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Seizure of Nevada Prisoner Wages Held Constitutional

Nevada prisoners filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that a prison
policy of deducting room and board expenses from wages earned in a work
program violated their constitutionally protected rights of due process
and equal protection. The district court for the district of Nevada held
that Nevada law NRS § 209.461(1) created a property interest in the wages
and therefore due process was required to seize them; however, after the
Nevada legislature amended chapter 209, no property interest existed and
therefore required no due process to seize the wages.

The court further held that the seizure of wages could not be applied
retroactively since prisoners had due process rights under the original
law, but injunctive relief would not be granted as to seizures under the
amended law. As to equal protection, the court held that the prisons
policy of seizing wages for room and board only from those making $75.00 a
month or more was not a constitutional violation; since it did not
classify by "race, alienage, or nationality," the only requirement was
that it be rationally related "to a legitimate state interest." See:
Turner v. Nevada Board of State Prison Commissioners, 624 F.Supp. 318 (D
NV 1985).

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Related legal case

Turner v. Nevada Board of State Prison Commissione

TURNER v. NEVADA BD. OF STATE PRISON COMMRS., 624 F. Supp. 318 (D.Nev. 12/13/1985)


[2] 84-390-ECR

[3] 624 F. Supp. 318, 1985

[4] December 13, 1985

[5] WILLIAM A. TURNER, et al., Plaintiffs,
NEVADA BOARD OF STATE PRISON COMMISSIONERS, an administrative body, et al., Defendants

[6] Terry, Winter & Wessel, By: James W. Wessel, Carson City, Nevada, for Plaintiff. , Brian McKay, Attorney General, By: Arthur G. Noxon, Deputy, Carson City, Nevada, for Defendant.

[7] Reed

[8] The opinion of the court was delivered by: REED


[10] Plaintiffs have filed a complaint alleging violations of their civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs also seek to bring this complaint as a class action. *fn1" Plaintiffs are employed prisoners participating in available work programs earning gross monthly wages in excess of $75.00. Pursuant to Department of Prisons Information Bulletin #83-78, rev. 3/30/84, defendants assess plaintiffs' room and board charges. Plaintiffs allege that the room and board charges which are deducted from their wages violate their due process and equal protection rights.

[11] Defendants move this Court to dismiss this complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. This Court assigned this case to the United States Magistrate, Phyllis Halsey Atkins, for all pretrial proceedings in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). The Magistrate filed her Report and Recommendation recommending to this Court that the motion to dismiss be granted. Plaintiffs filed objections. Defendants moved to strike these objections as not having been timely filed. For the reasons stated below, we deny defendants' motion to strike and reject the Magistrate's recommendation.


[13] The Magistrate entered her Report and Recommendation on June 21, 1985. She recommended that defendants' motion to dismiss be granted. Although the report did not inform plaintiffs of their responsibility to object within 10 days, objections must be made within 10 days pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Plaintiffs filed their opposition to the Magistrate's recommendation on July 10, 1985. The defendants move to strike this opposition as not having been timely filed.

[14] This Court may reconsider any pretrial matter where the Magistrate's order is contrary to law. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). Thus, even if we were to strike the opposition, we will still reconsider this recommendation because we find it to be contrary to law. This Court, therefore, finds it unnecesssary to strike plaintiffs' objections.


[16] Defendants support their motion to dismiss by arguing: (1) that the Board of Prison Commissioners enjoy Eleventh Amendment immunity from this suit; (2) that plaintiffs have no property right to wages free from deductions for their maintenance; and (3) that the classification between working and non-working inmates is rationally related to a legitimate state purpose. Plaintiffs, in opposing defendants' motion, argue that they have a property right conferred by Nevada statute in wages that they earn with deductions only for victim restitution or family support. Plaintiffs assert that their wages were taken for room and board without hearing or notice. In addition, plaintiffs argue that it is irrational to distinguish between those inmates diligent enough to work and those inmates who do not work when determining which inmates must contribute to the cost of their maintenance.

[17] For purposes of ruling on a motion to dismiss, this Court must accept as true all material allegations of the complaint, and must liberally construe the complaint in favor of the complaining party. See Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421, 23 L. Ed. 2d 404, 89 S. Ct. 1843 (1969).


[19] Defendants first move to dismiss the Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners. Plaintiffs consent to this motion. Thus, the motion to dismiss the complaint against the Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners will be granted.


[21] Defendants argue that plaintiffs have no due process claims. Plaintiffs allege that the deductions from their wages for room and board amounts to a deprivation of property without due process of law. Plaintiffs' claims depend upon whether they have property rights to those wages. See Piatt v. MacDougall, 773 F.2d 1032, 1035 (9th Cir. 1985) (en banc).

[22] Nevada law provides that the director of the prison is to establish a program for employment of the offenders. NRS § 209.459. Nevada law, NRS § 209.461(1), further provides that:


1. The director shall:


(a) To the greatest extent possible, establish facilities which approximate the normal conditions of training and employment in the community.


(b) To the extent practicable, require each offender, except those whose behavior is found by the director to preclude participation, to spend 40 hours each week in vocational training or employment, unless excused for a medical reason.


(c) Use the earnings from services and manufacturing conducted by the institutions and the money paid by private employers who employ the offenders or lease space or facilities within the institutions to offset the costs of operating the prison system and to provide wages for the offenders being trained or employed. The director may first deduct from the wages of any offender such amounts as the director deems reasonable to meet any existing obligation of the offender for the support of his family or restitution to any victim of his crime.

[27] NRS § 209.461(1). According to this statute, the only deductions which may be made from the prisoners' wages are those deductions for the support of family or restitution to any victim. This Court finds that the statute is unambiguous and does grant a property interest in an offender's wages.

[28] Further support for this finding is ascertainable from a review of other statutes. For example, the director is required to establish an "offenders' employment fund" for each offender and to deposit the net amount of any wages earned during incarceration. NRS § 209.215. There are no state cases interpreting this statute and, except for NRS § 209.461(1) just discussed wherein only deductions for family support or victim restitution are mandated, no deductions for room and board are authorized. *fn2"

[29] This Court's view that there is clearly no statutory authority for deductions for room and board is shared by the prison warden. The Nevada legislature amended Chapter 209 so that now the prison is allowed by statute to deduct the cost of maintenance from inmates' wages. 1985 Nev. Stat. Ch. 159, Section 1. George Sumner, a prison warden, testified before the Assembly Judiciary Committee. He stated that the reason for the statute was to legally provide for deductions of the cost of maintaining an offender from wages earned while in prison. He further stated that although they had been making such deductions, there was "no statutory authorization for so doing." Hearings on SB 240, Before the Assembly Committee on Judiciary, 1985 Nevada Legislature, April 17, 1985 (statement of George Sumner).