Skip to main content


Washington v. PA Dep’t of Corr., 2023 Pa. LEXIS 1698 (S. Ct. December 19, 2023) (Donohue, J.).

Thomas Washington (“Washington”), an inmate at the State Correctional Institution (“SCI”) at Houtzdale, has spent the better part of the last two decades on probation or incarcerated for serious criminal offenses. He works in the prison for a fraction of the minimum wage and occasionally receives gifts from friends and family, both serving to supplement the meager necessities provided by the institution that controls virtually every other aspect of his life. Those wages and gifts were garnished pursuant to Act 84 at a rate of 20% to pay for Washington’s court-ordered financial obligations associated with his criminal conviction until 2020 when, without prior notice or an opportunity to be heard, the deduction rate was suddenly increased to 25%.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections (“the DOC” or “the Department”) violated Washington’s procedural due process rights when it increased the rate of his Act 84 deductions without pre-deprivation notice and an opportunity to be heard. Thus, we reverse the Commonwealth Court’s order sustaining the DOC’s preliminary objections and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Washington maintains that he was entitled to notice and an opportunity to be heard when the DOC increased the rate of Act 84 deductions from his prison account from 20% to 25%. The Commonwealth Court acknowledged the due process rights articulated under Bundy and Johnson but distinguished the instant matter on the grounds that it first articulated in Beavers. For the reasons that follow, we reject each of the Commonwealth Court’s various theories supporting its decision as endorsed by the DOC and, instead, agree with Washington that the change to the DOC’s Act 84 policy required additional pre-deprivation notice and an opportunity to be heard before the increased rate was applied.

Fairness, in the context of procedural due process, means having the right to notice and the opportunity to be heard before property is taken by the government. Only in exceptional circumstances do these principles of procedural due process permit the substitution of a post-deprivation process for the default requirement. There was nothing exceptional with respect to the amendment to Act 84 to justify the DOC’s failure to afford pre-deprivation notice and an opportunity to be heard in the circumstances of this case. And while fairness in the process does not guarantee substantive relief for the taking, the unavailability of substantive relief at the end of that process is not an exception to the default rule. To deny the right to procedural due process based on the assumption that relief is unavailable is to deny the right to process itself, by subsuming it within the right to property. These rights are distinct and call for different remedies when they are transgressed by government action.

In sustaining the DOC’s preliminary objections, the Commonwealth Court condoned the DOC’s deprivation of Washington’s right to pre-deprivation process when it increased the rate of his Act 84 deductions. Washington may not ultimately be entitled to a return of the additional funds under any theory of relief, but he has right to make his case before the taking occurs. He requested both a hearing and injunctive relief, both of which were in the Commonwealth Court’s power to provide. Accordingly, we conclude the Commonwealth Court erred in granting preliminary objections because it is not certain that no relief is available for the violation of Washington’s right to procedural due process. We therefore reverse the order sustaining preliminary objections and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.