A man in Camden, N.J., last month told Carmen DeJesus that if she had spent a night in crowded Camden County jail cell, money from a court settlement regarding conditions at the jail was up for grabs. To get it, she only needed to fill out the paperwork to file a lawsuit, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. DeJesus, who spent nine days in the jail crammed into a two-person cell with four others, joined 1,800 people who have sued the jail in the last three months in hopes of getting a payout. The problem is, there’s no money. The lawsuits were sparked by a rumor that spread wildly through the streets of Camden and beyond: Anyone who was held in a crowded jail cell can get a check if he or she files a lawsuit.
The hoax has been perpetuated by people who claim they have received checks and by people passing out the filing paperwork on the street. The men and women suing the jail have filed more than eight times the number of the civil cases submitted in a typical month, overwhelming the staff of the U.S. District Court and prompting administrators to bring in employees from other federal courthouses to help process the claims. The lawsuits are being filed pro se, without help from attorneys. Because many claims do not meet certain statutory guidelines, almost all are likely to be dismissed, said U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle. The statute of limitations for personal-injury complaints is two years, and many of the concerns detailed in the suits – that inmates were temporarily held in rooms that were built to hold fewer people – do not rise to the level of constitutional violations, he said.