Docket: Walton vs. NYSDOCS and MCI
Walton v. NYDOCS and MCI (PDF) 4.4MB
Walton v. NYSDOCS and MCI is a class-action lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) challenging the constitutionality of the New York State Department of Correctional Servicesí monopoly telephone contract with MCI/Verizon, which forces family members to pay exorbitant collect calling rates to speak with their loved ones in prison.
On February 20, 2007, the New York State Court of Appeals agreed to allow the Center for Constitutional Rights to move forward with its case Walton v. NYSDOCS and reinstated all of the plaintiffs' constitutional claims. The case, which had been dismissed by the two lower courts, will now return to the New York State Supreme Court.
Walton v. NYSDOCS and MCI is a class action lawsuit brought against the New York State Department of Correctional Services (NYSDOCS) and MCI/Verizon. It charges NYSDOCS and MCI with illegally charging unapproved telephone rates, usurping the legislature's authority by imposing unapproved charges that constitute an improper tax or regulatory fee, violating Plaintiffs' and class members due process and equal protection rights, and rights to freedom of speech and association under the State Constitution, and deceptive business practices. The suit contends that under the NYSDOCS' contract with MCI, MCI remits 57.5 percent of its prison revenue to the State, which puts this money in its general operating fund. Prisoners have no choice but to use the MCI collect call system, and those who accept their calls are forced to pay outrageous rates to speak to their loved ones, effectively imposing an unlegislated backdoor tax on prison families, and impeding their freedom of speech and association while the prison and MCI profit from their hardship. The case was filed in the Supreme Court of New York, Albany County.
The plaintiffs include family members and counsel who have been forced to pay exorbitant fees for collect calls in order to communicate with loved ones, maintain marriages, and speak with their clients. The financial burden imposed by the state on the families of inmates is a real hardship and has led to Plaintiffs accruing substantial debt. The high rates charged under the monopoly collect call system directly undermine the correctional system's goal of maintaining family and community ties that greatly increase the odds of a successful re-entry into society upon release from prison. The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the telephone system run by NYSDOCS and MCI violated peoples' constitutional rights and also seeks refunds for prison families who have unjustly paid 630% more for a collect call from a NY State prison than a normal collect call consumer would pay.
Plaintiff Ivey Walton is a disabled, senior-citizen living on a fixed income, whose son and nephew are incarcerated at the Clinton facility in Dannemora, NY, over 350 miles away from her Brooklyn residence. The exorbitant telephone costs imposed by the state's unlawful commission charges have made it extremely difficult for Ms. Walton to maintain her connection with her son and nephew. Her son has promised he would not call too frequently because he does not want to risk disconnection of his mother's telephone service. Ms. Walton's son often forgoes his mother for months in order to save her money. The months that he does call, Ms. Walton loves speaking to her son, but she has trouble paying the telephone bill.
On February 25, 2004, the Center for Constitutional Rights files Walton v. NYSDOCS and MCI in the Supreme Court of New York, Albany County.
On May 7, 2004, MCI files a motion to dismiss the case.
On June 17, 2004, CCR files an opposition brief against the motion to dismiss.
On June 25, 2004, NYSDOCS files a motion to dismiss the case.
On June, 25, 2004, CCR argues its opposition to dismissal before Judge George Ceresia at the NY Supreme Court in Albany.
On October 8, 2004, Judge Ceresia grants the defendants' motions to dismiss on statute of limitations grounds, citing issues of timeliness.
On November 22, 2004, CCR serves their notice of appeal for the decision to the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department.
On August 15, 2005, CCR files an appellate brief in York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department, asking the Court to find the lower court's dismissal in error.
On October 12, 2005, Defendants file their Respondent-Appellee brief, urging the Court to affirm the lower court's dismissal.
On October 22, 2005, CCR files a memorandum brief in response to Defendants-Respondents Brief.
On January 19, 2006, the Appellate Division, Third Department affirms the lower court's decision to dismiss the lawsuit.
On February 24, 2006, CCR serves a motion to the Appellate Division for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals (New York's highest court.) More than a brief on the merits of the case, a "leave to appeal" is an opportunity for counsel to convince the Court that their case is worthy of the Court's time and scarce judicial resources.
On April 5, 2006, CCR receives notice of the Appellate Divisions decision to deny the motion for Leave to Appeal.
On May 4, 2006, CCR files a motion for Leave to Appeal this decision to the highest court of the state, the Court of Appeals.
On July 5, 2006, the Court of Appeals grants the motion for Leave to Appeal, agreeing to hear the case.
On September 18, 2006 CCR files an appeal brief in the New York State Court of Appeals. This allows the case to move forward on appeal to the state's highest appellate court.
On January 8, 2007, Governor Spitzer announces that he will eliminate the provision in the prison telephone contract that requires MCI/Verizon to pay 57.5 percent of its profits to New York State - effective April 1, 2007. On that date, the rates paid by families receiving collect calls from NY State prisons immediately go down by at least 50 percent. Gov. Spitzer's announcement, however, does not affect the validity of the case. Despite the promised change, the Walton plaintiffs are still entitled to have a court rule on whether their rights were violated and to seek money damages and refunds of the unlawful charges.
On January 9, 2007, Rachel Meeropol, the CCR Staff Attorney on the case,
argues before the Court of Appeals that the lower courts applied the wrong
statute of limitations and incorrectly determined when that statute began
CCR Legal Team - Rachel Meeropol
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