A federal panel has refused to coordinate lawsuits filed on behalf of inmates in Texas state prisons who died or suffered heat strokes from soaring temperatures during the summers of 2011 and 2012.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice and its executive director, Brad Livingston, represented by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, moved on July 14 to transfer seven cases for pretrial purposes to U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison in the Southern District of Texas, where a class action is pending on behalf of inmates of the Wallace Pack Unit, a geriatric prison facility near Houston. Jeffrey Edwards of Edwards Law in Austin, who represents the plaintiffs in most of the cases, supported the move.
The cases—all filed in federal courts in Texas—allege that being housed in temperatures of more than 100 degrees constituted “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment. They also claim they were not accommodated under the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. Most of the prisoners had disabilities, such as diabetes or hypertension.
The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation heard oral arguments on Oct. 2 in Louisville. On Thursday, the panel found that coordination wasn’t appropriate because the cases were at varying stages of discovery and the same plaintiffs attorney had brought most of them.
That attorney, Edwards, who has partnered with the Texas Civil Rights Project on the litigation, said he represents the families of eight inmates who have died and one who survived a heat stroke. But others have been filed by inmates themselves. “There was some concern about the effect an MDL would have on pro se inmates filing these claims,” he said of the panel’s decision.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Feds won't combine prison heat litigation cases
The National Law Journal reported (Oct. 10) that the federal courts will not combine the numerous lawsuits challenging excessive heat in Texas prisons as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Here's a notable excerpt from the story: