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Judge OKs ‘debtor prison’ settlement with Maplewood

Scott Lauck//April 7, 2023

Judge OKs ‘debtor prison’ settlement with Maplewood

Scott Lauck//April 7, 2023

A federal judge has approved a $3.25 million class-action settlement for thousands of people who alleged they were subject to a “debtors’ prison” in the city of Maplewood.

The lawsuit, brought by St. Louis-based ArchCity Defenders and Keane Law, ends a suit filed in 2016 that alleged the St. Louis suburb routinely violated people’s constitutional rights by jailing people without inquiring into their ability to pay and using the threat of incarceration to extract fines and fees.

“For years, the City of Maplewood wrote thousands of tickets to raise millions of dollars in revenue,” Nathaniel Carroll, senior staff attorney at ArchCity Defenders, said in a written statement. “Plaintiffs alleged that the City would either use jail or the prospect of jail to get money from people who were ticketed in the form of exorbitant fines and bonds, with little to no legal process. This resulted in poor people, and mostly Black people, who were jailed for days at a time until Maplewood had extorted as much money as possible from them.”

The city did not admit fault in the settlement, which was reached during mediation last year and won preliminary approval in November.

The settlement covers more than 7,000 people who were jailed by Maplewood and more 20,000 people who paid fines and fees to the city between November 2011 and November 2021. Judge Catherine D. Perry said in her approval order that three plaintiffs excluded themselves from the case and four plaintiffs opted out after preliminary approval, but no one objected to the settlement.

Perry approved $1.08 million in attorneys’ fees and about $132,000 in litigation costs to be paid from the settlement fund.

“This was a result of aggressive, persistent litigation over a period of approximately seven years,” she wrote. The judge also approved $7,500 awards for the suit’s three class representatives.

According to ArchCity, since the lawsuit was filed Maplewood’s municipal court revenue has decreased 64 percent and the number of tickets issued has decreased 70 percent in 2022, citing state court data. The organization is pursuing similar claims against the nearby cities of St. Ann, Florissant and Ferguson.

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$3.25 million settlement

Civil Rights

Venue: U.S. District for the Eastern District of Missouri

Case Number/Date: 4:16-cv-01703/April 5, 2023

Judge: Catherine D. Perry

Caption: Cecelia Roberts Webb, Frank Williams and Logan C. Yates as personal representative of the Estate of Darron T. Yates v. City of Maplewood

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: Nathaniel Carroll, Maureen Hanlon, John Waldron and Blake Strode, ArchCity Defenders, St. Louis; Andrea R. Gold, Tycko & Zavareei, Washington, D.C.; Ryan Keane, Keane Law, St. Louis

Defendants’ Attorneys: Jason S. Retter, Hellmich, Hill & Retter, Kirkwood

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