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Counties must pay for juvenile facilities

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Juvenile Justice

Indiana counties are responsible to pay a portion of costs to operate juvenile detention facilities, the Indiana Court of Appeals decided June 13.

The appellate court reached that decision in Marion County and St. Joseph County, Indiana v. State of Indiana, et al., No. 73A01-0705-CV-238, affirming summary judgment in favor of the state.

Marion and St. Joseph counties filed a lawsuit seeking relief from their debts to the state for costs of operating juvenile detention facilities after the state attempted to collect arrearages from the counties. The two counties - which owed a total of $75 million - sought declaratory and injunctive relief and restitution on all of their payments since 1995.

They claimed Article 9, Section 2 of the Indiana Constitution requires the state to pay the total cost of operation. The appellate judges examined Article 9, which states, “The General Assembly shall provide institutions for the correction and reformation of juvenile offenders.” The text of this article doesn’t specify how the General Assembly will determine the method of funding, wrote Judge Melissa May.

The counties failed to show whether requiring them to share in the costs of operating the facilities is unconstitutional.

The counties argued Indiana Code only allowed the state to charge them for expenses incurred by the Plainfield Juvenile Correctional Facility and the Indianapolis Juvenile Correctional Facility, and that all accounts submitted since 1995 are invalid because they didn’t comply with requirements under Indiana Code.

If the counties are constitutionally required to pay, the counties argued, they are only liable for expenses from the Plainfield and Indianapolis correctional facilities because they are the ones mentioned in the statute. In 2005, the specific references to those facilities were removed and replaced with a general reference to the DOC.

The Court of Appeals found the counties’ interpretation of Indiana Code Sections 4-24-7-2 and 11-10-2-3 would lead to an absurd and unjust result because the General Assembly always intended for counties to bear part of the costs of the entire state system.

The DOC has the authority to determine which facilities to operate and where to assign juveniles, so it no longer made sense for the General Assembly to identify specific facilities in the statutes, Judge May wrote. As such, the DOC has the authority to charge the counties for expenses incurred at all facilities.

Indiana Code Section 4-24-7-2 outlines the collection procedures for juvenile accounts, which include signature and attestation requirements. The state didn’t comply with these procedures, which the counties believe led the state to overcharge them.

The appellate judges agreed with the trial court that the alleged overcharges aren’t sufficiently connected with the state’s failure to follow the signature and seal requirements of Indiana Code, Judge May wrote, and the DOC’s billing procedure sufficiently fulfilled the purpose of I.C. Section 4-24-7-2.

The state countered that the counties lacked standing and their suit was barred by the statute of limitations and doctrines of laches; the Court of Appeals disagreed, yet affirmed the trial court’s decision on the merits of the counties' claims.

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