HRDC Case Sues JPay Over Fee-Heavy “Release Card” Debit Cards
A lawsuit filed in a California federal court on September 15, 2021, accuses private prison financier JPay, Inc. of violating both U.S. law and the constitutional rights of prisoners by returning money owed at their release in debit cards that eat up much of the balance in fees.
The lead plaintiff in the case, Adam Cain, is represented by the Seattle law firm of Sirianni Youtz, California civil rights attorney John Burton and the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which has published Prison Legal News since 1990 and Criminal Legal News since 2017. The suit seeks national class action status to represent any and all prisoners harmed by receiving funds due at release paid with a JPay release debit card.
Release debit cards are used by jails and prisons in many states to return prisoners funds they are owed at release. Instead of cash or a check, these prisoners received a debit card pre-loaded with the amount they are due.
Cain received his JPay release debit card when he left Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Riverside County, California. It was loaded with $213.50, which included all the cash he had left in his prisoner account plus $200 in “gate money” given to every prisoner released by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Within months, however, all but $4.87 had been consumed by card fees.
In this case, Cain argues that JPay violated his rights under the federal Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA), first by failing to get his consent to pay him with a debit card and then by failing to provide a copy of its terms and conditions in advance—both key provisions of the act. EFTA further prohibits card issuers from assessing charges for maintenance fees sooner than 12 months, the suit argues, while Cain’s fees began accruing within the first 30 days.
The complaint continues by noting that California paid nothing for the convenience of having JPay handle its business with Cain and other released state prisoners, and none of them were given any choice in receiving the debit card. Yet all were then assessed fees to cover the cost of doing so. As a result, the complaint continues, JPay is also guilty of violating the plaintiffs’ right under the Fifth Amendment not to have their private property taken by—or for—the government.
The suit concludes with three other arguments against JPay’s policies and actions:
• that its fees amount to a “taking” in violation of the Fifth Amendment;
• that in so doing it engaged in unlawful conversion of others’ property to its own use; and
• that it is thereby unjustly enriched at the expense of Cain and other plaintiffs in the class.
JPay, a Florida-based subsidiary of hedge fund owned private prison communications giant Securus Technologies, is one of three defendants named in the suit. The others are Praxell and the debit card underwriter, Metropolitan Commercial Bank, both based in New York.
The legal team litigating the case includes California attorney John Burton, Seattle, Washington attorneys Chris Youtz and Rick Spoonemore of the firm Sirianni Youtz, along with HRDC’s litigation director Dan Marshall. If you have been forced to accept a JPay release debit card upon release from a prison or jail anywhere in the country within the past year, please contact Dan Marshall, Attorney at Law, Human Rights Defense Center, PO Box 1151, Lake Worth, FL 33460. (561) 360-2523 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See: Cain v. JPay, USDC CD CA, Case No.2:21-cv-7401.