Fifth Circuit Stays Injunction on Texas Prisons in Covid-19 Suit

April 23, 2020, 12:16 AM

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice can hold off on implementing, for now, the requirements of an injunction mandating its Covid-19 prevention policies, the Fifth Circuit ruled Wednesday.

The court granted a stay of the injunction, pending the appeal. The department would be irreparably injured without a stay of the injunction because several of the requirements, including those to test all inmates for Covid-19 and to clean common surfaces every 30 minutes for 15 hours a day, would create immense administrative problems, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit said.

Two inmates at the Wallace Pack Unit, a prison for the elderly and infirm, filed a class action claiming that cleaning measures inside the prison didn’t go far enough to prevent the spread of Covid-19. They alleged violations of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and also sought a preliminary injunction.

The district court granted the injunction, which regulates cleaning intervals, types of disinfectants to be used, and alcohol content of hand sanitizer that inmates must receive, among other things.

While many of the injunction’s requirements go even further than guidelines laid out by the Centers for Disease Control, the district court found that compliance with CDC guidelines might not be enough to satisfy Eighth Amendment requirements.

The inmates failed to show a substantial risk of harm after accounting for protective measures already being taken in the prison, the Fifth Circuit said. They also didn’t cite any precedent to show that CDC recommendations were insufficient.

Judges Edith H. Jones, Stephen A. Higginson and Andrew S. Oldham unanimously agreed to stay the injunction pending the expedited appeal, which they said will likely prevail.

Winston & Strawn LLP and Edwards Law represent the inmates. The Attorney General for the State of Texas represents the prison.

The case is Valentine v. Collier, 5th Cir., No. 20-20207, 4/22/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Maeve Allsup in San Francisco at mallsup@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Carmen Castro-Pagan at ccastro-pagan@bloomberglaw.com

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