The opinion of the court was delivered by: GERRY
This is a motion to dismiss, for failure to state a claim, a civil rights action brought pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by plaintiff James Flowers, an inmate at Trenton State Prison. Plaintiff alleges that while on duty at his prison job, he suffered an injury which caused him to be laid-in from his employment. He subsequently ceased receiving compensatory wages, despite provisions in the Inmate Handbook which provided for the payment of such wages when lay-ins occur due to employment-related injuries. This denial of wages, plaintiff asserts, constituted a violation of the due process and equal protection rights accorded him by the Fourteenth Amendment; in addition, plaintiff avers, this lack of pay makes it impossible to purchase toiletries to maintain his personal hygiene and foodstuffs to supplement his diet, deprivations of which constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Defendants, the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, other officials and employees of the Department, and Stephen Tasy, a Deputy Attorney General in the New Jersey Division of Law, move to dismiss the complaint upon the all-encompassing ground that prisoners have no constitutional right to work opportunities. For the reasons explained below, this motion will be granted in part and denied in part.
Plaintiff's stated cause of action stems from his removal ["lay-in"] from the position of a.m. Food Cart Pusher in the Food Service Program at the Trenton State Prison on January 31, 1986. Plaintiff's work supervisor, Assistant Supervisor of Food Service Kirk Bennett, announced that his dismissal was due to the fact that he was "constantly on medical lay-in" and recommended that he be "refer[ed] to PCC [Prison Classification Committee] for job change." Plaintiff's Ex. "A". Plaintiff contends that the medical lay-ins complained of actually were the result of a work-related injury: prior to his assignment as cart pusher, plaintiff had undergone extensive vascular surgery to his right leg, and in or about December 1985, he had re-injured it while on duty on the food cart detail. According to the uncontested averments in his complaint, plaintiff was examined after this incident by the prison physician, who determined that, due to his history of leg problems, the position of cart pusher was detrimental to plaintiff's health. Consequently, the physician placed plaintiff on indefinite medical lay-off, and recommended to the PCC that he be accorded a job change. Complaint, paras. 12, 13.
The New Jersey Department of Corrections Administrative Plan Manual, Standard 620.5 provides, in part:
Inmates shall be paid for actual days worked . . . Inmates who sustain legitimate injuries in the course of institutional employment must be declared incapacitated for work by the institution's Medical Department. Inmates so identified shall continue to receive their last normal wage, work credits, or other institutional credits toward their parole or maximum release status, until they are declared ready to return to work by the institution's medical department.
Additionally, the Inmate Handbook For State Prison, Trenton (December 1985 ed.) states:
Inmates who have been determined by the Medical Department to be medically handicapped or hospital handicapped are not entitled to institutional wages nor to work credits. The sole exception are those inmates certified by the Medical Department and work assignment supervisor to have been injured during performance of their work assignment.
It is apparently undisputed that after plaintiff was placed upon medical lay-off by the prison physician, he began receiving compensation wages, and continued receiving such payments until June 30, 1986. At that time, again according to the unchallenged allegations of plaintiff's complaint, the Food Service Department "underwent substantial changes in [its] supervisory capacity," and plaintiff's compensatory wage payments ceased. Complaint, para. 14.
Plaintiff then commenced a lengthy attempt to recoup his wage payments via institutional administrative remedies. He submitted Administrative Remedy Forms to defendant Howard L. Beyer, Administrator of Trenton State Prison, on at least three occasions -- July 15, 1986, September 15, 1986 and January 27, 1987, respectively -- complaining that he was not being paid in accordance with the provisions of the Inmate Handbook. Plaintiff supplemented these official complaints with correspondence to other prison officials, including defendant Fauver and defendant Willis Morton, associate administrator at Trenton State Prison, and to inmate Harold Hicks, co-chairman of the Prisoners' Representative Committee,
all relating his problems with his lack of wage compensation. On March 23, 1987, plaintiff received his first response to these missives in a letter from defendant Sidney Hicks, Deputy Director of the Division of Adult Institutions, Department of Corrections. Hicks informed plaintiff that he would forward his complaints to defendant Morton, and direct Morton to respond to them promptly. Plf's Ex. "I".
Plaintiff, however, still received no direct response to his claims. He sent more inquiries to defendant Morton on April 10, 1987 and, through the Prison's Representative Committee, on June 15, 1987. On June 23, 1987, plaintiff received a letter from defendant Stephen Tasy, informing him that his complaints were being investigated by the prison authorities. The next day, June 24, 1987, plaintiff finally heard from defendant Morton. In a memorandum letter, Morton stated that his staff had conducted "a full and complete investigation" into plaintiff's situation, which had determined that the medical condition that had occasioned his lay-in "was a pre-existing condition, and was no way caused by, nor did it happen on [plaintiff's] job." Plf's Ex. "L". Therefore, Morton advised plaintiff, "You have no claim to compensation for the period you were laid in." Id. This letter was followed by correspondence from defendant Hugh Downing, Acting Executive Assistant at Trenton Prison and defendant Beyer, on July 2 and July 20, 1987, respectively. Both Downing and Beyer advised the plaintiff that as a result of Morton's finding that plaintiff's medical injury pre-dated his work assignment, his claim for compensation was considered closed. Plf's Exs. "M", "N".
On September 1, 1987, plaintiff filed the instant action in this court. He seeks declaratory and compensatory relief for recoupment of back wages, and punitive damages of $ ...