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Arkansas Court Must Make Findings of Fact to Order Incarceration Costs

The Arkansas Supreme Court remanded for findings of fact an order that allowed the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) to confiscate a prisoner’s lawsuit proceeds as reimbursement for costs associated with incarceration.

Dexter J. Harmon, who has been in ADC custody since July 5, 2012, was part of a YZU.S.C. §1983 class action brought against the city of Helena-West Helena and Phillips County. The lawsuit settled in 2016 and ADC received a $7,200 settlement check that it deposited into Harmon’s prisoner trust fund account.

Harmon requested ADC to forward the check to his legal representatives, Elite Paralegal Services. That request was not heeded, and ADC refused withdrawal requests “in the amount of $3,000 as payment for legal fees with legal research on criminal and civil court cases.” ADC on March 3, 2016, filed a petition for reimbursement of costs of care and a motion for leave to deposit Harmon’s funds with the court. After a hearing, the petition was granted.

On appeal, Harmon argued (1) he was constitutionally entitled to a pre-deprivation hearing before ADC deposited the check into his prisoner trust account; (2) the confiscation of the settlement check amount to an unjust enrichment as the funds were owed to his legal representatives; (3) the circuit court failed to take into consideration his financial obligations to his elderly father; (4) the ADC confiscation of funds from a §1983 action is preempted by Hankins v. Finnel, 964 F. 2d 853(8th Cir. 1992).

The Supreme Court refused to hear those arguments because the circuit court did not rule upon them, but it reversed for a written order upon them. The court ordered on remand that the circuit court “shall take into consideration and make allowances for the maintenance and support of the spouse, dependent children… or other persons having a moral or legal right to support and maintenance as required by the Reimbursement Act in Ark. Code Ann. §12-29-504 (c)(2)(A). It is also required by Ark. Code Ann §12-29-601 (a)-(b) that any compensatory damages available after attorney fees and costs “awarded to a prisoner in connection with the civil action brought against any state or local jail, prison, or correctional facility “shall be paid to satisfy outstanding restitution orders; the remainder shall then be transferred to the prisoner.

It was noted the circuit court failed to issue findings as to whether Harmon’s father had any right to support under law and whether fees to Harmon’s legal representative were related to the suit that settlement was obtained.

The matter was remanded for appropriate findings.

See: Harmon v. Arkansas, 2017 Ark 224(Ark. 2017)

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