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Media Alerts - Montanez v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Corrections et al. - Third Circuit
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August 20, 2014
  Montanez v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Corrections et al. - Third Circuit
Headline: Inmates entitled to pre-deprivation non-judicial process before fines and costs are deducted from their prison accounts.

Area of Law: Constitutional Due Process

Issues Presented: What notice and process are required when deducting court ordered fines and fees from inmate bank accounts?

Brief Summary:

Montanez and Hale, inmates in the Department of Corrections prison system who had court ordered fees and fines deducted from their prison managed bank accounts by DOC officials, allege that they were not given notice of the deduction policy, made pursuant to state law, nor were they given due process before the institution of deductions. The Third Circuit agreed with the District Court that Montanez's claims were time-barred and that there were no reason to equitably toll the statute of limitations. The Third Circuit held that Hale was entitled to notice and to non-judicial process before DOC officials could begin deductions from his bank account. Finally the Third Circuit upheld the finding of qualified immunity while stressing that this immunity applied only to claims for monetary damages and that the claims for injunctive relief could go forward.

Extended Summary:

Montanez and Hale are inmates of the Department of Corrections (DOC) prison system in Pennsylvania. Montanez was sentenced to jail time and ordered to pay fines and restitution of $248.60 and undefined court fees. At the sentencing hearing the judge did not inform him of 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. ยง 9728(b)(5), amended in 1998 by Act 84 of the Pennsylvania Legislature, which authorizes deductions from inmate bank accounts for the purposes of paying court ordered fines and costs (DOC Policy). DOC officials and Montanez disagree whether Montanez was ever provided with a statement of the DOC Policy or provided a "300B" form showing the amount of court ordered obligations DOC understood him to owe. Montanez did receive a receipt each month that included an "Act 84" charge. DOC officials began making deductions from his account in April 6, 2000. Montanez filed a grievance with DOC on November 17, 2002 and on November 29, 2004 filed a complaint in District Court.
Hale was sentenced on January 6, 2004 to jail time and ordered to pay fines, fees and costs totaling $2783.86. It is disputed whether Hale received notice of the DOC policy during his intake into the DOC prison. It is undisputed, however, that the "300B" form shows $4373.64 owed and overstates the restitution owed significantly. Hale filed a complaint in District Court on December 15, 2004.
On appeal from summary judgment in favor of the DOC, Montanez argued that his claim accrued at a later date than found by the district court and therefore was not barred by the statute of limitations. In the alternative, he argued that the statute of limitations should be equitably tolled under the continuing violation doctrine or the fraudulent concealment doctrine. The Third Circuit found that Montanez's complaint was filed several years after the statute of limitations had expired. The continuing violation doctrine did not apply because Montanez was aware of the relevant injury at the time it occurred and also because the alleged violation of Montanez's rights was the singular act of initiating deductions from his account rather than each instance of deduction. Fraudulent concealment was also found not to apply because Montanez was aware at all relevant times of the source of his injury and therefore was not delayed in seeking relief due to fraud.
Hale argued that he was entitled to notice and an opportunity to contest the amount DOC understood to be owed by him. Hale also argued that DOC officials were acting in a "ministerial" capacity and therefore not entitled to immunity. The Third Circuit weighed the burden on the State to provide additional process, the effectiveness of that process, and Hale's property interest in his bank account. Noting that DOC's documents overstated the amount Hale owed, an easily remedied error, the Third Circuit held that Hale was entitled to due process in the form of notice and a non-judicial opportunity to contest the sums DOC officials based their total deductions on. The Third Circuit stressed that due process did not require judicial review however.
The Third Circuit upheld the District Court's finding that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on the grounds that the law was not sufficiently clear at the time the deductions were made. In addition because the officials were not performing ministerial functions in regards to the decision to not provide a pre-deprivation hearing the Third Circuit found DOC officials were not exempt from qualified immunity.
Find the full opinion at:

Panel: Greenaway, Jr., Vanaskie and Roth, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: November 7, 2013

Date of Issued Opinion: August 14, 2014

Docket Number: Nos. 13-1380 and 13-1478 (consolidated)

Decided: Affirmed in part, reversed in part

Case Alert Author: Philip Jones

Counsel: Ernest D. Preate, Jr., Esq., for Appellant Montanez; Su Ming Yeh, Esq., for Appellant Hale; Howard G. Hopkirk, Esq., for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Judge Roth

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Supervisor: Prof. Susan DeJarnatt

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 08/20/2014 01:45 PM     3rd Circuit  

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