South Dakota prison inmate suing federal government over COVID-19 stimulus money

Ruling in California sides with those incarcerated, but Springfield prisoner says he still hasn't gotten funds


A South Dakota prison inmate has sued the federal government regarding not receiving coronavirus stimulus funds paid out earlier this year.

Kelly Warfield, 47, brought the lawsuit in August against U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service Charles Retting. The lawsuit has not yet been fully resolved and is being handled by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Roberto Lange.

But most of the issue has already been taken up earlier this year in another federal court case. A judge in the Northern District of California ruled in favor of two California plaintiffs on Sept. 24 granting class-action certification and a preliminary injunction to stop the federal government from excluding incarcerated people from CARES Act funding. Because of that ruling, the IRS extended the deadline for filing claims related to the ruling to as far as Nov. 21.

Last month, attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice Tax Division argued that Warfield’s case should be dismissed or stayed because of the California class-action lawsuit making the same arguments. It also argued that the California case was first, therefore having the first right to be docketed.

“Mr. Warfield’s eligibility for such benefits, however, is already pending in a class action of which Warfield is a member,” wrote Richard Zuckerman, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division.


Warfield is representing himself and says he hasn’t received his $1,200 or gotten a benefit from the California case. Once he does, he wrote earlier this month, he’d be willing to drop his lawsuit.

“By depriving the plaintiffs their entitled cash assistance now for unlawful and unconstitutional reasons — in the midst of a pandemic that has caused their families, like many others, serious hardships — the defendants have inflicted particularly severe injuries on an especially vulnerable group and their families,” he wrote.

Warfield is housed at the Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield. He has been serving a 65-year sentence on burglary, kidnapping and rape charges out of Pennington County since 2003.

Warfield didn’t provide any insight in his lawsuit as to why he didn’t receive his payment initially or if he felt South Dakota prison officials were inhibiting it. A Dec. 4 case filing from Warfield said he had not benefited from the relief in the California action and that he should have received his payment by Dec. 1. He detailed that he was trying to get his payment sent to a family address in Nebraska and wrote about his issues with the IRS in getting his payment.

The Marshall Project -- a nonprofit news organization covering criminal justice in the U.S. -- reported earlier this year that the IRS initially issued payments to those in prison because the federal stimulus didn’t explicitly disqualify those who were incarcerated. In May, an IRS internal auditor noted that the checks were being sent to prisoners, and the IRS stopped sending them and said those who had already received the money should pay it back. In June, the Department of Treasury reported that the federal government had paid $100 million to about 85,000 prisoners.

In a filing this week, Zuckerman wrote that Warfield’s case should not proceed further, given the progress made in California and recommended that the court dismiss or stay the Warfield case.

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at
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