On June 10, 2013, several death row inmates filed this suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections and the Louisiana State Penitentiary. The plaintiffs, represented by the Promise of Justice Initiative and private counsel, alleged they were subject to serious mental and physical health risks from continuous exposure to severe seasonal heat, which they claimed violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
On December 19, 2013, the District Court (Judge Brian A. Jackson) ordered that the defendants immediately develop a plan to reduce and maintain the heat index in the death row tiers at or below 88 degrees Fahrenheit. The Court also awarded the plaintiffs reasonable attorneys' fees and costs.
The defendants appealed this ruling and moved to stay the order. On January 17, 2014, the District Court denied the defendants' motion to stay pending appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. A month later, the Fifth Circuit also denied a stay pending appeal.
Pursuant to the District Court's order, on February 17, 2014, the defendants submitted a plan to keep the index in death row at or below 88 degrees Fahrenheit between April 1 and October 31. The defendants hired an expert, who determined that the only way to maintain this temperature was to install facility-wide air conditioning. Accordingly, the defendants proposed the addition of nine tons of air conditioning capacity on each death row tier. The plan also provided for automatic monitoring and recording of temperature and humidity data, one cold shower per day for each inmate, and the provision of clean ice and ice chests.
As the District Court proceeded with the case (and while the appeal proceeded before the Fifth Circuit), the United States Department of Justice filed a notice of interest in the case, expressing its view that if the Court found a constitutional violation, broad relief--including an independent monitor and access rights for the plaintiffs' counsel--was within the authority of the District Court. (The United States took no position on whether the conditions at Angola violated the Eighth Amendment.)
On May 23, 2014, the District Court (Judge Jackson) approved the State's remediation plan and chose a monitor. On June 3, 2014, the court rendered final judgment, finding for the prisoners on the Eighth Amendment claim and for the State on the Americans with Disabilities Act claim. The State appealed. This time, on June 6, 2014, the Fifth Circuit granted a stay while that appeal was pending. The prisoners asked the Supreme Court Justice Scalia (who is the Circuit Justice for the Fifth Circuit) to vacate the stay on June 30, but on July 3 Justice Scalia denied that request.
On July 8, 2015, the Fifth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, in a decision by Judge Edith Jones. The Court of Appeals upheld the liability finding, but said that under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the injunction was too broad. The District Court's order to maintain the heat index at or below 88 degrees, the Court explained, amounted to a requirement of facility-wide air conditioning -- and that was not constitutionally compelled. A narrower remedy would suffice: a daily cold shower, or fans and ice containers, or plentiful cold drinking water and ice. In addition, the relief should not have been awarded facility wide. Since the action was not a class action, relief should have been awarded for the three plaintiffs, individually. Judge Reavley dissented, explaining that the injunction was sufficiently narrow.
The Court remanded for crafting of an appropriately tailored injunction. Meredith Osborne - 11/03/2013
Jessica Kincaid - 03/09/2014