United States v. Demko

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Central Division

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 385 US 149 (1966)
ARGUED: Nov 08, 1966
DECIDED: Dec 05, 1966

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Demko

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 08, 1966 in United States v. Demko

Earl Warren:

No. 76 United States, petitioner vs. Steven Robert Demko.

Mr. Salzman?

Richard S. Salzman:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

Respondent commence this suit against the United States under the Tort Claims Act to recover for injuries he incurred in the cause of work he was performing while a Federal prisoner in the Federal Penitentiary of Louisburg, Pennsylvania.

The facts in the case are not in dispute for purposes of this hearing.

In private life, respondent had employed upon occasions as a carpenter.

While imprisoned he was assigned to do maintenance work.

In the course of replacing a broken window some height above the floor, he lost his balance, fell and was severely injured.

As a result of that injury, he applied for an award of workmen’s compensation.

Under the prisoners compensation statute, 18 USC 4126, he was awarded such compensation in the sum of $180 a month.

But as a result, this summer of Congress raising generally, the labels of workmen’s compensation paid throughout the United States to all non-government employees.

He is now receiving $245 a month in compensation from the United States for the injury he received in the course of his prison work.

The only question presented in this case is whether that prisoner compensation remedy is like all other workmen’s compensation remedies provided for any employee or anyone working for the United States, an exclusive one and therefore precludes this suit under the Tort Claims Act based on those very same injuries.

Or stated the other way, whether Congress intended the prisoner compensation remedy to be different from the compensation remedies provided for every other soldier or civilian employee of the government or any Federal employee of any branch with the government and that the prisoner was not only entitled to workmen’s compensation without regard to fault.

Earl Warren:

Is it entitled of right?

Richard S. Salzman:

Yes, Your Honor, the regulations on the statute provide that, it’s on 28 CFR 31.2, it provides that anyone who is injured will be granted an award of compensation, medical benefits and the like.

But it’s not payable when left his service.

What can you say to that?

Richard S. Salzman:

The answer, yes.

The compensation is actually paid when he leaves the prison the theory being that compensation is to replace lost earning power and he had been earning.

But that’s not entirely accurate, sir.

If the prisoner was employed in prison industries where he did get a salary, then he does continue to receive his pay while in prison even though he can’t work for prison industries.

Industry is a job to the apprentice program, contain a small stipend and the prisoner may earn several hundred dollars a year.

He continued to get that.

Was there a compensation schedule?

Richard S. Salzman:

The compensation schedule follows the Federal Employees Compensation Act.

That is the administrators had interpreted as meaning that for total disability, a prisoner who will receive the minimum award under the Federal Employees Compensation Act on a theory that the prisoner compensation statute says, in no event shall compensation under that statute exceed would be given to Federal employee.

That’s $245 a month.

There is a schedule of benefits paid in a measure of the minimum wage.

Whatever the Federal minimum wage is, it’s determined as to what the prisoner’s earning power, it’s a purposes of paying benefits.