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A Better Partnership
December 04, 2016

Crime victims generally have no right to intervene in claims brought by the State Treasurer under the State Correctional Facility Reimbursement Act, says the Court of Appeals

In State Treasurer v. Bences, No. 327657, the Court of Appeals held that a crime victim’s restitution order does not create a perfected interest in a claim under the State Correctional Facility Reimbursement Act (“SCFRA”).  Because the restitution order does not take priority over the Treasury’s SCFRA claim, the victim cannot intervene in the suit.

In 2013, Bradley Bences was convicted of felonious assault, among other crimes, for stabbing the victim, John Burtle.  As part of his sentence, Bences was ordered to pay Burtle $108,589 in restitution.   In May 2014, the State Treasurer filed a complaint against Bences and his representatives under the State Correctional Facility Reimbursement Act (“SCFRA”), seeking reimbursement for his incarceration costs.  Burtle filed a motion to intervene in the action, seeking to have his restitution order take priority over the Treasury’s reimbursement costs.  The trial court denied Burtle’s motion.
On appeal, Burtle asserted that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion to intervene.  He argued that his restitution order gave him an interest in the SCFRA action, and that the payment of his restitution should take priority over the Treasury’s reimbursement costs.  The Court of Appeals disagreed, reasoning that MCR 2.209(A) required Burtle to have sufficient interest in the property at issue in the action.  Here, because Burtle failed to seek enforcement of the order prior to moving to intervene and had not yet filed a personal injury action against Bences, Burtle did not have a perfected interest arising from the restitution order. 
The Court further held that even if Burtle had perfected his interest arising from the restitution order, an SCFRA claim is not the type of proceeding in which a crime victim has the right to intervene.  Recognizing that the SCFRA affords the Treasury a number of tools to secure a prisoner’s asserts for reimbursement that are not available to the average creditor in a civil action, the Court concluded that the Legislature intended to give such state reimbursement claims priority over other creditors’ claims.  Accordingly, it would have been improper for the trial court to grant Burtle’s motion to intervene. 
Lastly, the Court concluded that even if the trial court abused its discretion by denying Burtle’s motion to intervene, the error was harmless.  Because the SCFRA doesn’t require a court entering a reimbursement order to consider any restitution the prisoner may owe the victim, the Treasury’s reimbursement costs would have taken priority over Burtle’s restitution order. 

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