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BOP Prisoner’s FTCA Wage Suit States Cause of Action

In February 2016, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a Florida district court’s order dismissing a prisoner’s Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) complaint that alleged a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) guard had withheld his wages.

Before the Court was the appeal of federal prisoner Frank Douglas, who said that while incarcerated at FCC Coleman he worked a trash shift several days a week, which required him to “operate [] a very dangerous recycl[ing] machine for cardboard.” He was one of two prisoners who operated the machine, the contents of which “weighed one or two tons” and had to be loaded into a semi-truck three or four times a week.

BOP policy assigns prison workers to one of four pay grades. In March and April 2012, Douglas’ supervisor signed a “work performance rating” form that indicated he performed “satisfactory work” at a pay grade of 1, entitling him to $91.60 for 154 hours of work each month. Douglas alleged that a Lt. Barker, who entered prisoner pay data into the computer, reduced his monthly wages to just $7.20 and $12.00. According to Douglas, Lt. Barker said he reduced the wages because “I don’t like Inmate Douglas [sic] black ass and I’m going to pay him what I want.”

Douglas filed a Small Claims for Property Loss form with the BOP in April 2012, which was denied two months later. He then filed his FTCA suit, which included claims of retaliation, racial discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The BOP moved to dismiss the case under F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6), arguing the pay claim was barred by the FTCA’s discretionary function exception and the other claims were barred by the FTCA’s exhaustion requirement. The district court granted the motion and Douglas appealed.

As an initial matter, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that the defendants’ motion to dismiss should be treated as a facial challenge to the complaint rather than a jurisdictional challenge. That conclusion was based on the assertions in the motion and the district court’s response.

As to the complaint, the Court of Appeals held that Douglas had raised a plausible claim which fell outside the discretionary function exception. “Once a supervisor evaluated Mr. Douglas’s work and computed his pay, the decision to pay him the computed amount was not discretionary,” the Court wrote. “It was mandated by BOP’s own regulation.”

The appellate court, however, held the other claims were properly dismissed because Douglas did not administratively exhaust them prior to filing suit, as required by the FTCA. [See: PLN, Mar. 2014, p.44]. The district court’s order was reversed in part and affirmed in part, and the case remains pending on remand. See: Douglas v. United States, 814 F.3d 1268 (11th Cir. 2016). 

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Douglas v. United States


 

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