No Mutual Assent Where Detainee Forced to Accept Release Card in HRDC Case
The Court’s June 2, 2021, order was issued in a lawsuit brought as part of the Human Rights Defense Center’s Stop Prison Profiteering Campaign. That lawsuit challenges the practices of the Kitsap County jail to convert cash into release cards.
The lead plaintiff Jeffrey Reichert did not receive any documentation with the release card issued him, so the Court found there was no mutual consent and no contractual relationship. As a condition of certifying a class, the Court required Plaintiffs to name an additional class representative who had received a copy of the Cardholder Agreement. Gary Moyer was named as the additional representative.
Moyer was released on three separate occasions and his cash was confiscated. Upon release in May 2017, December 2017, and February 2018 he was issued release cards. He declared that he never applied for the cards or requested any way of getting his money back other than cash. He never agreed to receive the cards instead of his cash. Upon using the cards, he was assessed transaction and maintenance fees.
Defendants Rapid Investments, Inc., Cache Valley Bank, and Keefe Commissary Network moved to compel arbitration of Moyer’s claims. The Court denied the motion after finding Moyer did not consent to enter a contractual relationship. The defendants appealed. The Ninth Circuit reversed without expressing views on the merits. It instructed the district court to inquire into Moyer’s intent to determine whether he in fact assented to the terms of the Agreement.
On remand, the district court found Keefe is not a party to the purported contract between Rapid and Moyer, so its motion is based on principles of collateral estoppel, agency, and third-party beneficiary status. Once again, the Court concluded the Defendants failed to meet their burden of establishing that an agreement to arbitrate exists.
Moyer argued that when he took the card to get his own money back, “he negotiated nothing, made no statement of acceptance, and had no duty to object to the unrequested card.” The Defendants argued Moyer consented because he failed to call their customer service to request a check for the balance of the card and his ability to decline the card showed his voluntary nature of assent.
The Court noted that Moyer received a copy of the Cardholder Agreement with each card. That Agreement provided that “[b]y accepting or using this card, you agree to the Account Agreement.” It also provided that if he did not agree to those terms, he could cancel by calling customer service on a toll-free number. Moyer says a guard told him that if he wanted his money back, he had to accept the card.
The Court noted that to cancel the card, Moyer had to accept it. “Here, the cards clearly state that acceptance constitutes agreement, so there was no way for Moyer to leave jail with the card and work through Defendants’ instructions for reclaiming his funds without being bound to individual arbitration.” Additionally, Moyer could not, under the terms of the Agreement, avoid a contractual relationship by refraining from using the card while he attempted to cancel it.
A person in Moyer’s position “could not be expected to understand that he could not leave jail with his own money, a right protected by Washington law, without being bound to a contract with an unknown bank (subject to potentially illegal fees) and renouncing his right to sue or bring a class action,” wrote the Court. “‘Accepting’ one’s own money, in the only form available, cannot be construed as assent to contract.”
The Court denied the motions to compel arbitration. See: Reichert v. Keefe Commissary Network LLC, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103810. Anyone who has been victimized by a jail or prison debit card where they have been forced to pay fees to access their own money is urged to contact the Human Rights Defense Center at: HRDC, Attn. Debit Cards, PO Box 1151, Lake Worth, FL 33460 or via email at email@example.com.
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Related legal case
Reichert v. Keefe Commissary Network LLC
|Cite||2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103810|