·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Lawsuits & Litigation

Ferguson Agrees to Pay $4.5m to Settle ‘Debtors’ Prison’ Lawsuit

— February 29, 2024

The class-action lawsuit claimed that Ferguson jailed impoverished residents and visitors for simply being unable to pay fines and court fees.

Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officers in 2014, has agreed to pay $4.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging that the city ran a so-called debtors’ prison.

According to The Associated Press, the settlement was announced earlier this week by ArchCity Defenders. Under the terms of the preliminary agreement, which have yet to be approved by a court, proceeds will be distributed among more than 15,000 class members, all of whom spent time in Ferguson jails between February 8, 2010, and December 30, 2022, for failing to pay fines, court fees, and other legal expenses.

Maureen Hanlon, managing attorney for ArchCity Defenders, said that the settlement will help ensure that cities like Ferguson understand that misconduct can have severe consequences.

“Lawsuits like these help make sure that municipalities are more careful about what they do,” Hanlon said. “There’s going to be publicity; there’s going to be literal costs.”

“People are going to ask for compensation for something unjust that happens,” she said.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes that the class was represented by nine named plaintiffs, including 59-year-old Ronnie Tucker.

Tucker, like others involved in the claim, was arrested and jailed under a municipal warrant—and then told that he would be detained indefinitely unless he paid hundreds of dollars in accumulated fines and fees, even though Tucker did not have the means or ability to pay.

Scales of Justice. Image via Flickr/user:mikecogh. (CCA-BY-2.0).

Another of the plaintiffs, writes the Post-Dispatch, was Keilee Fant, a single parent of nine children. Fant was detained more than a dozen times for failure to pay fines and court fees.

Fant, along with co-plaintiff Tonya DeBerry, died before the lawsuit could be resolved.

In a press release, Hanlon said that these women should be remembered “for their boundless courage in the face of injustice.”

“The harsh reality is that, oftentimes, those most impacted by injustice do not live long enough to see the seeds of change bloom,” Hanlon said. “But this settlement would not be possible without them.”

If the settlement is approved, ArchCity Defenders and other firms involved in the case against Ferguson will be able to receive up to one-third of the total payment. The remaining amount will be divided equally among the plaintiffs and class members—about $200 per litigant.

Although not a significant sum of money, Hanlon said that it could help recipients “rebuild their lives” by paying for car repairs, rent, housing, or education.

“That money is meant to be a resource,” Hanlon said.

As part of the agreement, Ferguson has not admitted wrongdoing and maintains that it is not legally liable for having run a debtors’ prison.


Ferguson, Missouri, agrees to pay $4.5 million to settle ‘debtors’ prison’ lawsuit

Ferguson, Missouri, to pay $4.5 million to settle claims it illegally jailed thousands

Ferguson to pay $4.5 million to settle ‘debtors prison’ suit, filed after protests, unrest

Join the conversation!