University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
new search
page permalink
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 plaintiffs did not appeal to the Supreme Court. This case is closed.

Eric Weiler - 05/25/2010


compress summary

- click to show/hide ALL -
Issues and Causes of Action
click to show/hide detail
Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Slavery/Involuntary servitude
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action Ex Parte Young (Federal) or 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.
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Denied
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Filed 07/20/2007
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
click to show/hide detail
  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
Court Docket(s)
N.D. Cal.
04/13/2010
3:07−CV−01589
PC-CA-0050-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
05/04/2010
Court of Appeals 08-15969
PC-CA-0050-9001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
N.D. Cal.
07/20/2007
Complaint [ECF# 21]
PC-CA-0050-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
10/15/2007
Memorandum In Support Of Moving Defendants' Motion To Dismiss For Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction And Failure To State A Claim [ECF# 17-1]
PC-CA-0050-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
10/29/2007
First Amended Complaint [ECF# 21]
PC-CA-0050-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
01/24/2008
Plaintiffs' Opposition To Defendants' Motion To Dismiss For Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction [ECF# 26]
PC-CA-0050-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
04/03/2008
District Court Order Granting Defendant's Motion To Dismiss For Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction [ECF# 32] (2008 WL 929525)
PC-CA-0050-0009.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
07/25/2008
Appellants' (Plaintiffs) Brief Re District Court's Order To Dismiss For Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction
PC-CA-0050-0005.pdf | Detail
Source: Westlaw
N.D. Cal.
09/17/2008
Appellees' (Defendants) Reply Brief Re District Court's Order To Dismiss For Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction
PC-CA-0050-0006.pdf | Detail
Source: Westlaw
N.D. Cal.
11/13/2008
Appellants' (Plaintiffs) Reply Brief Re District Court's Order To Dismiss For Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction
PC-CA-0050-0007.pdf | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
04/09/2010
Court of Appeals Opinion Affirming District Court's Order Granting Defendant's Motion To Dismiss For Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction (600 F.3d 1191)
PC-CA-0050-0008.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
show all people docs
Judges Clifton, Richard R. (Ninth Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-CA-0050-0008
Jenkins, Martin J. (N.D. Cal.) show/hide docs
PC-CA-0050-0009 | PC-CA-0050-9000 | PC-CA-0050-9001
Plaintiff's Lawyers Murcko, John (California) show/hide docs
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) show/hide docs
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) show/hide docs
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) show/hide docs
PC-CA-0050-0003
Haas, Alexander K (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-CA-0050-0006 | PC-CA-0050-9001
Katerberg, Robert J (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-CA-0050-0003 | PC-CA-0050-9000
Katsas, Gregory George (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-CA-0050-0006
Keisler, Peter D. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-CA-0050-0003
Raab, Michael S. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-CA-0050-0006 | PC-CA-0050-9001
Russoneillo, Joseph P. (California) show/hide docs
PC-CA-0050-0006
Schools, Scott N (South Carolina) show/hide docs
PC-CA-0050-0003

- click to show/hide ALL -

new search
page permalink

- top of page -