WOFFORD et al v. LANIGAN et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Esther Salas on 12/28/2015. (ld, )
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
ARTHUR WOFFORD and VINCENT :
Civil Action No. 14-5723 (ES) (JAD)
GARY LANIGAN, et al.,
ESTHER SALAS, U.S.D.J.
Pending before the Court is the motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Gary Lanigan,
Beverly Hasting, and the New Jersey Department of Corrections. (D.E. No. 8). The Court decides
the motion without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78(b). For the
reasons stated below, Defendants’ motion is GRANTED.
In 1983, Arthur Wofford and Vincent Ray (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) were each sentenced
to a mandatory minimum of thirty years imprisonment. (D.E. No. 1 Complaint (“Compl.”) ¶¶ 10,
20). Plaintiffs earned a number of “work and commutation credits” (“credits”) in order to reduce
their term of imprisonment imposed by the courts. (Id. ¶ 11). While incarcerated, Plaintiffs
accumulated a combined total of approximately 15,505 credits. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 20). However,
Plaintiffs could not use their credits to reduce their time of imprisonment because their sentences
were subject to a mandatory minimum. (Id. ¶ 12).
Plaintiffs now bring suit against Gary Lanigan, the Commissioner of the New Jersey
Department of Corrections, (“Lanigan”); Beverly Hastings, Administrator of East Jersey State
Prison, (“Hastings”); and the New Jersey Department of Corrections, (the “Department”)
(collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiffs allege that, upon their release from prison in 2012, they
should have been financially compensated for each credit they earned while incarcerated. (Id. ¶¶
7, 8). Specifically, Plaintiffs contend that they have recognizable liberty and property interests in
their credits and that Defendants’ failure to compensate Plaintiffs for those credits violates
Plaintiffs’ Fifth Amendment rights under the Takings Clause and Plaintiffs’ Fourteenth
Amendment rights under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. (Id. ¶¶ 28, 29).
Plaintiffs bring the following claims against Defendants, both in their official and
individual capacities, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983:
1) Lanigan and Hastings “refuse to compensate Plaintiffs” for the credits they
earned while incarcerated and thus are in violation of the Takings Clause of the
2) Lanigan and Hastings “refuse to compensate Plaintiffs” for the credits they
earned while incarcerated, even though other inmates were allowed to use their
credits to earn sentence reductions, and thus are in violation of the Due Process and
Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.
(Id. ¶¶ 24, 28, 29).
Plaintiffs seek the following relief from the Court:
1) Compensatory damages in the amount of $100.00 per credit earned; 1
2) A declaratory judgment mandating that Defendants enact and enforce a policy such that
inmates serving sentences not eligible for credit reductions are compensated for earned
3) Court fees and costs; and
4) Any further relief deemed equitable and proper by the Court.
(Id. ¶ 30).
Given the number of credits Plaintiffs earned, this amounts to about $1.5 million.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Section 1983 Actions
A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for certain violations of his
constitutional rights. Section 1983 provides in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or
usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to
be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction
thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the
Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured . . . .
42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Thus, to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege, first, the violation of
a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and second, that the alleged
deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law. See Harvey v.
Plains Twp. Police Dep’t, 635 F.3d 606, 609 (3d Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see also West v.
Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)
In considering a motion to78ismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the
court must “ accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable
to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff
may be entitled to relief.” Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal
quotations omitted). However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations
contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements
of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations omitted). If the “well-pleaded facts do not permit the
court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct,” the complaint should be dismissed
for failing to show “that the pleader is entitled to relief” as required by Rule 8(a)(2). Id. at 679.
Defendants, in their official capacities, are not “persons” under § 1983
Plaintiffs assert all claims against Defendants both individually and in their official
capacities. Defendants counter that they are not amenable to suit under § 1983 because State
defendants in their official capacities are not “persons” under § 1983. The Court agrees.
To be liable under § 1983, a defendant must be a “person.” In Will v. Michigan Dep’t. of
State Police, the Supreme Court held that a State or an official of a State acting in his or her official
capacity is not a “person” within the meaning of § 1983. 491 U.S. 58, 70-71 (1989). However,
the Supreme Court was careful to note that, “our holding here . . . applies only to States or
governmental entities that are considered arms of the state for Eleventh Amendment purposes.”
Id. at 70 (internal quotations omitted).
The Eleventh Amendment provides that, “[t]he judicial power of the United States shall
not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of
the United States by citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.”
U.S. Const. amend. XI. This immunity is available to all States, as well as entities considered
“arms of the state.” N. Ins. Co. of New York v. Chatham Cnty., Ga., 547 U.S. 189, 193 (2006). In
general, “a suit by private parties seeking to impose liability which must be paid from public funds
in a state treasury is barred from federal court by the Eleventh Amendment,” unless such immunity
is explicitly waived. Bell v. Holmes, Civ. No. 13-6955, 2015 WL 851804, at *3 (D.N.J. Feb. 23,
2015); see also Edelman, 415 U.S. at 663. It is important to note that § 1983 does not override a
State’s Eleventh Amendment immunity. See Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 340 (1979). Thus,
in order for a State or one of its agencies to be subject to a suit for money damages, it must consent
to such a suit.
Courts have consistently held that the New Jersey Department of Corrections is not a
“person” subject to liability under § 1983. See Wilson v. Haas, No. 11-7001, 2012 WL 6761819,
at *5 (D.N.J. Dec. 28, 2012); Grabow v. S. State Corr. Facility, 726 F. Supp. 537, 538-39 (D.N.J.
1989). Because the Department is not considered a “person” within the meaning of 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, the Complaint against it is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Moreover, because
Hastings and Lanigan are agents of the Department, they are also not “persons” within the meaning
of § 1983 when acting in their official capacities. See Betts v. New Castle Youth Dev. Ctr., 621
F.3d 249, 254 (3d Cir. 2010) (“Individual state employees sued in their official capacity are also
entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity . . . .”) (citing Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991)).
Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ claims against Lanigan and Hastings, in their official capacities, and the
Department are dismissed with prejudice.
Lanigan and Hastings, in their individual capacities, did not violate Plaintiffs’
Fifth or Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Fifth Amendment Takings Clause
Plaintiffs allege that their Fifth Amendment rights were violated when Lanigan and
Hastings, in their individual capacities, failed to financially compensate Plaintiffs for their earned
credits upon their release from prison. (Compl. ¶¶ 22-25). Plaintiffs argue that this lack of
compensation amounts to a violation of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. (Id. ¶ 24).
The Fifth Amendment, made applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment,
provides that “private property” shall not “be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
U.S. Const. amend. V. Because the “Constitution protects rather than creates property interests,”
the existence of a property interest is determined by reference to independent sources such as state
law. See Phillips v. Wash. Legal Found., 524 U.S. 156, 163-64 (1998) (quoting Bd. of Regents of
State Colleges v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1972)). This is to say that to have a recognizable
property interest in their credits, Plaintiffs “must have more than a unilateral expectation of [them].
They must, instead, have a legitimate claim of entitlement to [them].” James v. Quinlan, 866 F.2d
627, 630 (3d Cir. 1989) (internal citations omitted).
Generally, inmates have no property interest in a job while incarcerated. See id.; see also
Bryan v. Werner, 516 F.2d 233, 240 (3d Cir. 1975); Roth, 408 U.S. at 577. New Jersey courts
have held that, by extension, inmates also have no property interest in “the wages or credits that
can be earned by performing a prison work assignment.” Lorusso v. Pinchak, 701 A.2d 974, 975
(N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1997); see also Sharp v. South Woods State Prison, 2007 WL 2688886,
at * 4 (D.N.J. Sept. 12, 2007); Shabazz v. New Jersey Dep’t. of Corr., 896 A.2d 473, 480 (N.J.
Super. Ct. App. Div. 2006). This is to say that, in order to prevail, Plaintiffs must show that they
have a state created property interest in their credits. To have a state-created property interest in
their credits, Plaintiffs “must have more than a unilateral expectation of [them]. They must,
instead, have a legitimate claim of entitlement to [them].” James, 866 F.2d at 630 (internal
Here, Plaintiffs had no property interest in their credits as they had no “legitimate claim of
entitlement” to them, because their issue was discretionary. See N.J.S.A. § 30:4-92
(“Compensation for inmates of correctional institutions may be in the form of cash or remission of
time from sentence or both.”) (emphasis added). Because the language of the statute is permissive
rather than mandatory, an inference arises that Defendants were not required to provide cash
compensation to inmates. See Powell v. Weiss, 757 F.3d 338, 345 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing Hewitt v.
Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 472 (1983)). Indeed, the inmates were awarded credits for their work, as
permitted by statute, and nothing in the statute requires monetary compensation if the credits go
unused for whatever reason. Plaintiffs’ credits did go unused because the statute under which
Plaintiffs were sentenced, N.J.S.A. § 2C:11-3b, makes clear that those convicted of murder under
its auspices are to have sentences that “must include a thirty-year mandatory minimum term of
imprisonment.” Id. at 705; see also State v. Ramseur, 524 A.2d 188 (N.J. 1987) (noting that
N.J.S.A. § 2C:11-3b requires a mandatory minimum of thirty years imprisonment); N.J.S.A.
§ 34:4-123.51a (making clear that “commutation and work credits shall not in any way reduce any
judicial or statutory mandatory minimum term . . . .”). Because Plaintiffs were serving a maximum
sentence that was the same as their mandatory minimum sentence, they could not use their credits
to shorten their times of imprisonment. See Merola v. Dep’t of Corr., 667 A.2d 702 (N.J. Super.
Ct. App. Div. 1995) (holding that commutation credits cannot be used to obviate a mandatory
minimum sentence or parole ineligibility term); see also Wolff, 418 U.S. at 539 (holding there is
no constitutional right to commutation credits).
Therefore, because Plaintiffs had no property interest in their credits, and because New
Jersey’s compensation statute makes the issue of cash discretionary, Plaintiffs were not due cash
compensation at the time of their release under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. As
such, Plaintiffs’ Fifth Amendment claim against Defendants Lanigan and Hastings in their
individual capacities is dismissed with prejudice.
Fourteenth Amendment – Due Process Clause
Plaintiffs further allege that their rights protected under the Due Process Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-1, were violated when
Defendants refused to compensate Plaintiffs upon completion of their mandatory minimum
sentences. (Compl. ¶ 29). The Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause states that “[n]o state
. . . shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” 2 U.S. Const.
amend. XIV. In order to state a due process claim, Plaintiffs must demonstrate that they were
deprived of an interest encompassed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Hill v. Borough of Kutztown,
455 F.3d 225, 234 (3d Cir. 2006).
In terms of Plaintiffs’ claim of a liberty interest in their credits, the Supreme Court has
ruled that the Constitution itself “does not create a liberty interest in credits” that can be used to
shorten a prison sentence. Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 477 (1995) (citing Wolff v. McDonnell,
418 U.S. 539, 557 (1974)). The Supreme Court did note, however, that statutes could create liberty
interests when the statute at issue “[is] generally limited to freedom from restraint.” Id. at 487.
Despite Plaintiffs’ credits being unrelated to freedom from restraint, Plaintiffs claim that because
they earned credits but were unable to use them to reduce their sentences, Plaintiffs are owed cash
It is well settled, however, that prisoners have no inherent constitutional right to a prison
job and no inherent constitutional right to wages for work performed while incarcerated. See
Planker v. Christie, 2015 WL 268847, at *28 (D.N.J. Jan. 21, 2015) (citing Washlefske v. Winston,
234 F.3d 179 (4th Cir. 2000); Beatty v. DeBruyn, 77 F.3d 484 (Table), 1996 WL 80168, at *1 (7th
Cir. 1996) (“[I]f prison officials can constitutionally require inmates to work without pay, they can
certainly deny prisoners pay for doing nothing.”); Vanskike v. Peters, 974 F.2d 806, 809 (7th Cir.
1992); Newsom v. Norris, 888 F.2d 371, 374 (6th Cir. 1989) (prisoner has no constitutional right
The New Jersey Civil Rights Act states in relevant part that, “[a]ny person who has been deprived of any
substantive due process or equal protection rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution or
laws of the United States, or any substantive rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution or
laws of this States, . . . may bring a civil action for damages . . . .” N.J.S.A. § 10:6-2(c). Accordingly, the
Court shall construe Plaintiffs’ New Jersey Civil Rights Act allegations as premised upon the alleged
deprivation of due process rights under the United States Constitution.
to prison employment or a particular prison job); Draper v. Rhay, 315 F.2d 193, 197 (9th Cir.
1963) (noting that, because the Thirteenth Amendment excludes convicted criminals from the
prohibition of involuntary servitude, prisoners may be required to work without pay), cert. denied,
375 U.S. 915 (1963); Sigler v. Lowrie, 404 F.2d 659, 661 (8th Cir. 1968) (noting that there is no
Constitutional right to compensation for prison work; compensation for prison labor is “by grace
of the state”); see also Murray v. Miss. Dept. of Corr., 911 F.2d 1167, 1167–68 (5th Cir. 1990)
(“Compelling an inmate to work without pay is not unconstitutional . . . compensating prisoners
for work is not a constitutional requirement but, rather, is by the grace of the state.”)).
Additionally, “[t]here is no federally protected right of a state prisoner not to work while
imprisoned after conviction . . . .” Stiltner v. Rhay, 322 F.2d 314, 315 (9th Cir. 1963); Tourscher
v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999). Consequently, a sentenced inmate may
reasonably expect to be required to work without compensation as a result of his conviction. See
Northrop v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, No. 08-0746, 2008 WL 5047792, *9 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 24,
Therefore, Plaintiffs have no recognizable liberty interest in their credits because the
Constitution does not create one, the credits are not related to “freedom from restraint,” Sandin,
515 U.S. at 487, and Plaintiffs have “no inherent constitutional right to wages for work performed
while incarcerated,” Planker, 2015 WL 268847, at *28. Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ due process claim
arising under the Fourteenth Amendment is dismissed with prejudice.
Plaintiffs were not denied Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment
Plaintiffs also allege that their lack of compensation for earned credits at the time of their
release violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A plaintiff asserts a
valid equal protection claim when he is either (a) a member of a protected class and was treated
differently from members of an unprotected class, or (b) he belongs to a “class of one” and was
treated differently from others similarly situated without any rational basis for the difference in
treatment. See Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 563 (2000).
Here, Plaintiffs do not allege in their Complaint that they are members of any suspect class,
nor do they allege that they make up a cognizable “class of one.” This is to say that, in their
Complaint, Plaintiffs do not allege that they were treated differently because of their membership
in a protected class, or that other prisoners similarly situated were treated differently. Because
Plaintiffs do not allege any facts in their Complaint that could make out a claim for an Equal
Protection violation, Plaintiffs’ claim is dismissed without prejudice. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 665
(“While legal conclusions can provide the complaint’s framework, they must be supported by
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs’ Complaint is dismissed with prejudice, except as to
Plaintiffs’ Equal Protection claim, which is dismissed without prejudice. An appropriate Order
will be entered.
Esther Salas, U.S.D.J.
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