U.S. FIFTH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS RULES AGAINST PRISONS IN EXTREME TEMPERATURES CASEAppellate court finds extreme temperature conditions can violate 8th Amendment
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals today reversed a Corpus Christi federal judge’s ruling dismissing a prisoners’ lawsuit claiming extreme temperatures violated his Eighth Amendment Rights. Lawyers for the Texas Civil Rights Project and DLA Piper represented Eugene Blackmon, a sixty-four-year-old prisoner suffering from hypertension and other medical conditions.
Temperatures inside the prison, which was not air conditioned, reached a heat index of 130 degrees. Expert testimony established the temperature during the summer of 2008 temperatures reached “extreme caution,” “danger,” or “extreme danger” levels identified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on 51 days. The court held “Allowing a prisoner to be exposed to extreme temperatures can constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment.” “A reasonable jury [could] find that the conditions of confinement … result[ed] in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities,” the court said.
“This is a huge victory for all Texas prisoners,” said Scott Medlock, Director of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s Prisoners’ Rights Program, who represented Mr. Blackmon. “Hopefully this decision will force TDCJ to reconsider housing prisoners in such dangerous conditions.” When informed of the decision, Mr. Blackmon said “that takes my breath away. I’m so happy to get my day in court after all these years.”
The court emphasized “with respect to a prisoner such as Blackmon, a jury could reasonably conclude that the remedial measures adopted by prison officials were inadequate to combat the extreme conditions in the C-8 dorm and to address the salient health risks.”MORE: Here's the opinion (pdf). See coverage from the Texas Tribune.
The Texas Civil Rights Project would like to thank Vasu Behara, Andrew Zollinger, and Alice Lineberry of DLA Piper. Mr. Behara represented Blackmon at trial, and argued the case on appeal pro bono. Sean Flammer of Scott, Douglass & McConnico wrote an amicus brief pro bono supporting Blackmon on behalf of Texas Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, Texas Inmate Families Association, Texas Jail Project, Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, and Florida Justice Institute, Inc.