Pa. Dept. of Corrections properly deducted money from inmate's account, appellate court rules

By Jon Campisi | Mar 19, 2012

A state appellate court panel has ruled in favor of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and others who were being sued by a prison inmate who claimed that officials were deducting money from his personal account without a court order.

In an opinion written by Judge Dan Pellegrini, president judge of Commonwealth Court, the appellate panel granted motions by the state Department of Corrections and the Wayne County Clerk of Courts who sought summary judgment in a case in which the two entities were being sued by Todd Curley.

Curley pleaded nolo contendere to a charge of second-degree murder in the Wayne County Court of Common Pleas on Oct. 3, 2002, and was subsequently sentenced to life in prison.

Curley’s written sentencing order from the trial court did not state that he was required to pay financial restitution relating to court costs, fines and other monetary obligations, according to the Commonwealth Court ruling.

Curley did, however, complete a written guilty plea colloquy that was filed with the trial court in which he agreed to pay all costs of prosecution, the ruling states.

In early November 2002, the state Corrections Department began making deductions from Curley’s inmate account to satisfy the financial obligations.

In August 2004, Curley, who was ordered to serve out his sentence at the State Correctional Institute-Mahanoy, filed a petition for order to suspend or vacate fines, costs and restitutions.

His petition was dismissed.

Then, in late December 2009, Curley wrote to the Corrections Department regarding the deductions, claiming that the money should not have been taken from his account without a court sentencing order. The deductions briefly stopped while the department investigated.

A short time later, Curley filed an inmate grievance with the Corrections Department, which the department ended up denying.

From 2002 to 2009, the ruling states, the department deducted more than $5,000 from Curley’s personal inmate account.

On Feb. 7, 2011, Curley filed an amended petition for review alleging that because the trial court never issued an order at his sentencing hearing directing Curley to pay court costs, the Corrections Department illegally deducted the money from his account.

Curley sought an injunction barring further deductions, declaratory judgment that the department acted without authority, and reimbursement for all deducted funds.

Curley also sought declaratory judgment against the Clerk of Courts that it collected the money deducted from his account without authority.

The defendants argued that Curley’s complaint was barred by a statute of limitations. The appellate court agreed.

“In this case, because Curley has requested relief in mandamus, his petition is time barred as the applicable statute of limitations is six months, and the injury was inflicted in 2002 when the Department started making the deductions,” the ruling states.

“Even though Curley stated that he only became aware of the information from the jailhouse lawyer on December 31, 2009, a lack of knowledge does not toll the statute of limitations in a mandamus action, which would have been six months after the Department began deducting the money in 2002. Consequently, he is not entitled to the return of the money the Department deducted from his inmate account.”

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