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Hammond v. Collier

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

March 31, 2017

BENNY J. HAMMOND, TDCJ-CID #1513422 Plaintiff,
v.
BRYAN COLLIER, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND OPINION

          LEE H. ROSENTHAL, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Benny J. Hammond, an inmate of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Correctional Institutions Division, ("TDCJ-CID") sued in November 2016, alleging civil rights violations resulting from a denial of due process. Hammond, representing himself and without prepayment of the filing fee, sues Bryan Collier, Executive Director of the TDCJ-CID; David G. Gutierrez, Chairman of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles; and Bobby Lumpkin, Director of the Manufacturing and Logistics Division of the TDCJ-CID.

         Hammond suggests that he should be compensated in money for his good time, in recognition of the work he does every day for free in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. Hammond states that Texas is one of the few states which does not pay a viable wage for inmate labor. Instead, Texas has applied a "good time/work time compensation plan" in lieu of actual tangible tender. However, this is not meaningful compensation because it cannot be used to purchase any goods or services, nor does it shorten a prisoner's sentence. In fact, Hammond says, good time can be removed through various means. When a prisoner is released to parole or mandatory supervision, he is required to sign away all of his accrued good time or work time; this is not a voluntary relinquishment, but a mandatory requirement imposed before an inmate can be released. If the prisoner violates the terms of his parole or mandatory supervision, the good time is generally not restored.

         As a result, Hammond states that he is being subjected to a "payment system" designed to falsely enrich TDC J through the use of a "false flat currency" in the form of good time and work time. Because good time and work time is "currency, " TDCJ is in violation of the Constitutional prohibition against states making anything but gold or silver a tender in payment of debts.

         Although the purpose of the TDCJ system is to pay inmates in good time or work time, such payment has no measurable value. Hammond states that slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment; he acknowledges that the Thirteenth Amendment provides an exception "as punishment for crime whereof a person has been duly convicted, " but states that no one in the TDCJ system has been "sentenced to slavery or involuntary servitude." After discussing the meaning of the term "slavery, " Hammond states that he himself was not sentenced to slavery or involuntary servitude, but to "confinement and/or restitution, " and TDCJ cannot change his pronounced sentence for its own gain.

         Hammond states that inmates are routinely stripped of good time or work time as a violation of one or more rules, but these violations of rules are "unadjudicated and are a taking of property." This would be more obvious if the good time had an actual monetary value. Hammond again asserts that it is illegal for a government entity to seize the property of another without cause and due process.

         Hammond states that the "good time/work time formula" is a scheme to enforce compliance in a "coordinated deception." He argues that he is subjected to "forced labor" in violation of federal law. Hammond states that inmates are assigned to work upon their arrival in TDCJ. If they refuse, Hammond says, they are subjected to increasing punishments including minor and major disciplinary cases, deprivation of good time already earned, higher levels of confinement, and transfer to facilities far away from the prisoner's family. This means that the rate being "paid" to the inmate is reduced.

         Hammond states that a prisoner receiving a 10-year sentence would accumulate flat (calendar) time, good time, and work time. After five years of flat time plus two-and-a-half years each of good time and work time, the inmate may be released on mandatory supervision; however, such release is now discretionary and some offenses do not qualify for release on mandatory supervision.

         Furthermore, Hammond asserts that release on parole or mandatory supervision is not "liberty" because an individual on such release is still in the custody of the State. Mandatory supervision has published guidelines, but parole does not; instead, it is at the sole discretion of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Because both mandatory supervision and parole are discretionary, Hammond states that there is no value earned by good time or work time credits. Unlike money, there is nothing that can be purchased by good time, and these credits do not shorten the term of the sentence.

         After discussing the fact that various inmate jobs require various levels of skill, including truck driving, plumbing, and electrical work, Hammond argues that TDCJ cannot have it both ways; the prison cannot say that good time is a valuable consideration but then say it has no value when asked to exchange it for other valuable considerations. Inmates cannot purchase items for the commissary or pay their medical co-pay with good time credits.

         Hammond asks that the court order TDCJ to cease and desist from employing inmate labor without express written and voluntary consent. He further requests that all inmates be paid for their work.

         A federal court has the authority to dismiss a complaint in which the plaintiff is representing himself if the court determines that it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i); see Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992); Richardson v. Spurlock, 260 F.3d 495, 498 (5th Cir. 2001) (citing Siglar v. Hightower, 112 F.3d 191, 193 (5th Cir. 1997)). "A complaint lacks an arguable basis in law if it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, such as if the complaint alleges the violation of a legal interest which clearly does not exist." Davis v. Scott, 157F.3d 1003, 1005 (5thCir. 1998) (quoting McCormick v. Stalder, 105 F.3d 1059, 1061 (5th Cir. 1997)).

         A prisoner does not have a constitutional right to a release before the expiration of a valid sentence. Greenholtz v. Inmates of the Neb. Penal & Corr. Complex, 442 U.S. 1, 7 (1979). Furthermore, the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee an inmate good-time credit for satisfactory behavior while in prison. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 557(1974). However, state laws may create a constitutional expectancy of early release. Malchi v. Thaler, 211 F.3d 953, 957 (5th Cir. 2000). In Texas, it is well established that only inmates who are eligible for mandatory supervision have a liberty interest in good-time credits and a constitutional expectancy of early release. Id. To establish a constitutional violation, Hammond must show that he has a constitutional expectancy of early release.

         The primary issue in this case concerns whether or not Hammond has stated the denial of a constitutionally protected liberty interest. Prisoners are not wholly stripped of all constitutional protections when imprisoned. Wolff, 418 U.S. at 555. A prisoner's constitutional rights are set forth in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, in disciplinary hearings, prisoners are only entitled to due process guarantees when the hearing may result in sanctions that infringe on constitutionally protected interests. Sandin v. Conner,515 U.S. 472, 483-4 (1995). These interests are generally limited to sanctions that affect the quantity of time served by a prisoner. Madison v. Parker,104 F.3d 765, 767 (5th Cir. 1997). Due process protections do not attach to ordinary prison disciplinary cases, but only those which serve to lengthen the inmate's sentence or exceed ...


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