Bayh v. Sonnenburg

573 N.E.2d 398 (Ind. 1991)


7400 patients of Indiana’s mental hospitals sued the state of IN for forced labor. Patients worked in the kitchen, did lawn work, worked in beauty salons, etc. Most of these were full time jobs. The Jasper Circuit court entered a judgment for nearly $28M in their favor. At trial the Ps argued (1) they were entitled to overtime benefits and minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act; (2) Ds violated the 13th amendment of the US constitution against involuntary servitude (3) Ds violated article 21 of the IN constitution regarding just compensation for certain services rendered.

Procedural History

Jasper Circuit Court (Indiana), which entered judgment for plaintiffs, state mental patients, for work they performed while confined in state mental hospitals
The court held that constitutional issues should be avoided as long as there are dispositive statutory or common law issues alive. “It is the duty of the court not to enter upon the consideration of a constitutional question where the court can perceive another ground on which it may properly rest its decision.


(1) Whether compelling institutionalized patients to do labor violates the 13th amendment.
(2) Whether compelling institutionalized patients to do labor violates article 21 of the IN constitution.


13th Amendment – “declares that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist.” Court believes this exclusively refers to institution of slavery, and not those systems which are treated as exceptions.

IN Article 21 – “No person’s particular services shall be demanded, without just compensation.”


(1) No, the labor fits within the “civic duty” exception to forced labor. The court held that Ds were correct that suits attacking the “badges and incidents of slavery” must be based on statute, but suits against compulsory labor must be based on the 13th amendment of the US constitution. In this case, defendants were not attacking the institution of slavery itself – which has a distinct meaning. They were attacking compulsory labor. States and the government may at times compel citizens to do labor (compulsory service in the armed services or jury duty). Moreover, the SCOTUS has never held that 13th amendment violations were compensable by damages.

(2) No, “… the services were not particular services within the meaning of article 21. Moreover, by the measure of damages appropriate under article 21, Ps have not been denied just compensation.”
• “particular services” – The court sought to determine what “particular services” meant at the time the constitution was framed and what it was intended to mean. There was a six day debate at the 1851 constitutional convention on whether to use “personal” or “particular.” They settled on particular, stating that particular services were services that was required of the individual, not typically required of all citizens (like jury duty, etc.). The clause was not intended to create to rights to compensation which had previously gone uncompensated.
• The court looks to whether mental patients’ work had ever been compensated throughout history, because the constitutional convention records makes clear the framers did not intend to create new rights to compensation. The 1816 constitution makes clear that the institutionalized may be made to work when they’re institutionalized. Later legislation leading up to the 1851 convention made no mention of compensation for services while institutionalized. In the early 1900s many of the institutionalized constructed their own institutions without compensation.
• Differences between “particular work” and “general work.” – “In order to find for the P in this case, we would be required to conclude that their work was not part of the social compact, but instead was the result of the State’s isolated and unreasonable demand upon their services which ought to be paid for by the public at large.” But the facts of the case are clear that their services were like any other required to be rendered to the state as part of the social compact.
o The demand is not isolated to the individual burden – “… the people, through their elected representatives, have chosen to condition the benefit with a burden.” The patients were the direct and primary beneficiary of their own hard work. “Work has been characterized as a general service when those performing the work have been the primary beneficiaries of the work product.” It’s also a reasonable policy because in the 70s the state stopped patient work and incidents of violence and disruption increased. Moreover, the work didn’t keep the patients from earning a living (although it was less than minimum wage).
• Demand of state for patients to work – there is adequate evidence to establish that the state demanded their work.
• Just Compensation – needs to be interpreted in the same manner “just compensation” for the purposes of measuring takings compensation is. Takings compensation equals “the value of the property taken, plus the value of any damage done to the remaining property as a result of the taking, less the value of any benefits accruing to the remaining property as a result of the taking.” The court focuses on the benefits accruing portion, calling it the “extrinsic benefit rule.” The extrinsic benefit rule was specifically adopted at the 1851 convention and courts have repeatedly affirmed it as a rule. The trial court in calculating damages did not subtract the benefits conferred on the Ps. The benefits to Ps were (1) improved living environment – including food and laundry etc. for all patients (2) the state’s provision of food, shelter, and care for the members of the class (roughly $240M). Therefore, even if the particular services are to be compensated, the benefit conferred is far greater than the loss.

Dissent (Dickson)

• Involuntary Servitude – Other jurisdictions have found that patient labor does not fit squarely into the civic duty exception. The requirements of the extended full-time work go way beyond the civic duty requirement.
• Right to Compensation – “Working at the state’s mental institutions was not required of all citizens. The labor of patient/workers was not demanded for merely a few days each year.” It was required full-time during their confinement.
o “Parallel application to claims seeking just compensation for particular services demanded by law would require that the extrinsic benefits to be considered are restricted to the pecuniary benefits to the person’s remaining services, and not improved environment.” When takings are compensated the extrinsic benefit applies to the remaining property. If the work had led to increased marketable labor skill, the extrinsic benefit would have applied.
o Other courts have held that just compensation clause applies to private property.

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