MIAMI/TALLAHASSEE/TAMPA BAY – Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle gave final approval to a settlement resolving a statewide class action lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) for the confiscation of millions of dollars of digital music from incarcerated people in Florida, the result of a nearly two-year-long legal challenge brought by the Florida Justice Institute (FJI) and Social Justice Law Collective (SJLC).
The court-adopted settlement requires the FDOC to provide 3.9 million digital media credits to roughly 11,000 class members whose songs were confiscated, that will enable them to purchase songs, movies, and other digital media. These credits will allow class members to replace as many or more songs than they had purchased in the FDOC’s previous digital media program. The FDOC has also agreed to separately pay $150,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs.
The lawsuit, filed in February 2019, alleged that, for several years, the FDOC permitted incarcerated people to purchase and listen to digital songs on media players while in prison, with the FDOC receiving a commission on every song purchased. But when the FDOC decided to switch program vendors, it required participants to surrender their digital media players, cut off access to their lawfully purchased songs, and did not permit any of the songs to be transferred to the new program. If participants wanted to access their purchased music, they had to re-purchase it in the new program. The Complaint alleged that these actions violated the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
“We’re pleased that the class members will be able to use these credits to be able to listen to music while in prison, which is what they purchased in the first place,” said FJI Executive Director Dante Trevisani. “We hope this case continues to send a message that the property of incarcerated people cannot just be indiscriminately taken.”
Plaintiffs William Demler and Michael Gisi, both of whom lawfully purchased hundreds of songs only to have them confiscated without compensation, represented the class throughout the litigation. Now, as a result of their efforts, their property, as well as the property of thousands of other incarcerated persons throughout Florida, will be restored.
“This settlement is a significant victory for the ability of incarcerated individuals to be free from indiscriminate governmental action and secure in the possession of their own lawfully purchased property,” said SJLC attorney Josh Glickman, “we hope that this agreement will inform the way that the FDOC and other state prison systems approach transitions between similar programs in the future.”
Demler v. Inch, Case No. 4:19-CV-0094, was before Judge Robert Hinkle in the Northern District of Florida.