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Buie v. Aramark Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

October 28, 2019

ASUA BUIE, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff, an inmate proceeding pro se, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that his civil rights were violated. (Docket #1). This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's petition to proceed without prepayment of the filing fee, or in forma pauperis. (Docket #2). Plaintiff has been assessed and has paid an initial partial filing fee of $18.00. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b).

         The Court must screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally “frivolous or malicious, ” that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. § 1915A(b).

         A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Gladney v. Pendelton Corr. Facility, 302 F.3d 773, 774 (7th Cir. 2002). The Court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327; Gladney, 302 F.3d at 774. “Malicious, ” although sometimes treated as a synonym for “frivolous, ” “is more usefully construed as intended to harass.” Lindell v. McCallum, 352 F.3d 1107, 1109 (7th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted); accord Paul v. Marberry, 658 F.3d 702, 705 (7th Cir. 2011).

         To state a cognizable claim under the federal notice pleading system, the plaintiff is required to provide a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). It is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead specific facts and his statement need only “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); see Christopher v. Buss, 384 F.3d 879, 881 (7th Cir. 2004). However, a complaint that offers “labels and conclusions” or “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). To state a claim, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, “that is plausible on its face.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The complaint allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted); Christopher, 384 F.3d at 881.

         In considering whether a complaint states a claim, courts should follow the principles set forth in Twombly by first, “identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Legal conclusions must be supported by factual allegations. Id. If there are well-pleaded factual allegations, the Court must, second, “assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id.

         To state a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: 1) he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and 2) the deprivation was visited upon him by a person or persons acting under color of state law. Buchanan-Moore v. Cty. of Milwaukee, 570 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Kramer v. Vill. of N. Fond du Lac, 384 F.3d 856, 861 (7th Cir. 2004)); see also Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980). The Court is obliged to give the plaintiff's pro se allegations, “however inartfully pleaded, ” a liberal construction. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).

         At all times relevant to his complaint, Plaintiff was incarcerated at the Milwaukee County House of Correction. (Docket #1 at 2). He alleges that he was assigned to work in the kitchen for eight hours per day, six days per week. Id. He performed this work for Aramark Company (“Aramark”), a private company with which his prison contracted for the provision of food service. Id. Plaintiff was not paid for his work; instead, he was informed that that he would receive one day off of his sentence for each week of work. Id. at 3.

         On December 19, 2018, Sergeant Williams went to Plaintiff's dorm and announced that two work hours would be taken from every inmate in the dorm because meal trays in the kitchen had not been cleaned. Id. Then, either because of the uncleaned trays or because of some other misconduct, the sergeant instituted a disciplinary action against Plaintiff and one day of credit was taken from him. Id. Plaintiff complains that he was not given a copy of a violation report informing him of the rule he violated, he was not given a hearing (and he did not waive his right to have one), he was not given the option of calling witnesses or presenting any evidence, and he was not allowed to appeal. Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff filed a grievance and was told that the matter of his disciplinary action was not grievable. Id. at 4.

         On these allegations, Plaintiff seeks to bring a claim under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., and a due process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment. See (Docket #1 at 9-10). For his FLSA claim, Plaintiff argues that the minimum wage provision of the FLSA requires the prison, or Aramark, to compensate inmate workers in the form of wages and benefits. Id. at 9. For his due process claim, Plaintiff argues that he was deprived of a property interest, one day of good-time credit, without any process, including a hearing and the opportunity to present evidence. Id. at 10.

         Neither of these claims are viable. First, prison and jail inmates are not covered by the FLSA. Bennett v. Frank, 395 F.3d 409, 410 (7th Cir. 2005).

         The Seventh Circuit has explained that

[p]eople are not imprisoned for the purpose of enabling them to earn a living. The prison pays for their keep. If it puts them to work, it is to offset some of the cost of keeping them, or to keep them out of mischief, or to ease their transition to the world outside, or to equip them with skills and habits that will make them less likely to return to crime outside. None of these goals is compatible with federal regulation of their wages and hours.

Id. In other words, Plaintiff's prison can put him to work for little or no compensation without violating the FLSA. The fact that Plaintiff's work was supervised by staff from a private company with which the prison contracted for kitchen services does not change this result. Cf. Id. at 409 (“[P]risoners are not employees of their prison, whether it ...

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