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Case Name Serra v. Lappin PC-CA-0050
Docket / Court 3:07-cv-01589-MJJ ( N.D. Cal. )
State/Territory California
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Case Summary
On July 20, 2007, former prison inmates filed a complaint against the United States Bureau of Prisons on behalf of a class of federal prisoners who earned wages for prison jobs. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Judge Martin Jenkins (retired) ... read more >
On July 20, 2007, former prison inmates filed a complaint against the United States Bureau of Prisons on behalf of a class of federal prisoners who earned wages for prison jobs. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Judge Martin Jenkins (retired) alleged that the prison wages (as low as 19 cents per hour) violated the Fifth and Thirteenth Amendments and International Law.

The plaintiffs sought declaratory relief and an injunction ordering prison officials to pay either $25 an hour, $500 per week, or "equitable remuneration" to working prisoners.. They also sought compensatory and punitive monetary damages, attorneys fees and costs, and treble damages for antitrust violations.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. The District Court granted this motion in Serra v. Lappin et al, No.07-01589, 2008 WL 929525 (N.D. Cal. April 3, 2008). Specifically, the court held:

(1) Sovereign immunity ruled out monetary damages claims because the defendants were acting in their official capacities;

(2) Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) did not create a right to relief because the defendants were acting in their official capacities;

(3) The plaintiffs failed to present a cognizable Thirteenth Amendment claim because the amendment specifically allows involuntary servitude as part of incarceration for a crime;

(4) The Fifth Amendment protects only existing rights in life, liberty, and property. Because prisoners have no legal entitlement to payment for prison work, there was no interest at stake.

(5) The ICCPR was not a self-executing treaty and Congress had not enacted implementing legislation---thus federal courts lacked the power to enforce it; and

(6) The U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for Prisoners was a "guidance document," not a treaty, and even if it were a treaty, it was not self-executing.



The Court of Appeals, in Serra v. Lappin et al, No. 08-15969, 2010 WL 1407795 (9th Cir. Apr. 9, 2010), affirmed the District Court's order of dismissal, with essentially the same reasoning but elaborating on a few issues:

(1) Federal courts may not apply the "customary law of nations" in the absence of a statute. The Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1350, which gives original jurisdiction to federal courts "of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States," did not apply because the plaintiffs were not "aliens."

(2) Regarding the Fifth Amendment claim, the court noted that the Plaintiffs may have had a claim if they argued that prison officials had deprived them of wages to which they were duly entitled under the federal prison wage system, but this was not the case.

The Court of Appeals' decision was the last in the case. It is unclear whether the plaintiffs will appeal to the Supreme Court.

Eric Weiler - 05/25/2010


compress summary

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action Bivens
Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. § 2674
Defendant(s) U.S. Government - Federal Bureau of Prisons
Plaintiff Description Class of federal prisoners who earned wages at prison jobs while incarcerated.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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Case Studies Civil Rights Injunctions Over Time: A Case Study of Jail and Prison Court Orders
N.Y.U. Law Review
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University)
Citation: 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 550 (2006)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons
By: Malcolm M. Feeley & Edward Rubin (UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law & Vanderbilt School of Law Faculty)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

Docket(s)
3:07−CV−01589 (N.D. Cal.) 04/13/2010
PC-CA-0050-9000.pdf | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Court of Appeals 08-15969 (U.S. Court of Appeals) 05/04/2010
PC-CA-0050-9001.pdf | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint 07/20/2007
PC-CA-0050-0001.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum In Support Of Moving Defendants' Motion To Dismiss For Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction And Failure To State A Claim 10/15/2007
PC-CA-0050-0003.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Complaint 10/29/2007
PC-CA-0050-0002.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiffs' Opposition To Defendants' Motion To Dismiss For Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction 01/24/2008
PC-CA-0050-0004.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
District Court Order Granting Defendant's Motion To Dismiss For Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction 04/03/2008 (2008 WL 929525) (N.D. Cal.)
PC-CA-0050-0009.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Appellants' (Plaintiffs) Brief Re District Court's Order To Dismiss For Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction 07/25/2008
PC-CA-0050-0005.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Appellees' (Defendants) Reply Brief Re District Court's Order To Dismiss For Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction 09/17/2008
PC-CA-0050-0006.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Appellants' (Plaintiffs) Reply Brief Re District Court's Order To Dismiss For Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction 11/13/2008
PC-CA-0050-0007.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Court of Appeals Opinion Affirming District Court's Order Granting Defendant's Motion To Dismiss For Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction 04/09/2010 (600 F.3d 1191)
PC-CA-0050-0008.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Judges Clifton, Richard R. (Ninth Circuit)
PC-CA-0050-0008
Jenkins, Martin J. (N.D. Cal.)
PC-CA-0050-0009 | PC-CA-0050-9000 | PC-CA-0050-9001
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Murcko, John (California)
PC-CA-0050-0001 | PC-CA-0050-0002 | PC-CA-0050-0004 | PC-CA-0050-0005 | PC-CA-0050-0007 | PC-CA-0050-9000 | PC-CA-0050-9001
Perelson, Stephan Jay (California)
PC-CA-0050-0001 | PC-CA-0050-0002 | PC-CA-0050-0004 | PC-CA-0050-0005 | PC-CA-0050-0007 | PC-CA-0050-9000 | PC-CA-0050-9001
Simpich, William Morris (California)
PC-CA-0050-0001 | PC-CA-0050-0002 | PC-CA-0050-0004 | PC-CA-0050-0005 | PC-CA-0050-0007 | PC-CA-0050-9000 | PC-CA-0050-9001
Defendant's Lawyers Garvey, Vincent M. (District of Columbia)
PC-CA-0050-0003
Haas, Alexander K (District of Columbia)
PC-CA-0050-0006 | PC-CA-0050-9001
Katerberg, Robert J (District of Columbia)
PC-CA-0050-0003 | PC-CA-0050-9000
Katsas, Gregory G. (District of Columbia)
PC-CA-0050-0006
Keisler, Peter D. (District of Columbia)
PC-CA-0050-0003
Raab, Michael S. (District of Columbia)
PC-CA-0050-0006 | PC-CA-0050-9001
Russoneillo, Joseph P. (California)
PC-CA-0050-0006
Schools, Scott N (South Carolina)
PC-CA-0050-0003
Other Lawyers None on record

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