The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES R. RICHEY
Before the Court is the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, the Plaintiff's Opposition thereto, and the Defendant's Reply Memorandum in Support of its Motion to Dismiss and Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for a Preliminary Injunction. Because the Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court will GRANT the Defendants' Motion.
Currently incarcerated at the Collins Correctional Facility in Collins, New York, Plaintiff has been enrolled in and attending college programs offered inside the prison by private colleges since 1992. Complaint, P 14. During that time, Plaintiff has been a Pell Grant recipient. Id.1 Prior to the enactment of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, HEA § 401(b)(8) barred the award of Pell Grants to death row prisoners and prisoners serving life sentences without possibility of parole or release; no such restriction was placed on the award of Pell Grants to other prisoners. See 20 U.S.C. § 1070a(b)(8)(A), as added by the Higher Education Act Amendments of 1992, Public Law 102-325. However, as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994,
Congress amended HEA § 401(b)(8) to prohibit the award of Pell grant funds to all prisoners.
Accordingly, Plaintiff will no longer be eligible to receive Pell Grant funds to offset the costs of his college education. Complaint, P 14.
A. The Denial of Pell Grant Monies to Prisoners Solely on Account of their Status Qua Prisoners Does Not Violate Equal Protection.
Because governmental distinctions between prisoners and nonprisoners need only satisfy rational basis scrutiny in order to comport with the Equal Protection Clause, and because the denial of Pell Grant monies to prisoners is rationally related to legitimate governmental interests, Plaintiff fails to state an equal protection claim upon which relief can be granted.
1. Governmental distinctions between prisoners and nonprisoners merit rational basis scrutiny.
So far as treating prisoners differently than nonprisoners is concerned, the Equal Protection Clause requires only that a classification which results in unequal treatment bear some rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose. See Moran v. United States, 18 F.3d 412, 413 (1994). Notwithstanding Plaintiff's attempt to invoke strict scrutiny, Plaintiff's Opposition, 6-11, discrimination on account of Plaintiff's status qua prisoner merits rational basis review.
Strict scrutiny is generally limited to suspect classifications based on immutable characteristics, such as race or national origin, see Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 11, 18 L. Ed. 2d 1010, 87 S. Ct. 1817 (1967), or classifications affecting fundamental rights. See Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663, 672, 16 L. Ed. 2d 169, 86 S. Ct. 1079 (1966). Prisoners do not constitute a suspect class. See, e.g., Scher v. Chief Postal Inspector, 973 F.2d 682, 683-84 (8th Cir. 1992) (prisoners not similarly situated to nonprisoners, thus postal employees need not handle their complaints like nonprisoner complaints); United States v. Woods, 888 F.2d 653, 656 (10th Cir. 1989) (pre-sentence residents of halfway houses are not a suspect class); Jones v. Grunewarld, 644 F. Supp. 256, 259 (S.D.N.Y. 1986) (prisoner not member of a suspect class either by virtue of his status qua prisoner or his poverty); Hicks v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 397 F. Supp. 401, 402 (W.D. Va. 1975) (same). Because the classification between prisoners and nonprisoners is not a suspect one, nor is it one meriting intermediate scrutiny, which is generally limited to gender- and illegitimacy-based classifications, see, e.g., Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan, 458 U.S. 718, 723-24 & n. 9, 73 L. Ed. 2d 1090, 102 S. Ct. 3331 (1982); Mills v. Habluetzel, 456 U.S. 91, 99, 71 L. Ed. 2d 770, 102 S. Ct. 1549 (1982), the classification need only be rationally related to a legitimate state purpose to satisfy the Equal Protection Clause.
2. The classification between prisoners and nonprisoners is rationally related to legitimate governmental purposes.
In determining whether a challenged statute has a rational basis, courts look to whether there are plausible reasons for congressional action; if so, judicial inquiry is at an end. United States Railroad Retirement Board v. Fritz, 449 U.S. 166, 179, 66 L. Ed. 2d 368, 101 S. Ct. 453 (1980). "It is of course, 'constitutionally irrelevant whether this reasoning in fact underlay the legislative decision,' because the Supreme Court has never insisted that a legislative body articulate its reasons for enacting a statute." Id. Hence, a statutory distinction does not violate equal protection "if any state of facts reasonably may be conceived to justify it." Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 486, 25 L. Ed. 2d 491, 90 S. Ct. 1153 (1970). See also Burns v. United States Railroad Retirement Board, 226 U.S. App. D.C. 182, 701 F.2d 193 (D.C. Cir. 1983).
Amended § 401(b)(8) satisfies the rationality requirement. Whether because of budgetary constraints, see Selective Service System v. Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, 468 U.S. 841, 859 n. 17, 82 L. Ed. 2d 632, 104 S. Ct. 3348 (1984) (denial of federal educational assistance to male students failing to register for the draft "is rationally related to the legitimate governmental objectives of encouraging registration and fairly allocating scarce federal resources"), the desire to increase the funding available to law-abiding students, see Bowen v. Gilliard, 483 U.S. 587, 597, 97 L. Ed. 2d 485, 107 S. Ct. 3008 (1987) (noting that "the Fifth Amendment 'gives the federal courts no power to impose upon [Congress] their views of what constitutes wise economic or social policy,' by telling it how 'to reconcile the demands . . . of needy citizens with the finite resources available to meet those demands'") (quoting Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 486, 25 L. Ed. 2d 491, 90 S. Ct. 1153 (1970)), the conclusion that other sources of educational funding available exclusively to prisoners are sufficient, see Congr. Rec., S 15746 (daily ed. Nov. 16, 1993) (statement of Senator Hutchison noting that "the Federal Government spends $ 100 million or so each year on prisoner education and training programs [available exclusively to prisoners]"), the desire to eliminate fraud in the administration of Pell Grant monies to prisoners, see Congr. Rec. S 15586 (daily ed. Nov 10, 1993) (statement of Senator Hutchison noting Pell Grant fraud in the prison context), the notion that prisoners and nonprisoners are not similarly situated with regard to the contemporaneous need for higher education, cf. Moran, 18 F.3d at 413 ("[i] is hardly irrational to deny fees and allowances to prisoner witnesses"); Davis v. Bowen, 825 F.2d 799, 800-01 (4th Cir. 1987) (suspension of Social Security benefits during incarceration upheld); Andujar v. Bowen, 8 ...