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Case Name Bell v. City of Jackson JC-MS-0024
Docket / Court 3:15-cv-732-TSL-RHW ( S.D. Miss. )
State/Territory Mississippi
Case Type(s) Jail Conditions
Special Collection Fines/Fees/Bail Reform (Criminalization of poverty)
Attorney Organization Equal Justice Under Law
Case Summary
On October 9, 2015, seven impoverished individuals incarcerated by the City of Jackson filed this class action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, federal anti-trafficking laws, and the declaratory judgment act in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District Court of Mississippi. The plaintiffs alleged ... read more >
On October 9, 2015, seven impoverished individuals incarcerated by the City of Jackson filed this class action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, federal anti-trafficking laws, and the declaratory judgment act in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District Court of Mississippi. The plaintiffs alleged that they were imprisoned because they were unable to pay debts owed to the City for traffic violations and other misdemeanor offenses. As a result, the plaintiffs argued that the City violated their Sixth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The plaintiffs, represented by counsel from the MacArthur Justice Center and from Equal Justice Under Law, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief and monetary damages.

The plaintiffs alleged that they were indigent citizens who had outstanding debts payable to the City that stemmed from minor offenses. Many of them were disabled. The City allegedly presented the plaintiffs with the option to “pay or stay,” meaning they could either pay off the money owed to the City or be incarcerated to pay off their debts. The plaintiffs were allegedly forced to sit out their debts in the Hinds County Jail at a rate of $25.00 per day since they were unable to pay. There was an option for the plaintiffs to “work off” their debts at the Hinds County Penal Farm at a rate of $58.00 per day; however, some of the plaintiffs were unable to do so due to their disabilities. City officials did not review the plaintiffs’ ability to pay or other alternatives to imprisonment, such as community service, prior to their incarceration.

Less than a month later, the parties’ filed notice with the court that they were attempting to settle the case and requested additional time for negotiations. After several request for more time, the parties notified the court on June 9, 2016, that the case had settled.

On June 20, 2016, District Judge Tom Lee signed off on a joint settlement agreement. The City agreed to a declaratory judgment acknowledging that it was unconstitutional to incarcerate someone simply because she does not have the ability to pay. In all misdemeanor cases moving forward, the City agreed not to detain or incarcerate individuals because of their inability to pay fines. Instead, these individuals would be given the option of participating in a community service program in lieu of being incarcerated. Additionally, future defendants would not be incarcerated unless the City found it necessary to do so after a hearing and provision of counsel. The City agreed to make determinations about defendants’ ability to pay on a case-by-case basis; judges would to consider financial hardships when sentencing and determining community service requirements. Furthermore, the City agreed to develop training programs so its employees could comply with the settlement agreement and to make accommodations for people with disabilities to be able to participate in the community service program. The settlement did not include monetary relief.

The City agreed to implement the entire settlement within 120 days, and to meet with the plaintiffs' counsel every three months for the first two years after entry of the settlement to discuss ongoing compliance issues. The City also agreed to notify plaintiff's counsel within 24 hours of someone being detained for willful failure to pay. The Court retained jurisdiction to enforce the settlement, which had no specified end date.

The Professional Bail Agents Association of Mississippi filed a motion to intervene on June 28, 2016 after the settlement agreement was signed and approved. This non-profit disputed the settlement agreement’s provisions regarding monetary bail in municipal court. This motion was denied on August 25, 2016. The case is otherwise administratively closed.

Amelia Huckins - 02/05/2017


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Excessive bail/fines
Slavery/Involuntary servitude
Content of Injunction
Reporting
Training
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Disability
disability, unspecified
General
Fines/Fees/Bail/Bond
Over/Unlawful Detention
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) City of Jackson, Mississippi
Plaintiff Description Seven impoverished people who were incarcerated by the City of Jackson, Mississippi because they were unable to pay debts allegedly owed to the City for traffic violations and other misdemeanor offenses
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Equal Justice Under Law
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Declaratory Judgment
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Filing Year 2015
Case Closing Year 2016
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
Docket(s)
3:15-cv-732 (S.D. Miss.)
JC-MS-0024-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/25/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Class Action Complaint [ECF# 1]
JC-MS-0024-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/09/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Summons in a Civil Action [ECF# 2]
JC-MS-0024-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/09/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Settlement Agreement [ECF# 14]
JC-MS-0024-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/20/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Denying Motion to Intervene [ECF# 21] (S.D. Miss.)
JC-MS-0024-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/25/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Lee, Tom Stewart (S.D. Miss.) show/hide docs
JC-MS-0024-0004 | JC-MS-0024-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Howard, Jacob W. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
JC-MS-0024-0002 | JC-MS-0024-9000
Johnson, J. Clifton II (Mississippi) show/hide docs
JC-MS-0024-0002 | JC-MS-0024-9000
Karakatsanis, Alec (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
JC-MS-0024-0002 | JC-MS-0024-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Jackson-Winters, LaShundra B. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
JC-MS-0024-9000
Lowery, Gail Wright (Mississippi) show/hide docs
JC-MS-0024-9000
Other Lawyers Smith, Christopher E. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
JC-MS-0024-9000

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