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Wisconsin Civil Commitment Patients Denied Minimum Wage

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals held on March 31, 2010 that civilly committed patients are not entitled to minimum wage for the work they perform.

Hung Nam Tran and Eric L. Fankhauser are civilly committed patients confined at the Wisconsin Resource Center (WRC) as “sexually violent persons” pursuant to Wisc. Stat., ch. 980.

In 2005, it was WRC policy to compensate patients for the work they performed, “consistent with current Federal Minimum Wage” (FLSA) laws. Following a January 31, 2007 memorandum, however, WRC Warden Thomas Speech reduced the WRC patient wage rates to below minimum wage, effective March 4, 2007.

On October 26, 2007, Tran and Fankhauser challenged the new pay policy by filing a petition for a writ of certiorari in state court. On April 21, 2009, the trial court issued an order quashing the writ and dismissing their petition.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed. Noting that the Seventh Circuit had resolved the same issue in Sanders v. Hayden, 544 F.3d 812 (7th Cir. 2008), the court agreed “with the Seventh Circuit: persons civilly committed because they were sexually violent are not covered by the FLSA.” The Seventh Circuit had noted in Hayden that “The reason the FLSA contains no express exception for prisoners is probably that the idea was too outlandish to occur to anyone when the legislation was under consideration by Congress,” citing Bennett v. Frank, 395 F.3d 409 (7th Cir. 2005) [PLN, April 2006, p.40].

Additionally, the appellate court found the legislative history of Wisconsin’s statutes defeated the plaintiffs’ arguments, and “Tran and Fankhauser point to nothing that demonstrates that Warden Speech could not act in his capacity as warden to change policy and procedure.” Finally, the court denied the plaintiffs’ substantive due process claim, concluding that they failed to establish the deprivation of a protected liberty or property interest. See: State of Wisconsin ex rel Hung Nam Tran and Eric L. Fankhauser v. Speech, 324 Wis.2d 567, 782 N.W.2d 106 (Wis.App. 2010).

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Related legal case

State of Wisconsin ex rel Hung Nam Tran and Eric L. Fankhauser v. Speech