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HomeSuccesses$3.25 Million Settlement in Maplewood, MO Debtors Prison Class Action

$3.25 Million Settlement in Maplewood, MO Debtors Prison Class Action

Outcome: $3.25 Million Settlement

Cecilia Roberts Webb, et al. v. City of Maplewood, Missouri, Case No.: 4:16-cv-01703-CDP in the Eastern District of Missouri

The City of Maplewood, Missouri will pay $3.25 million to resolve claims it operated a pay-to-play system with its warrant recall bonds. These made it difficult for individuals, particularly poor and Black residents, to access the courts, leading to arrests for nonpayment and financial difficulties for those who did.

The plaintiffs argued that this system violated multiple constitutional amendments, including the First, Fourth, Sixth, and Fourteenth. The lawsuit claimed that Maplewood’s officials and employees implemented a scheme involving unlawful seizures and arrest warrants with hefty bond fees, effectively barring courthouse access for those unable to pay. The plaintiffs asserted that this system was discriminatory and constituted an abuse of power, aiming to impose unconstitutional punitive measures on individuals charged with municipal offenses.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri approved a class action settlement of $3.25 million to be distributed among those affected by Maplewood’s alleged debtors’ prison scheme from 2011-2021. This settlement marks an important victory for those impacted by Maplewood’s challenged unlawful conduct and a major milestone in the fight against poverty-based jails across the nation.

The lawsuit was brought by ArchCity Defenders, Tycko & Zavareei LLP, and Keane Law LLC on behalf of Cecelia Roberts Webb and other plaintiffs who claimed that they were illegally jailed or extorted by Maplewood. According to the original complaint, Maplewood’s practices and “[t]he treatment of the named Plaintiffs reveals an intentional, systemic effort by Defendant Maplewood through both police and municipal court practices, to deprive some of the area’s poorest residents of their rights under the United States Constitution.”

Judge Catherine D. Perry said about Class Counsel, “Class Counsel have fairly and adequately protected the interests of the Settlement Class. This case is complex and involves questions of constitutional law and interpretation as well as issues of sovereign immunity and municipal liability. Class Counsel worked diligently on the case and moved it toward settlement as quickly as practicable.” Webb v. City of Maplewood, No. 4:16-cv-01703-CDP, 2023 WL 2784788, at *2 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 5, 2023)

The Maplewood settlement is noteworthy not just for the substantial financial compensation it provided to the victims, but also for its potential to catalyze change across the United States. This case was particularly award-worthy due to its direct challenge to a systemic issue deeply rooted in economic and racial injustice. By taking a stand against the unconstitutional jailing and financial exploitation of the most vulnerable populations, the lawsuit underscored a pervasive problem in the American justice system. This case sets a precedent for similar actions across the country, marking a significant step in the ongoing battle against poverty-based jailing practices.

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