Davis v. United States

Decision Date25 March 1976
Docket NumberCiv. No. L-2315.
Citation415 F. Supp. 1086
PartiesRichard Lee DAVIS, Plaintiff, v. UNITED STATES of America, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Kansas

Richard C. Wallace, Gen. Counsel, Wyandotte County Legal Aid Society, Kansas City, Kan., for plaintiff.

Monti L. Belot, Asst. U. S. Atty., Kansas City, Kan., for defendant.


THEIS, District Judge.

Richard Lee Davis, the plaintiff herein, and formerly an inmate of the United States Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, has filed this action seeking compensatory relief under 18 U.S.C. § 4126 for injuries allegedly suffered as a consequence of his employment within the federal prison hospital. In previous opinions in this litigation this Court determined that the decision in United States v. Demko, 385 U.S. 149, 87 S.Ct. 382, 17 L.Ed.2d 258 (1966), precluded it from awarding damages as requested in the complaint, but that jurisdiction existed under § 10 of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. § 701, et seq., to subject the administrative decision of the Bureau of Prisons to a narrow review to ascertain its compliance with procedural due process requirements.1 The Court also recognized that judicial review of the merits of the administrative decision itself should be restricted to the "arbitrary and capricious" standard prescribed by the APA.2

Notwithstanding the existence of jurisdiction to review the merits of the claim, the Court believes such action should be deferred until after a constitutional review of the challenged procedures has been completed. This result follows since the existence of constitutional deficiencies in the fact finding process would fatally infect the integrity of the administrative findings below and would preclude the Court from considering the claim on the basis of the present record. Therefore, as an initial matter, the Court must undertake a constitutional scrutiny of the administrative procedures attending 18 U.S.C. § 4126, delineated in 28 C.F.R. §§ 301.1-301.18 (1975 Rev.).

In 18 U.S.C. § 4126, Congress authorized the Federal Prison Industries, Inc., a federal corporation, to award compensation to inmates "for injuries suffered in any industry or in any work activity in connection with the maintenance or operation of the institution where confined" under regulations to be promulgated by the Attorney General. The claim procedure as outlined in 28 C.F.R. § 301.2 requires the inmate to immediately report a work-related injury to his superior.3 After appropriate medical treatment has been administered (if required), the work detail supervisor must secure a record of the cause, nature and extent of the injury by obtaining the names and testimony of all witnesses4 and must submit to the inmate a form for his completion detailing the particulars of the incident and injury.5 After a review of this form by prison officials for completeness, the form must then be forwarded to the Safety Administrator in Washington, accompanied by a physician's statement if the injury necessitated a doctor's attention.6

Although these procedures occur proximately to the time of injury, the actual claim for compensation may not be filed by the inmate earlier than thirty days prior to release date,7 the purpose of the compensatory scheme being to award benefits in proportion to the degree of employment disability suffered by the prisoner at the time of his reentry into the economic community. Within his compensation claim, the inmate must specify the nature of the disability and its effect upon his work capacity after release. After completion of the form by the inmate, the physician conducting the final examination contributes his conclusions concerning the existence, nature, and extent of any disability. Finally, the claim is forwarded to the Office of General Counsel and Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D. C., accompanied by the original report transcribed at the date of the injury, for determination of whether a just claim has been stated and, if so, in what amount compensation should be awarded. Should the claim be denied, the applicant may perfect an appeal to the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, who also decides on the basis of the record submitted.8

This procedure was essentially followed in this case. On August 30, 1971, the plaintiff, with the assistance of a prison official, prepared his written application for submission to the Bureau of Prisons, alleging that he suffered from a condition known as Meniere's disease.9 On August 31, 1971, in accordance with the regulatory provisions, plaintiff was examined by the prison physician at the United States Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, who concluded that the plaintiff did suffer from Meniere's disease, but that no causal connection existed between the condition and the prison-related origins listed on his application.10 Davis' subsequent request for a copy of the completed claim form and all supporting documents was denied, and he was provided no opportunity to respond to the doctor's findings. Plaintiff ultimately gained his release from the penitentiary on September 13, 1971, and two days thereafter his claim file was forwarded to the legal section of the Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D. C. for review on the merits by the Accident Compensation Committee.

Subsequently, on February 11, 1972, the Bureau denied plaintiff's claim with a brief written statement of reasons for the denial, concluding that his condition had developed prior to his incarceration in the penitentiary. After receiving the notice of denial, Davis initiated a series of inquiries seeking additional information for the denial of his claim and requesting an opportunity to personally appear before the Accident Compensation Committee. The Bureau denied his request to appear personally but did further explain the basis for the denial and notified him of his right to appeal to the Director of the Bureau of Prisons in a letter of April 12, 1972. Rather than pursue this course, plaintiff sent a missive to his congressman in which he expressed considerable dissatisfaction with the Bureau's treatment of his claim, prompting a further exchange of correspondence between the congressman and the Bureau to no substantive effect.11 On September 21, 1972, Davis filed a damage claim in this court predicated upon the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671 et seq., which was ultimately dismissed for jurisdictional reasons under the Supreme Court's Demko decision, wherein the Court held 18 U.S.C. § 4126 to be the exclusive remedy for prisoners seeking relief for work-related injuries. Having related the pertinent facts which underlie the controversy, the Court will now address the merits of the due process challenge to the administrative procedures.


Davis contends that the described procedures of the Bureau of Prisons deprive him of due process of law by not affording him the opportunity for an evidentiary hearing to challenge the accuracy of the prison physician's diagnosis and conclusions. He contends that he contracted Meniere's disease while employed as a medical assistant in the prison hospital and contends that such fact could be demonstrated should a hearing be provided. In commencing its assessment of whether and to what extent due process applies in this situation, the Court is mindful of the Supreme Court's explication in Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 481, 92 S.Ct. 2593, 2600, 33 L.Ed.2d 484 (1972), wherein it observed:

"Whether any procedural protections are due depends on the extent to which an individual will be `condemned to suffer grievous loss.' Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee v. McGrath, 341 U.S. 123, 168, 71 S.Ct. 624, 646, 95 L.Ed. 817 (1951) (Frankfurter, J., concurring), quoted in Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 263, 90 S.Ct. 1011, 1018, 25 L.Ed.2d 287 (1970). The question is not merely the `weight' of the individual's interest, but whether the nature of the interest is one within the contemplation of the `liberty or property' language of the Fourteenth Amendment. Fuentes v. Shevin, 407 U.S. 67, 92 S.Ct. 1983, 32 L.Ed.2d 556 (1972). Once it is determined that due process applies, the question remains what process is due."

Necessarily then, the Court must initially consider the nature of the plaintiff's interest and determine whether it is of sufficient fiber to invoke the protections of the Fifth Amendment's due process clause. Succinctly stated, the applicant's interest consists of a claim authorized by statute and regulations to secure compensation for alleged employment disabilities of prison origin that may severely restrict, and sometimes eradicate, his earning potential upon release into society. Although at the application stage of the proceedings neither plaintiff nor a claimant in his position has yet been administratively adjudged entitled to receive benefits under the regulatory scheme, an applicant nonetheless possesses a property interest of sufficient magnitude to invoke the protection of the Fifth Amendment's due process clause. Like the welfare plaintiffs in Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 90 S.Ct. 1011, 25 L.Ed.2d 287 (1970), inmates have been granted an entitlement to compensation benefits under 18 U.S.C. § 4126 and its attendant regulations if they factually satisfy the criteria set forth by the regulations. By their establishment of an objective medical standard for qualification, the regulations create a legitimate expectancy that an individual application will not be denied unless the Bureau factually determines either that the claimant does not suffer from a disability originating from his prison employment, or from one that would affect his work capacity after release. Thus, a "cause" standard for denial of benefits is as fully established herein as it is in the termination of welfare benefits, Goldberg v. Kelly, supra, or in instances...

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