On February 8th, 2015, a class of around 2,000 mostly black, impoverished residents of Jennings, Missouri filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. The plaintiffs sued the City of Jennings under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 18 U.S.C. § 1595, and 28 U.S.C. § 2201, ...
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On February 8th, 2015, a class of around 2,000 mostly black, impoverished residents of Jennings, Missouri filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. The plaintiffs sued the City of Jennings under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 18 U.S.C. § 1595, and 28 U.S.C. § 2201, as well as the First, Fourth, Sixth, Eighth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The plaintiffs, represented by attorneys from Equal Justice Under Law, the ArchCity Defenders, and the St. Louis University School of Law, asked the court for a declaratory judgment acknowledging how the City of Jennings violated plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, and an injunction to permanently alter the City’s policies and practices.
The plaintiffs claimed that the City of Jennings violated their constitutional rights by imprisoning them for failure to pay the city debts. The city jailed them in inhumane conditions and without adequate counsel. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that the City of Jennings maintained a policy and practice of jailing residents over unpaid traffic fines, court fees, and other minor offenses. The plaintiffs alleged the City of Jennings used its municipal Court and jail as revenue generators for the city government, based many of its claims on invalid or arbitrary arrest warrants, held inmates in deplorable conditions, and created a hopeless cycle of debt and imprisonment for indigent residents.
The plaintiffs in this case are each residents of Jennings who, at some point, were imprisoned for their inability to pay a petty debt to the city. None of the plaintiffs were afforded legal counsel or an inquiry into their inability to pay, despite pleading indigence, and all were held in inhumane, unsafe conditions in the jail. This debtor's’ prison policy generated millions of dollars in revenue for the city government.
On September 16th, 2015, the court (District Judge Carol E. Jackson) partially granted a joint motion for relief, and implemented a permanent injunction on behalf of the plaintiffs. The injunction laid out lawful policies for the City of Jennings to assess the ability of indigent individuals to pay fees, to collect debts through the civil system, and to meet legal standards of care in the jail.
On July 13th, 2016, Judge Jackson granted preliminary approval of a class action settlement agreement. According to the Washington Post, the defendants agreed to pay 47 million to the class of plaintiffs, available here
A hearing is scheduled to consider final approval of the settlement agreement on December 14th, 2016.Michael Abrams - 09/24/2016