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Fuller v. Bishop

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 27, 2017

WARDEN FRANK B. BISHOP, JR., et al. Defendants



         In response to the above-entitled civil rights complaint, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment. ECF 18. Plaintiff opposes the motion. ECF 27, 28. The Court finds a hearing in this matter unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion, construed as a Motion for Summary Judgment, [1] shall be granted.


         Complaint Allegations

         Plaintiff Gerald Fuller, an inmate incarcerated in North Branch Correctional Institution (NBCI), alleges that money is improperly deducted from his prison account for payment of fees in this Court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. He claims that Defendant Larry D. Hanlin, who works in the accounting office in NBCI, is violating 28 U.S.C. §1915(b)(2) by deducting funds Fuller receives from family, refunds, and “stale dated checks” for payment of court fees. Fuller further suggests that the money deducted from his account is not being used for payment of filing fees because he does not receive receipts from the federal courts for all of the deductions. He contends that the deductions from his account for filing fees should only be deducted from income earned from institutional jobs, not gifts, refunds, or uncashed checks. Additionally, Fuller asserts that the deductions exceed 20% of his monthly income. Fuller also claims that he is entitled to receipts for payment of filing fees for income tax purposes. ECF 1 at p. 4.

         Fuller concludes that the alleged improper deductions from his account is the result of a conspiracy that likely includes staff working for this Court. He seeks punitive, compensatory, and nominal damages totaling 3.75 million dollars as well as an order requiring all funds deducted from his prison account that were not generated by his institutional job be returned. ECF 1 at p. 5.

         Defendants' Response

         Defendants provide background information regarding the inmate account system utilized in the Maryland Division of Correction facilities, including NBCI. ECF 18.

         Inmates in Maryland are provided an inmate bank account, which consists of a “Reserve” Balance and a “Spending” Balance. The Reserve Balance provides the inmate with cash upon his or her release and maintains a maximum balance of up to $50.00. The Spending Balance contains all other funds and can be used to purchase things during the time an inmate is incarcerated. Unused money in the Spending Balance is given to the inmate upon his release from prison. ECF 18 at Ex. 1, ¶ 3. Inmates are limited to spending $85 per week on commissary items. Id. at pp. 25, 32.

         On August 1, 2014, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), switched its accounting system that utilizes software powered by Keefe Commissary Network, Inc. The new software modified the manner in which funds owed for filing fees were collected by immediately withholding 20% of any funds deposited into an inmate account if filing fees are owed. Funds are not withheld if the balance in the spending account is below $10.00. The money is held until the next month when it is then remitted to the federal court system for payment of fees owed. The process is computer automated. ECF 18 at Ex. 1, ¶ 4 and 5.

         The accounting system in place before August 1, 2014, did not deduct money as it was deposited into the account; rather, the deduction took place the following month when filing fees were paid. The delay allowed inmates the opportunity to spend the money before the money could be collected. The new system prevents this evasion of financial obligations to the court system. ECF 18 at Ex. 1, ¶ 6.

         Defendants confirm that the source of the money deducted and remitted to the court is not limited to income earned by the inmate from his prison job. ECF 18 at Ex. 1, ¶ 7. Pursuant to Executive Directive ADM 245.001.04(B)(2), earnings are defined as funds deposited into “an inmate account from any source.” Id. at p. 23, see also Id. at p. 31 (Maryland Division of Correction Directive, DOC.245.001). Inmates may obtain an account statement reflecting deductions and deposits by submitting a request in writing. ECF 18 at Ex. 1, ¶ 7.

         Defendant Larry D. Hanlin is the Fiscal Services Chief II for the DPSCS Northern Region and assists in overseeing the accounting for NBCI. He states in his declaration under oath that he neither personally accessed Fuller's bank account nor defrauded Fuller of funds from his account. ECF 18 at Ex. 2 ¶ 3. Defendant Warden Frank Bishop states in his declaration under oath that he has no personal involvement with managing inmate financial accounts, nor has he accessed Fuller's account. ECF 18 at Ex. 3, ¶ 2 and 3.

         With regard to the filing fees owed by Fuller, Defendants state that as of August 1, 2014, the date the new accounting system was put into place, Fuller owed $1, 264.79 in federal filing fees. ECF 18 at Ex. 1, ¶ 8. Fuller incurred another $505 in federal filing fees between August 1, 2014 and August 1, 2015. Id. During that one-year period, $411.46 was deducted from his account for payment of federal filing fees, leaving a balance of $1, 358.33 for federal filing fees owed. Id. at pp. 8 - 20. The $411.46 deducted for the filing fees occurred during the months of July and August, 2015. In July, two deposits were made to Fuller's account; one for $50 on July 2, 2015 and one for $350 on July 14, 2015. On July 2, 2015, 20% of the $50 deposit ($10) was withheld from Fuller's account and on July 14, 2015, 20% of the $350 deposit ($70) was withheld and later paid for federal filing fees. Another deduction occurred on July 29, 2015, because Fuller filed a notice of appeal in Fuller v. Shearin, Civil Action WMN-14-1474 (D. Md.) and he was required to pay $27.48 as the initial partial filing fee for the appeal. After the deductions were ...

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