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Inmate Suit Scam

An article by Phil Luciano in the Peoria Journal Star highlights a disturbing new scam: convicted felons filing frivolous suits while still in prison.

The article describes an example, whereby a state prisoner (serving a multi-year sentence for aggravated sexual assault with a weapon) found a young woman's name out of the newspaper marriage announcements. Because marriage announcements often provide the new couple's address, the inmate was able to provide an address for service of process.

The inmate then completed and mailed the form of complaint required in small claims court and the unlucky defendant received service upon returning for her honeymoon.

Although the plaintiff/inmate claims to be suing for $3,000 he allegedly loaned the defendant, Luciano seems to assume the claim is baseless. After all, the defendant would only have been 14 years old when the alleged loan was made.

The scam seems intended to intimidate the female defendant into settling. After she was served with the complaint, the inmate plaintiff sent her a letter, inviting her to visit him in prison to discuss settlement.

Apart from the monetary value and hassle of having to defend herself against what she claims is a frivolous suit, the female defendant fears for her safety and worries that a dangerous criminal may be trying to insinuate himself into her life.

In addition to the costs imposed on the defendant, the state will bear the cost and complexities of transporting the prisoner plaintiff to small claims court for trial. Even if he loses, the prisoner gets a free road trip paid for by the taxpayers.

When asked why they would allow state prisoners to file suits against citizens, a spokesman for the department of corrections said, "We can't stop someone from filing a lawsuit. It's a constitutional right."



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.