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Spotz v. Commonwealth

May 6, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Senior Judge Kelley

Submitted: October 3, 2008



Before this Court, in our original jurisdiction, are the Preliminary Objections (Objections) of Dennis Lebo, Clerk of Court for the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County (hereinafter, Lebo), and the combined Preliminary Objections of Jeffrey A. Beard, Ph.D (as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections), Louis Folino (as Superintendent of SCI-Greene), Jean W. Scott (as Business Manager of SCI Greene), Leslie Wynn (as Inmate Accounting Officer of SCI-Greene), and Gina Perry (as Inmate Records Supervisor of SCI-Greene) (hereinafter, collectively, the Corrections Respondents).*fn1 The two sets of Objections sub judice were filed against the pro se Petition for Review of Governmental Action (the Petition) of Mark Newton Spotz (Spotz), an inmate at SCI-Greene.

Spotz is currently incarcerated at SCI-Greene where he is serving a sentence of death imposed by the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County (Trial Court) by order dated May 17, 1996, with the sentence formally imposed after post-verdict motions by order dated June 17, 1996.*fn2 The Trial Court's sentencing order did not include any express language assessing any fines, costs, or reimbursements imposed onto Spotz.

On November 1, 2000, the Department of Corrections (Department) began deducting 20% of all incoming money from Spotz's inmate account,*fn3 which money was ultimately remitted to the office of Lebo as Clerk of Cumberland County Courts, costs and fines division. The Department alleged costs*fn4 in the amount of $14,373.35 from Spotz's capital prosecution, and entered its deductions as entries within the Department's Inmate Account System under what is commonly, and hereinafter, referred to as Act 84, Act of June 18, 1998, P.L. 640, which amended Section 9728 of the Sentencing Code, 42 Pa.C.S. §9728.*fn5

On December 4, 2002, Spotz filed in the Trial Court a Petition for Habeas Corpus Relief (Habeas Corpus Petition) seeking post-conviction relief. The Habeas Corpus Petition was ultimately held in abeyance pending the resolution of other criminal charges in Clearfield County, which charges were used in aggravation in the criminal case underlying the instant action.

On January 26, 2004, Spotz filed in the Trial Court a Petition to Direct the Department of Corrections to Cease Deducting Funds (Petition to Cease Deductions) from his account, additionally seeking the return of the funds that had already been deducted. The Trial Court did not hold a hearing on Spotz's Petition to Cease Deductions, and dismissed it by order dated March 2, 2004, which reads in its entirety:

AND NOW, this 2nd day of March, 2004, the within petition IS DISMISSED WITHOUT A HEARING.[1]

[1] (1)The assessment of costs is automatic following a conviction, (2) the within petition is not a direct appeal or a post-conviction petition, (3) the assessment of costs has not exposed petitioner to initial confinement, additional confinement or increased conditions of supervision, and (4) this court has no jurisdiction over the Department of Corrections. [Commonwealth v. Beard, 824 A.2d 393 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003); Commonwealth v. Fleming, 804 A.2d 641 (Pa. Super. 2002).]

See Petition at Ex. F.

Subsequently, on August 23, 2004, Lebo's office generated a Court Commitment Order, also known as Form DC-300B, indicating costs assessed against Spotz in the amount of $12,179.80, as well as $30.00 assessed for the Crime Victim's Compensation Fund -- Victim/Witness Services Fund. This Form DC-300B was then forwarded to the Department.

On January 16, 2007, Spotz filed in the Trial Court a Motion to Amend his pending Habeas Corpus Petition, alleging in material part that the Department's deductions violated his constitutional rights, and seeking both cessation of the deductions, and the return of previously deducted monies. By order dated April 20, 2007, the Trial Court denied Spotz's Petition to Amend his Habeas Corpus Petition.

Beginning in August, 2007, Spotz filed numerous Official Inmate Requests to Staff Members, seeking documentation of, and explanation for, the deductions at issue. Spotz also initiated an Official Inmate Grievance asserting, generally, that he had never been ordered to pay the costs at issue, and that the Department's deductions were contrary to law. Spotz's Grievance was denied. Spotz pursued all available appeals within the grievance system, during which pursuit he corresponded again with Lebo regarding his sentencing. Lebo replied, inter alia, by correspondence dated September 11, 2007, emphasizing the Trial Court's footnote stating that "the assessment of costs are automatic following a conviction" within its March 2, 2004, order as implied authority for the deductions. By decision dated December 14, 2007, the Chief Grievance Officer denied Spotz's final appeal in the administrative process.

On January 7, 2008, Spotz filed the instant Petition at issue in this Court's original jurisdiction. Spotz's Petition seeks, inter alia, the return of funds alleged to have been illegally seized and/or deducted from Spotz's personal account during his imprisonment. In his Petition, Spotz alleges, in relevant part, that the above-captioned Respondents deprived Spotz of 20% of the incoming monies to his prisoner account in the absence of any court-ordered authority to do so in an attempt to recover court costs from Spotz. Additionally, Spotz challenges the validity of Act 84.

Most generally stated, Act 84 expressly authorizes deductions from an inmate's account to satisfy orders for costs, fines, and/or restitution, and directs the Department to develop guidelines to carry out its responsibilities, i.e., determining the amount of the installment payments to be made towards an inmate's unpaid costs, fines and restitution. The crux of Spotz's Petition avers that the Trial Court's June 17, 1996, sentencing order did not expressly order any payment of costs, and that absent such an express order, the Department and Lebo were without authority to sua sponte initiate, collect, and remit the deductions effected upon Spotz's inmate account. As relief, Spotz seeks: preliminary and permanent injunctions against the Respondents preventing any further deductions; an order staying any further deduction pending the outcome of the case before us; declaratory judgment; summary relief; the return of all monies previously deducted; amendment to both Act 84 and the regulations enacted thereunder; an order mandating that both the Department and Lebo abide by Act 84 and its resulting regulations, and; reimbursement for costs associated with the instant Petition.

Subsequent to the filing of Spotz's Petition, Lebo and the Corrections Respondents filed separate Preliminary Objections thereto, to which Spotz filed responses in opposition. ...

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