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:
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.


sunray's wench said...

So is it a good thing or a bad thing that the cases are not being combined? Or doesn't it really matter in the long run?

Anonymous said...

It appears this maybe more costly for the state if thousands of inmates file individually on this action. Right now the state is just buying time. Farmer v Brehnam may open the door for very costly action against the state. Individual torts versus a class action seeking injunctive relief will be very costly for Texas. The federal courts maybe trying to warn Texas the issue should be settled in the legislature, instead of the courts, as this maybe one of the most costly lawsuits Texas has ever seen.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Hard to say, Sunray. I think it's just a thing, not sure about good or bad.

@6:54, the Lege will never do this on their own. Texas prisons will only ever get AC if courts order it like they did in Louisiana.

Michael W. Jewell, President, Texas CURE said...

This year supporters of the Texas CURE Fan Program provided 726 free fans to indigent TDCJ inmates, at a cost of $14,520. There were hundreds of requests we could not fill for a
lack of funds.

Before the pending lawsuits are settled, you can rest assured that more will be filed. And who pays for all this litigation? Texas taxpayers. Because of precedent cases, like that in Louisiana, where a federal judge ordered prison officials to acquire a climate control system that will keep the temperature no higher than 85 degrees, TDCJ, i.e., taxpayers, will ultimately have to foot the bill for something similar. Why can't TDCJ administrators and the legislature accept the inevitable and stop compounding the problem with soaring litigation costs? Have they so soon forgotten the harsh lessons of Ruiz v. Estelle, which ultimately cost the state BILLIONS of taxpayers' dollars.

jcovici said...

If TDCJ would start now converting to sun panels and windmills, the long run costs would dwindle – especially as they sell excess electricity to local communities and other institutions across the state. They are the biggest landowners in the state, and have the free labor. What excellent training for parolees of the future.

Anonymous said...

It's a good thing for the state. Imagine if word got out to all inmates that all they had to do was join an existing lawsuit? They wouldn't have to figure out how to plead or file one themselves, or their family wouldn't have to raise the money for a lawyer. Just join a suit filed by those who have already filed, and piggy back on their efforts.

Anonymous said...

Inmates have all day to produce writs and have access to law libraries. They don't need a private attorney if the cases are filed pro se. The state will have to respond to all these writs.

PAPA said...

The majority of the Inmates have jobs in the prison system which keeps many from being able to use the law library and if they are working on their job they cannot go sit in a library to figure out how to file a pro se lawsuit. This heat issue has been going on for many years and if we do have climate change it needs to be resolved. In 97-99 the temps in some of the cells were hitting above 115 in the West Texas area, that is not right, that is cruel and unusual punishment. The Fan program that Fed Cure has is a good program but the issue is that many of the old (125 plus year old) units do not have proper wiring to handle the excess use of fans and the guards put the fans in a storage closet and that is where they stay. We requested a list of the units that could not have the fans but needless to say it was never received.Installing AC will call for rewiring the majority of the old prison units and they know that will cost a lot of money and they do not want to go there for sure. If the State of Texas cannot treat the Inmates humanely then they need to release them instead of baking them to death in the ovens-called-cells which only have about a 4" x 8" window with many of the unit doors are steel and no breeze flows through the inmates wet their T-shirts, bed-sheets to cool down a little from the excessive heat.Then the citizens wonder why Inmates come out of jail angry,full of hate, and bitterness with many running around like a wild animal because that is how they have been treated.

Anonymous said...

I agree with PAPA. If this problem is not resolved quickley, there will be more deaths and then inmates being released, will come out angry at the system and commit more crimes.