Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

State legal fund not liable for wrongful-conviction settlement

Scott Lauck//January 13, 2022

State legal fund not liable for wrongful-conviction settlement

Scott Lauck//January 13, 2022

The Court of Appeals Eastern District ruled that the state of Missouri is not responsible for most of its share of a $13.825 million settlement reached in 2018 with family of a man freed after 30 years of wrongful incarceration.

George Allen Jr. had been convicted of raping and murdering Mary Bell in her apartment in the LaSalle Park neighborhood in 1982. He was sentenced to 95 years in prison, but a judge overturned Allen’s conviction in 2012, finding that St. Louis police had failed to disclose evidence pointing to his innocence. 

Allen filed a federal civil rights suit in 2014, though he died while it remained pending. The 2018 settlement called for the city of St. Louis and the state, neither of which admitted fault, each to pay about half of the settlement amount to Allen’s family during a five-year period. 

However, both entities filed declaratory judgment actions to determine their exact liability. At the time of Allen’s arrest, the state-run Board of Police Commissioners controlled the St. Louis Police Department. That decades-long arrangement ended in 2013, when the department returned to local control. 

Prior to that change, the board was covered by the State Legal Expense Fund, which protects state employees from liabilities that stem from their official conduct. But a 2005 law limited coverage for police-related claims to $1 million per fiscal year. 

The judge in the declaratory judgment action held that the legal expense fund was liable for the Allen settlement because his arrest predated any of those changes in the law. But the Eastern District said a recent Missouri Supreme Court case indicates the state is not obligated to make the payments outlined in the settlement. 

In June, the Supreme Court ruled in Holmes v. Steelman that expense fund liability doesn’t arise until a claim is made. In Allen’s case, that was the 2014 filing date of his federal suit.

Nick Dunne, a spokesman for the city, said the ruling leaves the city responsible for approximately $5.5 million of the settlement. 

Chris Nuelle, a spokesman for the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, said that based on the recent court rulings, the city “owes us millions of dollars for past legal work” and that the office would seek to recover the money that the state is owed.

The case is State ex rel. Schmitt v. City of St. Louis, ED108130. 

Latest Opinion Digests

See all digests

Top stories

See more news