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VARGAS v. PATAKI

September 30, 1995

LUIS VARGAS, Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGE E. PATAKI, Governor of New York State; PHILIP COOMBE, Acting Comissioner of the Department of Correctional Services; and JAMES F. RECORE, Director of Temporary Release Program, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCAVOY

 I. INTRODUCTION

 Presently before this Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, the Court agrees with Defendants and hereby grants Defendant's Motion to Dismiss without leave to amend.

 II. BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff, who was convicted of manslaughter in the first degree, is presently incarcerated at the Bare Hill Correctional Facility. While his application for participation in the Program was pending, the New York state legislature amended the governing statute so as to render Plaintiff and all other individuals convicted of homicide ineligible to participate. N.Y. Correct. Law § 851.2 (McKinney 1987 & Supp. 1995) ("No person under sentence for any homicide offense . . . shall be eligible to participate in a work release program").

 Plaintiff claims that inmates convicted of homicide offenses who already had begun participating in the Program at the time of the amendment's enactment have been allowed to continue work in the Program. Plaintiff claims this disparate treatment of similarly situated individuals implicates the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Moreover, Plaintiff maintains that the disputed statutory amendment, as applied, works retroactively to impose "after-the-fact punishment."

 II. DISCUSSION

 A. MOTION TO DISMISS--LEGAL STANDARD

 In general, a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim rests upon "the sufficiency of a complaint." Green v. Maraio, 722 F.2d 1013, 1016 (2d Cir. 1983) (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 40 L. Ed. 2d 90, 94 S. Ct. 1683 (1974)). When dealing with a pro se plaintiff, the Court is obligated "to apply a more flexible standard." Platsky v. CIA, 953 F.2d 26, 28 (2d Cir. 1991). More specifically, the Court should construe the Complaint liberally, granting a motion to dismiss only where it appears "beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 521, 30 L. Ed. 2d 652, 92 S. Ct. 594 (1972) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957)); Platsky, 953 F.2d at 28. Here, Defendants argue that even if all the facts stated in the Complaint are true, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief.

 B. EQUAL PROTECTION NOT IMPLICATED

 Plaintiff is correct that "prison inmates do not shed all fundamental protections of the Constitution at the prison gates." Hernandez v. Coughlin, 18 F.3d 133, 137 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 130 L. Ed. 2d 63, 115 S. Ct. 117 (1994); see also Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 84, 96 L. Ed. 2d 64, 107 S. Ct. 2254 (1987) ("Federal courts must take cognizance of the valid constitutional claims of prison inmates"). Certainly, the Fourteenth Amendment stands as one of the most cherished of our protections against deprivation of personal liberties; nevertheless, the Court cannot agree with Plaintiff that the statute at issue violates the Constitution.

 As a preliminary matter, the Supreme Court has instructed that absent classification "by race, alienage, or national origin, . . . legislation is presumed to be valid and will be sustained if the classification drawn by the statute is rationally related to a legitimate state interest." City of Cleburne, Tex. v. Cleburne Living Ctr., Inc., 473 U.S. 432, 440, 87 L. Ed. 2d 313, 105 S. Ct. 3249 (1985). Thus, strict scrutiny is to be used only where the classification "involves a fundamental right or a suspect class." Moss v. Clark, 886 F.2d 686, 689 (4th Cir. 1989). Prisoners, however, whether considered as an aggregate or classified according to offense, "are not a suspect class." Id. at 690. Nor is participation in a work release program a fundamental right. See id. (finding "no fundamental right to parole or to release from sentence of incarceration"). Consequently, the strict scrutiny standard is inapplicable to the matter at hand, and the Court need "seek only the assurance that the classification at issue bears some fair relationship to a legitimate public purpose." Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 216, 72 L. Ed. 2d 786, 102 S. Ct. 2382 (1981).

 Certainly, the legislative enactment at issue bears a rational relationship to the popular desire that, in any work release program, the risk to public safety be minimized. Under a deferential standard of review, then, the Court is not prepared to deem the amended ...


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