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Christianson v. Markquart

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 17, 2018

ERIK DANIEL CHRISTIANSON, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFREY MARKQUART, in his official capacity as Martin County Sheriff, Defendant.

          BRADFORD W. COLBERT, LEGAL ASSISTANCE TO MINNESOTA PRISONERS, MITCHELL HAMLINE SCHOOL OF LAW, FOR PLAINTIFF

          ANDREW ALLEN WOLF AND JASON M. HIVELEY, IVERSON REUVERS CONDON, FOR DEFENDANT.

          ORDER

          JOHN R. TUNHEIM CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Erik Christianson brings this action against Jeffrey Markquart, in his official capacity as Martin County Sheriff, for assessing pay-for-stay costs against Christianson during his stay at Martin County Jail. In 2013 and 2014, Christianson was incarcerated at the Martin County Jail on four separate occasions. In total, Christianson accrued $7, 625 in pay-for-stay costs. He subsequently sent three letters to Markquart stating that he does not have the ability to pay the costs and requesting that the jail waive payment of the costs pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 641.12, subd. 3(b). Markquart did not respond, and Christianson initiated the present action. Christianson argues that Markquart violated Minn. Stat. § 641.12, subd. 3(b), and the Due Process Clauses of the United States and Minnesota Constitutions by failing to assess whether Christianson qualifies for a waiver of payment of the pay-for-stay costs. Markquart moves for summary judgement.

         Because the Court finds that the there is no genuine issue of material fact and concludes that Markquart violated Minn. Stat. § 641.12, subd. 3(b), the Court will deny Markquart's motion for summary judgment. Instead, the Court will sua sponte enter judgment for Christianson.

         BACKGROUND

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. Pay-for-Stay Costs

         Minn. Stat. § 641.12, subd. 3(a), authorizes county jails to require “a person convicted of a crime and confined in the county jail” to “pay the cost of the person's room, board, clothing, medical, dental, and other correctional services.” The statute provides the county with broad authority to collect these pay-for-stay costs, permitting the sheriff to “use any available civil means of debt collection in collecting costs” and to collect the costs “at any time while the person is under sentence or after the sentence has been discharged.” Id.

         But the sheriff's discretion to impose pay-for-stay costs is not unfettered. Minn. Stat. § 641.12, subd. 3(b), requires the sheriff to determine whether an inmate qualifies for a waiver from payment of the pay-for-stay costs. Specifically, the statute provides:

The chief executive officer of the local correctional agency or sheriff shall waive payment of the costs under this subdivision if the officer or sheriff determines that the person does not have the ability to pay the costs, payment of the costs would create undue hardship for the person or the person's immediate family, the prospects for payment are poor, or there are extenuating circumstances justifying waiver of the costs.

Minn. Stat. § 641.12, subd. 3(b) (emphasis added).

         Martin County Jail charges inmates $25 for each day they are jailed. (Compl. ¶ 11, Apr. 20, 2016, Docket No. 1.) Pay-for-stay costs do not begin to accrue until the inmate is sentenced. (Aff. of Jeffrey Markquart (“Markquart Aff.”) ¶ 4, Aug. 1, 2017, Docket No. 30.) At the end of their stay, Martin County Jail provides the inmate with a pay-for-stay statement of the accrued costs. (See id. ¶ 11, Ex. 1 at 2.) The statement notifies the inmate of the costs per day and the jail's statutory authority. (See id.) The statement also explains collection procedures and how to dispute the charges:

Accounts not paid in full following release from jail will be turned over to an independent billing company. Accounts without satisfactory payment activity will be referred to collections in accordance with the policies of the billing company. Any disputes regarding the amount owed must be presented in writing to the Jail Administration for resolution.

(Id. (emphasis added).) Markquart admits that the jail does not inquire about the individual's financial situation but claims individuals are informed that “any disputes must be brought in writing, and it is up to the inmates themselves to follow the process to receive a waiver.” (Markquart Aff. ¶ 7.)

         B. Christianson's Stay ...


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