United States v. Demko, 385 U.S. 149 (1966)

Author: Justice White

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United States v. Demko, 385 U.S. 149 (1966)

MR. JUSTICE WHITE, whom MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS joins, dissenting.

United States v. Muniz, 374 U.S. 150, held that action under the Federal Tort Claims Act was available to federal prisoners injured by the negligence of government employees. Given that case, the respondent, who was injured by government negligence while a federal prisoner, is entitled to relief unless the compensation available to him under 18 U.S.C. § 4126 is his exclusive remedy, a proposition which rests on the intent of Congress to give § 4126 that effect. Certainly the section does not in so many words exclude other remedies; and, in my view, exclusivity should not be inferred, for § 4126 is neither comprehensive nor certain, and does not meet the tests of Johansen v. United States, 343 U.S. 427, and of Patterson v. United States, 359 U.S. 495. Section 4126 permits, but does not require, the application of prison industries income to some form of compensation scheme. The scheme adopted by the Attorney General applies to only a limited class of prisoners -- those doing prison industry, maintenance, or similar work. A prisoner injured in prison industry work gets no compensation under the plan until he is released, and none then if he has completely recovered. Furthermore, his payments stop if he is reincarcerated. If he dies while in prison, he gets nothing at all. On the other hand, if a prisoner is injured by the negligence of a prison guard and is not covered by the § 4126 plan, he may sue and recover under the Tort Claims Act. Recovery is his, and, when he gets it, he keeps it whether or not he dies before his prison term expires and whether or not he is released and then again imprisoned.

Essentially, I agree with Judge Freedman, who wrote the opinion for the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The following is a passage from his opinion:

Congress, in adopting the amendment of 1961 to § 4126, gave no express indication that the compensation authorized by it was to be exclusive, and its provisions preclude the imputation of any such intention. The compensation scheme for prisoners is very different from the compensation system for servicemen which was described in [Feres v. United States] as being "simple, certain, and uniform" (340 U.S. at 144) at the time the Federal Tort Claims Act was passed in 1946. It is also vastly different from the right to compensation enjoyed by government employes under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act. It is permissive, rather than mandatory. The amount of the award rests entirely within the discretion of the Attorney General, but may not, under the statute, exceed the amount payable under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act. Compensation is paid only upon the inmate’s release from prison, and will be denied if full recovery occurs while he is in custody and no significant disability remains after his release. There is no provision for the claimant to have a personal physician present at his physical examination, and there is no opportunity for administrative review. Finally, compensation, even when granted, does not become a vested right, but is to be paid only so long as the claimant conducts himself in a lawful manner, and may be immediately suspended upon conviction of any crime or upon incarceration in a penal institution.

What emerges on examination, therefore, is a severely restrictive system of compensation permeated at all levels by the very prison control and dominion which was at the origin of the inmate’s injury. This discretionary and sketchy system of compensation, which would not even have covered the present plaintiff in 1946, may not be deemed the equivalent of compensation under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act of 1916. Nowhere can there be found any indication that Congress intended that it should serve to exclude prisoners from the broad and sweeping policy embodied in the Federal Tort Claims Act.

350 F.2d 698, 700-701. (Footnotes omitted.)

Nor does respondent claim the right to cumulate his remedies; he concedes that recovery under the compensation scheme must be offset against any negligence award he would otherwise receive.

Respectfully, I dissent.


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Chicago: White, "White, J., Dissenting," United States v. Demko, 385 U.S. 149 (1966) in 385 U.S. 149 385 U.S. 155–385 U.S. 156. Original Sources, accessed September 25, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KR8NRHV2H988QPP.

MLA: White. "White, J., Dissenting." United States v. Demko, 385 U.S. 149 (1966), in 385 U.S. 149, pp. 385 U.S. 155–385 U.S. 156. Original Sources. 25 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KR8NRHV2H988QPP.

Harvard: White, 'White, J., Dissenting' in United States v. Demko, 385 U.S. 149 (1966). cited in 1966, 385 U.S. 149, pp.385 U.S. 155–385 U.S. 156. Original Sources, retrieved 25 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KR8NRHV2H988QPP.