Wilson v. Williams, No. 20-3447 (6th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Inmates housed in the low-security Elkton Correctional Institution, on behalf of themselves and others, filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. 2241 to obtain release from custody to limit their exposure to the COVID-19 virus. They sought to represent all current and future Elkton inmates, including a subclass of inmates who—through age and/or certain medical conditions—were particularly vulnerable to complications, including death, if they contracted COVID-19. The district court entered a preliminary injunction in April 2020, directing the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to evaluate each subclass member’s eligibility for transfer by any means, including compassionate release, parole or community supervision, transfer furlough, or non-transfer furlough within two weeks; transfer those deemed ineligible for compassionate release to another facility where testing is available and physical distancing is possible; and not allow transferees to return to Elkton until certain conditions were met.
The Sixth Circuit vacated the injunction. While the district court had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 2241, that section does not permit some of the relief the petitioners sought. The court rejected the BOP’s attempts to classify the claims as “conditions of confinement” claims, subject to the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The district court erred in finding a likelihood of success on the merits of the Eighth Amendment claim. There was sufficient evidence that the petitioners are “incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm” but the BOP responded reasonably to the known, serious risks posed by COVID-19.