residing in Ohio under the same standards as the nationwide class.

In applying Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, the district court noted it must conduct a rigorous analysis to ensure that any class-action satisfies the Rule’s requirements, which may overlap with the merits of the underlying claims. After conducting that analysis, the court found Humphrey met all of the Rule 23(a) requirements as well as the Sixth Circuit’s requirement of ascertainability – that is, “the class definition must be sufficiently definite so that it is administratively feasible for the court to determine whether a particular individual is a member of the proposed class.”

Accordingly, the district court granted the motion for class certification while also appointing Humphrey as class representative and attorneys Matthew A. Dooley, Ryan M. Gembala and Stephen M. Bosak, Jr. as class counsel. See: Humphrey v. Stored Value Cards, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ohio), Case No. 1:18-cv-01050; 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 195811.

The defendants moved to dismiss and for summary judgment, and the district court denied their motion to dismiss and granted in part and denied in part their summary judgment motion on January 8, 2019. The court held that several of Humphrey’s EFTA claims could proceed, as could the Ohio state law claims.

The case remains pending with the parties engaged in settlement discussions. See: Humphrey v. Stored Value Cards, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3361. 

Related legal case

Humphrey v. Stored Value Cards


 

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