In an August 10 opinion, the Second Circuit allowed a case based on the 13th Amendment right to be free from involuntary servitude to proceed. Finbar McGarry, a Vermont resident, was arrested and detained pending trial in the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility from December 2008 until June 2009. While there, he was housed in House 1 where all inmates, including pretrial detainees, are required to work. Despite his objections, McGarry was assigned to work in the prison laundry. He was told that refusal to work would result in administrative segregation. Defendants justified the requirement on the ground that it furthered a legitimate penealogical interest in “educating offenders about real world responsibilities.” McGarry subsequently filed several unsuccessful grievances complaining about the long hours he had to work and the intolerable conditions, including handling soiled clothing without gloves or the ability to clean his hands. He also alleged that working in the laundry resulted in a painful staph infection.
The appellate court reversed the district court judgment dismissing McGarry's pro se complaint. It found that his complaint had, in fact, presented a plausible 13th Amendment claim. It pointed out that "[t]he Amendment was intended to prohibit all forms of involuntary labor, not
solely to abolish chattel slavery." Furthermore, the exception for those “duly convicted” did not apply and, although individuals may be detained before they have been convicted and the "liberties and privileges" of pretrial detainees may curtailed, "such conditions may not violate the
Constitution." In United States v. Kozminski,
487 U.S. 931 (1988), the
Supreme Court stated that involuntary servitude was “a condition of servitude
in which the victim is forced to work for the defendant by the use or
threat of physical restraint or physical injury, or by the use or threat
of coercion through law or the legal process.” Indeed, in federal facilities “[a] pretrial inmate may not
be required to work in any assignment or area other than housekeeping tasks
in the inmates’ own cell and in the community living area, unless the
pretrial inmate has signed a waiver of his or her right not to work.” 28 C.F.R. § 545.23(b). The defendants principle argument, that allowing McGarry's claim to proceed “would demean and trivialize the deep significance of the Thirteenth Amendment in the history of this country,” was rejected by the Second Circuit. Rather, it found that McGarry's allegations were supported by "well-pleaded facts" and, therefore, his claim of "'threat of physical
restraint or physical injury' within the meaning of Kozminski" was plausible and should be allowed to move forward.