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Banks v. Roberts

May 31, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


Presently before the court is a motion to dismiss (Doc. 25) the amended complaint*fn1 (Doc. 9) of plaintiff Frederick Banks ("Banks"), filed on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP"), and prison officials from the United States Penitentiary-Canaan ("USP-Canaan") in Waymart, Pennsylvania (collectively, "defendants").*fn2 Banks contends that defendants have denied him the federal minimum wage for his work at USP-Canaan. He also makes several allegations regarding prison conditions at USP-Canaan. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss will be granted.

I. Statement of Facts

Banks' amended complaint, filed July 5, 2006, contains sixteen (16) counts against defendants, set forth as Bivens*fn3 claims, a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) claim, a claim of negligence, and claims under the False Claims Act. At all relevant times, Banks was incarcerated at USP-Canaan.*fn4

A. Bivens Claims

Banks first alleges that defendants "conspired to deny Banks his constitutional rights to equal protection and equal treatment by paying him lower wages than other inmates in the same pay grade and denying him the possibility of bonuses and refused to pay him the federal minimum wages even though he is a federal employee and is entitled to be payed minimum wage." (Doc. 9 at 1.) He also complains of dirty showers, a "diet of chicken and out dated pudding," and an overcrowded housing unit at USP-Canaan. (Doc. 9 at 5.) In addition, Banks claims that when he challenged these conditions through the BOP administrative remedy procedure, defendants retaliated against him by "curtailing his postage" in order to prevent him from filing documents with the "various courts and BOP officials." (Id.)

The record shows that Banks filed twenty-three (23) requests for administrative remedy from USP-Canaan on various topics and to various levels, including both the Northeast Regional and Central Offices. (Doc. 26-2, Exhibit ("Ex.") 1.)*fn5 Several of those requests pertain to Banks' claims in the amended complaint.

On June 21, 2006, Banks filed administrative remedy 417605-F1, requesting "equal pay and bonuses and a job in UNICOR." (Ex. 1 at ¶ 9.) That request was denied on July 5, 2006, and there is no record of Banks appealing the decision. (Id.) Also on June 21, 2006, Banks filed administrative remedy 417685-F1, requesting the "national minimum wage rather than .12/hour." (Ex. 1 at 7.) That request was also denied on July 5, 2006. (Id.) There is no record of Banks appealing that decision. (Ex. 1 at ¶ 10.)

On June 27, 2006, Banks filed administrative remedy 418393-F1, claiming the showers drains were not functioning and were a health concern. (Ex. 1 at 8.) That request was denied on July 10, 2006. (Id.) Banks did not appeal this decision. (Id.)

On June 27, 2006, Banks filed administrative remedy 418655-F1 concerning his allegations of overcrowding in his housing unit. (Ex. 1 at 8.) That request was denied on July 12, 2006. (Id.) Banks appealed that decision to the Northeast Regional Office with administrative remedy 418655-R1 on July 25, 2006. (Ex. 1 at 15.) The Regional Office denied his request on July 26, 2006. (Id.) There is no record of Banks appealing that decision.

On May 26, 2006, Banks filed administrative remedy 414747-F1, requesting stamps, but withdrew that request on May 30, 2006. (Ex. 1 at 5.) On June 23, 2006, Banks filed administrative remedy 417833-F1, requesting "unlimited postage stamps/envelopes." (Ex. 1 at 7.) This request was denied on July 10, 2006. (Id.) Banks did not appeal either of these decisions. The record indicates, however, that USP-Canaan officials issued stamps to Banks as follows: June 1, 2006 (seven (7) stamps for legal mail); June 6, 2006 (sixteen (16) stamps for legal mail); June 7, 2006 (twenty-six (26) stamps for legal mail); June 9, 2006 (three (3) stamps for legal mail); June 12, 2006 (ten (10) stamps for legal mail); June 16, 2006 (sixty-four (64) stamps for legal mail); and, June 19, 2006 (thirty-six (36) stamps for legal mail). (Doc. 26-2, Ex. 2 at ¶ 2.)*fn6 Additionally, the record indicates that, in accordance with BOP policy, Banks was issued five (5) stamps at no cost on June 20, 2006, and June 26, 2006, and informed that he would be issued five (5) stamps per week thereafter. (Ex. 2 at ¶ 3.)*fn7

B. FTCA Claim

In his amended complaint, Banks asserts that he "filed a Federal Tort Claim against the federal bureau of prisons and is entitled to damages for the herein cited violations." (Doc. 9 at 4.) In a notice to the court, defendants submitted documentation revealing that Banks exhausted his FTCA claim.*fn8 (Doc. 30.) That documentation indicates that Banks filed an administrative tort claim relating to his claims over his wages with the Northeast Regional Office on June 26, 2006.*fn9 (See Doc. 30-2 at 4.) That claim was originally denied by the Regional Office due to Banks' failure to sign the claim. (Id.) Subsequently, Banks' claim was properly received by the Regional Office on August 7, 2006, and denied on February 1, 2007.*fn10

(Doc. 30-2 at 6.) In denying the claim, the agency found that Banks, in fact, had received bonuses for his work as a landscaper; there was no evidence of Banks receiving treatment different from other inmates; an inmate is not entitled to the federal minimum wage for non-inmate employees; and, Banks had never entered into a contract with UNICOR for his employment at the prison.*fn11 (Id.)

In addition, Banks asserts count fifteen (15) under negligence. In his amended complaint, he contends that USP-Canaan officials violated their duty to "protect him from harm and defend [Banks'] earning power to the fullest." (Doc. 9 at 4.) He argues that defendants breached these duties owed to him "when they flat out refused to bring Bank's [sic] pay up to snuff with other inmates, refused to provide bonuses, refused to place him in UNICOR even though he had signed a contract and even ignored his request because of his indigence to give him a tube of tooth paste." (Id.) Banks essentially raised these same claims when he filed his FTCA claim to the Regional Office.

Insofar as Banks is seeking damages for the negligence of BOP employees with regard to their protection of him as a federal inmate, it is the FTCA which confers on district courts subject matter jurisdiction over negligence actions against the United States. See 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). Consequently, and in the interest of justice to this pro se litigant, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972), the court will construe this claim as one brought under the FTCA.*fn12

C. False Claims Act

Banks asserts counts eight (8) through fourteen (14) under the False Claims Act, see 31 U.S.C. § 3729 et seq., claiming that defendants "violated the False Claims Act by deceiving the United States and withholding wages from hardworking indigent inmates including Banks that they are entitled to." (Doc. 9 at 3.) In addition, he states, "Defendants violated the False Claims Act because they are withholding money from inmates, claiming there is a budget crunch, then reapplying the misused funds to their own benefit." (Id.)

Banks' argument here relates to his claim that he is entitled to the minimum wage for civilian non-prisoner federal employees. In support, Banks asserts that he is "a Federal Employee who happens to be an inmate." (Id.) In their motion to dismiss, defendants contend that Banks' False Claims Act claims should be dismissed because Banks, as a federal inmate, is not an employee in the context of minimum wage for purposes of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, see 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-209.

II. Motion to Dismiss

A. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for dismissal of a claim that fails to assert a basis upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). In the context of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom. Langford v. City of Atlantic City, 235 F.3d 845, 847 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996)). Although the court is generally limited in its review to the facts alleged in the complaint, it "may also consider matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1385 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997) (stating that, although a district court ruling on a motion to dismiss may not generally consider matters extraneous to the pleadings, a "document integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint" may be considered "without converting the motion [to dismiss] into one for summary judgment") (quoting Shaw v. Digital Equip. Corp., 82 F.3d 1194, 1220 (1st Cir. 1996)).

The court will not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond a doubt that "no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002) (quoting Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984)). "The complaint will be deemed to have alleged sufficient facts if it adequately put the defendants on notice of the essential elements of the plaintiffs' cause of action." Langford, 235 F.3d at 847 (quoting Nami, 82 F.3d at 65). The ...

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