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Fifth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Texas Challenge to Forced Prison Labor

On May 1, 2019, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s dismissal of claims by a Texas state prisoner related to his “religiously-motivated decision not to participate in an unpaid prison work program.” The court has an interesting way of saying the prisoner claimed that slavery was against his religion—especially when he was the slave.

In a state civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Shahram Shakouri sued 11 Texas prison officials, alleging they violated his First Amendment right to freedom of religion and Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection, and retaliated against him for exercising his constitutional rights. Further, he alleged that the prison work program—essentially being forced to labor without pay—violated the Thirteenth Amendment’s prohibition against slavery.

The defendants had the action removed to federal court. Shakouri filed a motion to remand to state court, which was denied. Then his complaint was dismissed. He appealed.

The Fifth Circuit held that Shakouri’s contention that a defendant’s notice of removal was untimely because a defendant has until 30 days after service of process to file the notice and the defendant who filed the notice was never properly served. Instead, Shakouri served the defendant’s process on the Texas Attorney General, an improper method of service under state law.

The Fifth Circuit also noted this: Under binding precedent, a prisoner cannot state a Thirteenth Amendment claim for being required to work and the district court did not abuse its discretion when dismissing the First and Fourteenth Amendment claims as malicious as he had unsuccessfully raised them in a previous lawsuit and, therefore, there could be no retaliation for asserting a constitutional right. The court affirmed the dismissal.

Shakouri might have had better luck bringing his claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalize Persons Act.
See: Shakouri v. Davis, No. 17-20738 (5th Cir. 2019)

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Related legal case

Shakouri v. Davis