Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division No. IP 75-C-60 - James E. Noland, Judge.
Swygert, Sprecher and Wood, Circuit Judges.
This appeal is from an order dismissing for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted a pro se petition filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by several inmates presently incarcerated at the Indiana State Reformatory in Pendleton, Indiana. The petition alleges that conditions at the reformatory are violative of plaintiffs' rights under the First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Specifically plaintiffs allege that: 1) educational programs at the reformatory are obsolete, defective, and do not reform or rehabilitate; 2) vocational training programs at the reformatory are offered only to those inmates with short indeterminate sentences, and are never provided to inmates with longer indeterminate and determinate sentences; 3) instructors and teachers offer only compulsory assistance, and that only inmates who already possess self-motivation learn from the program; 4) in-classroom experience and instruction is almost non-existent; 5) educational programs are made available to those who do not already possess high school degrees but are not available to those with high school degrees; 6) vocational programs are available to those who do not already possess a vocational trade, and those who already possess a vocational trade are denied participation in vocational programs; 7) inmates at the reformatory are prohibited from soliciting funds from interested corporations and individuals for educational programs; 8) a study release program was discontinued for no good reason; and 9) veterans are denied use of their benefits due to the lack of educational programs.
In its order dismissing the complaint the district court held that decisions by state administrators regarding educational services do not raise federal constitutional questions or constitute proper subjects for relief under § 1983. See United States ex rel. Cleggett v. Pate, 229 F. Supp. 818 (N.D. Ill. 1964). Because we believe this broad holding is insufficient to dispose of all of plaintiffs' claims, we affirm in part, and vacate and remand in part with instructions, the judgment entered below.*fn1
We approach the questions raised in this appeal mindful that "a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957). Equally applicable here is the admonition that pro se complaints, due to the lack of legal expertise that accompanies their preparation, are to be liberally construed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 30 L. Ed. 2d 652, 92 S. Ct. 594 (1972).
Plaintiffs submit that the allegations regarding the limitation of vocational training programs to those prisoners with short indeterminate sentences and the denial of any vocational or educational programs to those inmates who already possess a vocational trade or high school degree are sufficient to state a claim for violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Defendants' answer to this argument is threefold. First, defendants contend that because there exists no constitutional right to education or rehabilitation, see San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 35, 36 L. Ed. 2d 16, 93 S. Ct. 1278 (1973); James v. Wallace, 382 F. Supp. 1177, 1180 (M.D. Ala. 1974), any alleged deprivation to plaintiffs of programs of rehabilitation and education by virtue of the creation of such programs for other prisoners does not constitute a deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution as required by § 1983. Secondly, defendants urge that with respect to the limitation of vocational training to those prisoners with short indeterminate sentences, the classification on its face appears to be rational so as to eliminate the necessity for any further inquiry into a rational basis. Third, with regard to the absence of rehabilitative and educational programs for those prisoners with a high school degree or a vocational skill, defendants suggest that because in a nonprison setting the state's refusal to provide free college education while providing free high school education is not actionable under § 1983, plaintiffs' claim must likewise fail.
It is well settled that equal protection does not require absolute equality or precisely equal advantages. Ross v. Moffitt, 417 U.S. 600, 41 L. Ed. 2d 341, 94 S. Ct. 2437 (1974). Rather, in the absence of fundamental rights or a suspect classification, equal protection requires only that a classification which results in unequal treatment bear some rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose. Wojcik v. Levitt, 513 F.2d 725 (7th Cir. 1975).*fn2 The requirements of the equal protection clause apply to administrative as well as legislative classifications. See Buckley v. Coyle Public School System, 476 F.2d 92 (10th Cir. 1973). Redress for denial of equal protection is available under § 1983. See e.g., Lindsey v. Normet, 405 U.S. 56, 31 L. Ed. 2d 36, 92 S. Ct. 862 (1972); United States ex rel. Campbell v. Pate, 401 F.2d 55, 57 (7th Cir. 1968).
Defendants' contention that equal protection is violated only when a classification deprives a group of rights otherwise secured by the Constitution is erroneous. An examination of equal protection cases reveals that although the involvement of certain fundamental rights invokes the more stringent "compelling interest" test it is by no means essential that the benefits deprived or burdens bestowed by the different treatment be otherwise guaranteed by the Constitution. See, e.g., James v. Strange, 407 U.S. 128, 32 L. Ed. 2d 600, 92 S. Ct. 2027 (1972) (exemptions otherwise available to civil judgment debtors disallowed to indigent defendants from whom legal defense fees could be recovered in subsequent civil proceedings); Lindsey v. Normet, 405 U.S. 56, 31 L. Ed. 2d 36, 92 S. Ct. 862 (1972) (early trial date and double bond for appeal required by forcible entry and detainer statute); Schilb v. Kuebel, 404 U.S. 357, 30 L. Ed. 2d 502, 92 S. Ct. 479 (1971) (retention by state of 1% of amount of bail while no such charge levied on those released on personal recognizance); Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 25 L. Ed. 2d 491, 90 S. Ct. 1153 (1970) (limit on amount of welfare benefits alleged to operate against families merely because of size). This is clearly demonstrated in San Antonio Independent School District, supra, relied upon by defendants, where the Court, after determining that education is not a right guaranteed by the Constitution, 411 U.S. at 35, nonetheless examined the Texas school-financing system and determined that the statute rationally furthered a legitimate state purpose. 411 U.S. at 55. Furthermore, although some equal protection claims by prison inmates have involved the denial of rights otherwise secured by the Constitution, see, e.g., Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.S. 546, 12 L. Ed. 2d 1030, 84 S. Ct. 1733 (1964), prisoner claims do not form an exception to the general rule.
In McGinnis v. Royster, 410 U.S. 263, 93 S. Ct. 1055, 35 L. Ed. 2d 282 (1973), state prisoners chall enged as violative of equal protection a New York statute that granted good time credit for the entire period of incarceration to prisoners who were released on bail prior to sentencing, but denied good time credit for time spent in county jails prior to sentencing to those prisoners who could not post bail. Without considering whether plaintiffs possessed a constitutional right to good time credit*fn3 the Court stated:
We do not wish to inhibit state experimental classifications in a practical and troublesome area, but inquire only whether the challenged distinction rationally furthers some legitimate, articulated state purpose. McGinnis, supra, at 270.
Defendants' assertion that the distinction drawn between prisoners with short indeterminate sentences and those with longer indeterminate and determinate sentences is rational on its face and therefore warranted dismissal is also without merit.*fn4 The Supreme Court has on many occasions stated that where reform measures are involved, a state need not choose between curing all evils or none, Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 486-487, 25 L. Ed. 2d 491, 90 S. Ct. 1153 (1970); Williamson v. Lee Optical, 348 U.S. 483, 489, 99 L. Ed. 563, 75 S. Ct. 461 (1955), and that the courts will not impose their judgment as to the appropriate stopping point of remedial measures so long as the line drawn by the state is rationally supportable. Geduldig v. Aiello, 417 U.S. 484, 495, 41 L. Ed. 2d 256, 94 S. Ct. 2485 (1974). In McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 6 L. Ed. 2d 393, 81 S. Ct. 1101 (1961), several employees of a discount department store prohibited from doing business on Sunday by a state Sunday Closing Law, challenged the statute on equal protection grounds. At 366 U.S. 426 the Court stated that "[a] statutory discrimination will not be set aside if any state of facts reasonably may be conceived to justify it." After considering several possible reasons that could have prompted the statutory classification, the Court added that "the record is barren of any indication that this apparently reasonable basis does not exist . . ." and that the statutes were not violative of equal protection "since there would appear many valid reasons for these exemptions, . . . and no evidence to dispel them." 366 U.S. at 427.
We note first that there has been no investigation into the purpose for limiting vocational rehabilitation to prisoners with short indeterminate sentences in this litigation. Nor have we found, and the parties have not brought to our attention, any cases from the Indiana courts explaining the basis for the distinction or deciding the question of its rationality. Indeed, defendants suggest that to require a showing that a rational basis exists for awarding vocational training to inmates based upon the date of their release into society would be an exercise of frivolity. We might surmise that defendants are operating with a severely limited budget and accordingly concentrated their vocational training programs to benefit that class of prisoners who could derive the most benefit. It is equally possible, however, that defendants have concluded that prisoners with determinate and long term indeterminate sentences are not likely to derive any benefit at all from vocational training and will therefore not be provided with such programs, or that defendants are withholding such benefits as additional penalty for incurring harsher sentences. We cannot agree, therefore, that a rational basis for the classification with regard to vocational programs is apparent on the face of the classification itself. In the absence of an articulated purpose for the distinctions drawn here, we cannot indulge in supplying an imaginary purpose or basis for the classification, McGinnis, supra, at 277, and thereby preclude plaintiffs from showing that such an "apparent" ...