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Corrections Department Can't Spend Inmate's Money, Lawsuit Says

Joshua Combs
Oklahoma Department of Corrections

If you’re a state inmate and win cash in a lawsuit, the Department of Corrections has the right to pay debts on your behalf.

But there’s a possible wrinkle in the law after an inmate sued the DOC for giving his workers’ compensation award to creditors. In 2014, Joshua Combs began serving a sentence for drunken driving and child endangerment. Two months later, he received a workers’ compensation award after getting hurt while working for a drilling company, according to The Journal Record’s Dale Denwalt:

Combs alleges that the DOC is using nearly $43,000 from a workers’ comp case to pay debts on his behalf. The reasoning for DOC’s move, as described in the lawsuit, was that state law allows the agency to disperse money from a final court order that awards damages or “any cause of action arising in tort or contract, in any state or federal proceedings, or any settlement agreement.” Combs’ attorney, Chris Harper, said the court will have to interpret whether a workers’ comp award meets that criteria.

In court documents, Combs says the law specifically mentions monetary damages, contractual breaches, torts or any settlement agreement. Harper said he believes this is a first-of-its-kind case in the state, Denwalt reports:

Corrections spokesman Alex Gerszewski said the laws on disbursement have changed more than once in the past few years. He also declined to comment about the case because it is still in litigation. Combs’ ruling on workers’ comp was awarded less than two months after he began to serve his five-year sentence.

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