Valentine v. Collier, No. 20-20207 (5th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that TDCJ's adoption and implementation of measures guided by changing CDC recommendations in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic do not go far enough. Plaintiffs filed a class action alleging violations of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, seeking a preliminary injunction.
The Fifth Circuit granted TDCJ's motion to stay the district court's preliminary injunction, which regulates the cleaning intervals for common areas, the types of bleach-based disinfectants the prison must use, the alcohol content of hand sanitizer that inmates must receive, mask requirements for inmates, and inmates' access to tissues (amongst many other things). The court held that TDCJ is likely to prevail on the merits of its appeal because: (1) after accounting for the protective measures TDCJ has taken, plaintiffs have not shown a "substantial risk of serious harm" that amounts to "cruel and unusual punishment"; and (2) the district court committed legal error in its application of Farmer v. Brennan, by treating inadequate measures as dispositive of defendants' mental state. In this case, even assuming that there is a substantial risk of serious harm, plaintiffs lack evidence of defendants' subjective deliberate indifference to that harm. The court also held that TDCJ has shown that it will be irreparably injured absent a stay, and that the balance of the harms and the public interest favor a stay. Finally, the court held that plaintiffs have not exhausted their administrative remedies as required in the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), and the district court's injunction goes well beyond the limits of what the PLRA would allow even if plaintiffs had properly exhausted their claims.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on June 5, 2020.