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Carter v. Dutchess Community College

decided: May 14, 1984.


Appeal from a judgment entered in the Southern District of New York, Robert L. Carter, District Judge, granting defendants' motions for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff, as a state prison inmate, was not entitled to the federal minimum wage as prescribed by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Timbers, Kearse and Pierce, Circuit Judges.

Author: Timbers

TIMBERS, Circuit Judge:

This is an appeal from a summary judgment entered January 11, 1983 on the motions of defendants in the Southern District of New York, Robert L. Carter, District Judge. The court granted the motions based on the report and recommendation of Magistrate Naomi Reice Buchwald, dated December 13, 1982. The magistrate recommended that, because plaintiff Louis Carter, as a state inmate, is under the "ultimate control" of the New York State Department of Correctional Services, he cannot be an employee of defendant Dutchess Community College within the meaning of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. (1982). We reverse and remand.


At the time this § 1983 action was commenced on February 25, 1981, Carter was an inmate at the Fishkill Correctional Facility (FCF) in New York. He alleged that he was participating in a program at FCF conducted by Dutchess Community College (DCC), pursuant to which, in conjunction with the several college level courses offered by DCC to inmates at FCF, DCC "employ[ed] several inmates in [the] institution (using only those who have actually graduated from a four-year college program) to act as teaching assistants to our regular staff." In his amended complaint filed December 5, 1981, Carter alleged that he was compensated at a level well below the federal minimum wage, in violation of the FLSA.

The origins of the inmate-teaching assistant program at FCF can be traced to a letter dated March 25, 1978 from defendant F. Kennon Moody, a former Coordinator of Inmate Education at DCC, to defendant Walter Chattman, who at the time was the Director of Educational Services for the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DCS). In that letter Moody first proposed the program. The duties of the inmate-teaching assistants would include meeting with DCC teachers, attending class meetings, and tutoring inmate-students outside of classroom hours. Moody requested the permission of DCS to supplement the inmates' prison wages so that a total day's salary would amount to between $3 and $4, five days a week. Moody also suggested that DCC send a check on a monthly basis to the prison's Office of Inmates Accounts to cover the supplementary wages.

The inquiry regarding the payment of supplementary wages to inmates was referred to defendant Patrick J. Fish, an attorney with DCS. According to Chattman's memorandum of April 20, 1978 to a deputy superintendent of programs, Fish advised that he saw "no legal impediment" to the supplementary compensation plan.

DCC then conducted a screening process to find inmates it considered to be qualified for the teaching assistant positions. Eligibility criteria were determined solely by DCC. DCC then submitted to DCS a list of inmates who it recommended be permitted by DCS to participate in the teaching assistant program. It is not clear from the record how many inmates were proposed by DCC, and consequently how many, if any, were rejected by DCS. What is clear is that Carter was among the eight inmates selected during the Fall of 1980. He was selected to conduct twenty tutorial classes in business math, all of which were held within the prison. Each session lasted 2 -1/2 hours. He was paid a total of $60, which breaks down to $3 per class, or $1.20 per hour. The federal minimum wage at the time was $3.10 per hour.

At some point during or after his participation in the teaching assistant program, Carter learned that student tutors at the campus of DCC earned at least the minimum wage, which DCC was required to pay by law. On February 4, 1981, Carter wrote letters to the Director of Education at DCS and the Director of Financial Aid at DCC, inquiring about the disparate compensation scheme. He referred in both letters to the fact that the current Coordinator of Inmate Education at DCC had told Carter that DCS did not permit DCC to pay any more than $3 per day.

Carter received a prompt response on February 10 from the DCC Director of Financial Aid, Daniel Sistarenik, who informed Carter that indeed DCS did restrict the maximum amount of compensation that could be paid to the inmate tutors. Sistarenik advised Carter to state his concerns to DCS. By the time Carter commenced his § 1983 pro se action on February 25, he had received no response from DCS. He attached the response he finally did receive, dated April 9, to his affidavit in opposition to defendants' motions to dismiss. This letter told Carter to direct his concerns to DCC.

In his pro se complaint, Carter named DCS and DCC as defendants. He alleged that he had been denied the equal protection of the laws, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and had been subjected to involuntary servitude in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. He sought back wages in amount of $107.50, plus interest, punitive damages in amount of $150,000, and an injunction requiring defendants to begin paying all tutors the same compensation.

After DCS was dismissed from the action by an order entered June 17, 1981, Carter filed an amended complaint on November 23, 1981. The amended complaint added the individual defendants Moody, Chattman and Fish and alleged that defendants' actions violated the labor laws by compensating him at a rate less than the minimum wage.

On July 20, 1982, defendants DCC and Moody filed a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). On July 21, 1982, defendants Chattman and Fish filed a similar motion to dismiss. The motions were referred to the magistrate in accordance with a prior order referring the entire case to her.

In her well reasoned report and recommendation to Judge Carter, the magistrate rejected both constitutional arguments made by plaintiff. These ...

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