United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland
COURTENY E. BALTIMORE, Plaintiff,
TAMMY COOPER, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
HENRY R. WILHOIT, Jr., District Judge.
Courtney E. Baltimore is an inmate confined by the Kentucky Department of Corrections ("KDOC") in the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex ("EKCC") located in West Liberty, Kentucky. Proceeding without counsel, Baltimore has filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights complaint against five defendants, all officials of the EKCC,  alleging violations of his federal constitutional rights. Baltimore alleges that the EKCC defendants have allowed funds to be deducted from his inmate account and remitted to the Kentucky Crime Victims' Compensation Board ("KCVCB"), a subdivision of the Kentucky Public Protection Cabinet. Baltimore alleges that the defendants' actions violate his rights to due process and equal protection of the law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; his rights guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; and his rights granted under state law and the Kentucky Constitution. By separate Order, Baltimore has been granted pauper status. [D. E. No. 4]
The Court has conducted a preliminary review of Baltimore's complaint because he asserts claims against government officials and because he has been granted pauper status. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A. Because Baltimore is proceeding without an attorney, the Court liberally construes his claims and accepts his factual allegations as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). But as explained below, the Court determines that Baltimore has not alleged a violation of his federal constitutional rights.
ALLEGATIONS OF THE COMPLAINT
A Jefferson Circuit Court jury convicted Baltimore of homicide, and on July 27, 2012, Baltimore received a 33-year prison sentence. On appeal, Baltimore's conviction was affirmed. Baltimore v. Commonwealth, No. 2012-SC-000522, 2013 WL 6730040 (Ky. Dec. 19, 2013) With good time credits, Baltimore's projected release date is May 20, 2042, although he will be eligible for parole on October 3, 2030.
On October 13, 2013, while Baltimore was confined in the Roederer Correctional Complex located in LaGrange, Kentucky, the KCVCB notified him by letter that it was taking action to collect $5, 000.00 representing medical expenses it had paid to or on behalf of the victim of his crime; that under KRS 346.180(1), Baltimore was indebted to the Commonwealth of Kentucky for that amount; and that the KCVCB is authorized to collect that amount by his prison wages until the $5, 000.00 sum was paid in full. [D. E. No. 1-1, pp. 8-9]
Baltimore alleges that on August 25, 2014, after his transfer to the EKCC, he asked EKCC Correctional Officer Defendant Phyllis Osborne to process a theft report because $30.00 had been attached from his inmate account without his permission, but that Osborne denied his request. [D. E. No. 1, p. 2, § III] Baltimore states that between August 2014 and January 20, 2015, the EKCC defendants have deducted $548.00 from his inmate account and remitted it to the KCVCB, and that they continue deduct and remit 50% of his incoming funds to the KCVCB. [ Id., pp. 2-3]
Baltimore objected to the attachment of his inmate funds at the EKCC by pursuing the KDOC's four-step administrative grievance process. On September 16, 2014, Defendant Mike McKinney, the EKCC Grievance Aide, denied Baltimore's initial grievance, stating that on November 27, 2013, the KCVCB had entered an order requiring Baltimore to pay $5, 000.00 in restitution, and that Baltimore would be responsible for paying restitution until the amount was paid in full. [D. E. No. 1-1, p. 4 ("Informal Resolution Stage")]
Baltimore unsuccessfully appealed to the EKCC Grievance Committee, which agreed with McKinney's response. [ Id., p. 7 ("Grievance Committee")] Baltimore then appealed to the EKCC Warden, who denied Baltimore's appeal and agreed with McKinney and the Grievance Committee. [ Id., ("Warden's Review")] Baltimore then appealed to LaDonna Thompson, Commissioner of the KDOC, who denied his appeal on October 27, 2014. [ Id., p. 1] Thompson explained that the KCVCB has the statutory authority to order restitution for crime victims; that the KCVCB had notified Baltimore by letter dated October 7, 2013, that he owed $5, 000.00 in restitution and that it would be collecting that amount under KRS § 346.180(1); and that the EKCC had been properly deducting 50% of all funds he received, and would continue to do so, until the $5, 000.00 was re-paid. [ Id. ]
Baltimore contends that the attachment of funds from his inmate was "arbitrarily imposed, " see D. E. No. 1, p. 4; that the deduction and transmission of his money to the KCVCB amounts to theft; and that that removal of funds from his inmate account and payment of same to the KCVCB violates KRS § 532.033(1) and unspecified provisions of the Kentucky Constitution. Baltimore asserts that the attachment is illegal under state law because his July 26, 2012, criminal judgment from the Jefferson Circuit Court made no mention of any financial liability or obligation on his part. He therefore appears to be claiming if a defendant has been sentenced to serve a prison term, he cannot also be liable for any form restitution, including a financial obligation to the KCVCB.
Baltimore alleges that the defendants have violated his right to due process of law and equal protection, both of which are guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; his rights guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; and his rights guaranteed under the Kentucky Constitution. Baltimore seeks an order directing the EKCC to reimburse all funds attached from his inmate account and punitive damages in the amount of $8, 000.00. [ Id., p. 8]
The Court determines that the EKCC defendants have not violated Baltimore's constitutional right to due process of law. As stated in KRS § 346.010, the purpose of the Compensation of Crime Victims Act is to indemnify those needy victims of criminal acts who have suffered bodily injury or death as a result. The state compensates those victims or their dependents who incur financial hardships and may become dependent upon public welfare. Id.
In its letter dated October 7, 2013, the KCVCB clearly notified Baltimore that it had paid $5, 000.00 benefits to or on behalf of the victim of his crime, and that it would be collecting that sum of money from him through an interception of the monies deposited in his KDOC inmate account. The KCVCB correctly cited to KRS § 346.180(1) as authority for its collection action against Baltimore. That statute states in relevant part, "Any payment of benefits to or on behalf of a victim under this chapter creates a debt due and owing to the state by any person found to have committed such criminal act in either a civil or criminal court proceeding in which he is a party." See KRS § 346.180(1). ...