Middlebrooks v. Parker, No. 20-5419 (6th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
In 1989, Middlebrooks of felony murder and aggravated kidnapping and sentenced to death. His conviction and death sentence were upheld on direct and collateral review. When Middlebrooks was sentenced to death, electrocution was Tennessee’s only method of execution. In 2000, Tennessee adopted lethal injection as the default method of execution. Under current law, electrocution is an option for execution only if an inmate sentenced to death before 1999 chooses execution by electrocution; lethal injection is declared unconstitutional; or the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) certifies that a necessary lethal-injection ingredient is unavailable. Middlebrooks will not choose execution by electrocution. In 2018, TDOC adopted a three-drug protocol of midazolam, vecuronium bromide, and potassium chloride as an alternative to pentobarbital.
Middlebrooks and other death row challenged the constitutionality of the three-drug protocol. Tennessee then eliminated the pentobarbital protocol The state court dismissed their complaint. The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that the plaintiffs failed to meet their burden of proving that pentobarbital was available as an alternative means of execution, although other states used pentobarbital in executions.
The district court dismissed Middlebrooks’ 42 U.S.C. suit, citing res judicata. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. Middlebrooks' facial challenge plausibly alleged new facts that allow a reasonable inference that pentobarbital is available to Tennessee for use in executions. Middlebrooks’s as-applied claim does not rest on any newly developed individual condition that would render impermissible the application of res judicata principles.