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Kavazanjian v. Naples

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR ONLINE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK


September 26, 2006

RICHARD KAVAZANJIAN AND PATRICK JABBOUR, ON THEIR OWN BEHALF AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHER PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
NANCY A. NAPLES, COMMISSIONER, N.Y.S. DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES; KATHLEEN J. MCHALE, DIRECTOR, D.M.V. CALL CENTERS; JOSEPH P. CRISAFULLI, DIRECTOR, D.M.V. TELEPHONE CUSTOMER SERVICES; THEODORA HUMPHREY, MANAGER, DOWNSTATE CALL CENTERS FOR D.M.V.; RAMONITA RAMIREZ, SUPERVISOR, DOWNSTATE CALL CENTERS FOR D.M.V.; DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK; GLENN S. GOORD, COMMISSIONER, N.Y.S. DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES; JOHN NUTTALL, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER OF PROGRAM SERVICES, N.Y.S. DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES; CHARLES M. DEVANE, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER FOR ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICES, N.Y.S. DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES; DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, ALL IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Gleeson, United States District Judge

PUBLICATION ONLY

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiffs, Richard Kavazanjian and Patrick Jabbour, bring this pro se action pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, § 16(b), as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) ("FLSA") and 28 U.S.C. § 1337. The Court grants plaintiffs' requests to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, but for the reasons discussed below, dismisses the complaint.

A. Background

Richard Kavazanjian and Patrick Jabbour are suing under the FLSA to recover for unpaid minimum wages and overtime compensation. Kavazanjian is currently incarcerated at Arthur Kill Correctional Facility, and Jabbour is on parole supervision. Plaintiffs allege that beginning on January 1, 1998, they were employed by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") based on a contract the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") has with the DMV allowing inmates to work for the DMV's Downstate Call Centers. Compl. at 5, ¶ 13. Plaintiffs' allegations describe their duties:

[We] were engaged in receiving, processing, checking the License, Registration and Title records from Defendants clients all over New York State, the United States, and internationally, or they were engaged in the mailing of instruction and application forms, duplicate Licenses, Registration Documents, or Certificates of Title, which are manufactured by Defendants, or in closely related processes or occupations directly essential to such production.

Compl. at 6, ¶ 15. Plaintiffs maintain that defendants refused to compensate plaintiffs and others for work "in excess of forty (40) hours at rates not less than one and one-half times the regular rates at which they were employed, contrary to the provisions of [the FLSA]," and that defendants "paid . . . less than $1.00 an hour, contrary to the provision of . . . the [FLSA]." Compl. at 6, ¶ 16. Plaintiffs seek unpaid minimum wages and overtime compensation for the hours they worked. Compl. at 7.

B. Standard of Review

In reviewing plaintiffs' complaint, I am mindful that because plaintiffs are proceeding pro se, their submissions should be held "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980); McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197 (2d Cir. 2004). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (e)(2)(B), a district court shall dismiss an in forma pauperis action where it is satisfied that the action is "(i) frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." See also 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

C. Discussion

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay their employees a minimum wage. The minimum wage provisions of the FLSA apply only to workers who are "employees" within the meaning of the Act. See 29 U.S.C. § 206(a). This term must be interpreted in light of the "economic reality" of the relationship between the parties. Goldberg v. Whitaker House Co-op., Inc., 366 U.S. 28, 33 (1961); Danneskjold v. Hausrath, 82 F.3d 37, 44 (2d Cir. 1996). In Danneskjold, the Second Circuit articulated its version of the economic reality test:

We hold that prison labor that produces goods or services for institutional needs of the prison, whether voluntary or involuntary, inside or outside the institution, or in connection with a private employer, is not an employment relationship within the meaning of the FLSA. Where a prisoner's work for a private employer in the local or national economy would tend to undermine the FLSA wage scale . . . the FLSA applies.

Danneskjold, 82 F.3d at 44. The court reasoned that "the voluntary performance of labor that serves institutional needs of the prison is not in economic reality an employment relationship." Id. at 43.

The Danneskjold court contrasted its ruling with that of the Fifth Circuit in Watson v. Graves, 909 F.2d 1549 (5th Cir.1990), which found the FLSA applicable to prison labor with an outside construction company. The Danneskjold court distinguished Watson on the ground that the prisoners in that case "worked at sub-FLSA wages for a company that was not providing services to the prison and that competed with companies required to pay wages set by the FLSA." Danneskjold, 82 F.3d at 44. In light of Watson, the court clarified that its holding "is limited to prison labor that produces goods or services for the use of the prison. We do not address the questions that arise when the prison labor is employed to produce goods or services that are sold in commerce." Id.

The plaintiffs have alleged that they processed DMV records and mailed DMV materials. While it is true that non-prisoner DMV employees may do similar work, it is not true that plaintiffs' services were "sold in commerce." Plaintiffs did not work at "sub-FLSA wages" for a company that "competed with companies required to pay wages set by the FLSA," as the prisoners did in Watson. The DMV is a state agency, and does not compete with any other company in order to provide the services rendered by the plaintiffs. Therefore, it is not possible for the plaintiffs to demonstrate that their labor was the sort that would undermine the FLSA wage scale, and the Second Circuit's ruling in Danneskjold applies here.

Danneskjold's reasoning applies for the additional reason that plaintiffs' labor contributed to the "institutional needs of the prison" by providing an opportunity for job skills and training. See Hale v. Arizona, 993 F.2d 1387, 1398 (9th Cir. 1993) (en banc) (stating that prison labor programs "occupy idle prisoners, reduce disciplinary problems, nurture a sense of responsibility, and provide valuable skills and job training).*fn1

Because plaintiffs were engaged in performance of labor that served (a) another state agency not engaged in commerce, and (b) the institutional needs of the prison, their work for the DMV was not in economic reality an employment relationship. Therefore, I find that plaintiffs have no right to federal minimum wage or hour compensation under the FLSA.

D. Conclusion

Accordingly, the complaint is dismissed for failure to state a claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (e)(2)(B)(ii); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The Court certifies pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3) that any appeal from this Order would not be taken in good faith and therefore in forma pauperis status is denied for purpose of an appeal. Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 444-45 (1962).

So Ordered.

John Gleeson, U.S.D.J.

Pursuant to the Order issued by this Court on September 26, 2006 dismissing the complaint, it is

ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED: That the complaint is hereby dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The Court certifies pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (a)(3) that any appeal from the Court's order would not be taken in good faith and therefore in forma pauperis status is denied for the purpose of an appeal.


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