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Case Name Cole v. Collier PC-TX-0016
Docket / Court 4:14-cv-01698 ( S.D. Tex. )
State/Territory Texas
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Case Summary
On June 18, 2014, four prisoners housed in the Wallace Pack Unit, a medical and geriatric prison operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), brought suit individually and on behalf of those similarly situated in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, ... read more >
On June 18, 2014, four prisoners housed in the Wallace Pack Unit, a medical and geriatric prison operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), brought suit individually and on behalf of those similarly situated in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, under 42 U.S.C. §1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act against TDCJ. The plaintiffs, represented by the Texas Civil Rights Project, the University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, and private counsel, asked that TDCJ be required to provide safe housing conditions at the Pack Unit, claiming that the non-climate controlled interior of the Unit violated the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and plaintiffs' Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that the failure of TDCJ to provide air conditioning to inmates at the Pack Unit during the summer constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, and that TDCJ's failure further violated the ADA by failing to reasonably accommodate prisoners with heat-sensitive disabilities. The plaintiffs sought injunctive and declaratory relief.

The Wallace Pack Unit, operated by TDCJ, is located outside Houston, TX, in Navasota. Deep in the south of Texas, the Pack Unit is a medical facility housing geriatric prisoners, prisoners with disabilities, and prisoners with chronic mental problems. The Pack Unit dormitories, in which the vast majority of prisoners live, are not air conditioned or otherwise climate controlled. The interior of the prison in the summer regularly becomes so hot that inmates sleep on the floor, only marginally cooler than their beds, and the stainless steel tables in the dormitories become hot to the touch. Most of the prisoners at the Pack Unit who suffered heat-related illness were not working outside at the time of their illness, but were simply housed in the hot dormitories. Even the correctional officers' union made numerous public requests for the prison housing areas to be air conditioned. At the time of the complaint, TDCJ had refused to do so.

The plaintiffs (and many others at the medical and geriatric prison) suffered from disabilities, putting them at increased risk of heat-related injury or death. These disabilities are known to be exacerbated by heat, include hypertension, asthma, traumatic brain injury (TBI), COPD, and diabetes. Plaintiffs and others also took medications known to increase the risk of heat-related illness and death, including antihistamines (for allergies), Benztropine (to treat TBI), and diuretics. Several of the plaintiffs and many other inmates had suffered heat-related illness in the past.

After a year of discovery, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on July 6, 2015, a second amended complaint on May 9, 2016, and a third amended complaint on May 7, 2017. The Court (Judge Keith P. Ellison) granted class certification on June 14, 2016. 2016 WL 3258345. He defined the certified class as, "All inmates who currently are, or in the future will be, incarcerated at the Pack Unit, and who are subjected to TDCJ's policy and practice of failing to regulate high indoor heat index temperatures in the housing areas." He also certified two subclasses, the "Heat-Sensitive Subclass" and the "Disability Subclass."

On June 21, 2016, the Judge Ellison granted the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction requiring TDCJ to provide EPA-compliant drinking water through September 22, 2016. 2016 WL 3406439. Water at the Pack Unit had previously contained arsenic levels up to four-and-a-half times the level permitted by the EPA.

The defendants appealed the preliminary injunction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. On July 21, 2016, the Fifth Circuit denied the defendants' motion for a stay of Judge Ellison's injunction pending appeal. It heard oral arguments on September 27, 2016, but then dismissed the appeal as moot because the injunction had expired. 677 Fed.Appx. 915.

Meanwhile, in District Court, the parties continued litigation over the temperature in the Pack Unit and plaintiffs' motion for attorneys' fees. On August 17, 2016, Judge Ellison denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment.

In September 2016, Bryan Collier replaced Brad Livingston as the Executive Director of TDCJ. Collier became the defendant named in the case.

Judge Ellison denied the plaintiffs' motion for attorney fees on December 7, 2016. He stated that the plaintiffs were not yet a prevailing party pending the Fifth Circuit's decision on the defendants' appeal of the preliminary injunction prohibiting arsenic laden water.

On May 1, 2017 the plaintiffs moved for another preliminary injunction to ensure relief for inmates during the upcoming summer months. Specifically, the plaintiffs sought an injunction ordering TDCJ to lower the temperatures inside the prison to 88 degrees and to develop a heat wave policy. In the alternative, the plaintiffs sought relief in the form of open windows, on-demand showers, monitoring of water consumption, respite areas, wellness checks, inmate trainings, portable cooling units, individual water coolers, and a transfer of heat-sensitive inmates into cooler housing.

On July 19, 2017, Judge Ellison granted the preliminary injunction in a 100-page opinion stating, "[p]risoners are human beings with spouses and children who worry about them and miss them. Some of them will likely someday be shown to have been innocent of the crimes of which they are accused. But, even those admittedly guilty of the most heinous crimes must not be denied their constitutional rights. We diminish the Constitution for all of us to the extent we deny it to anyone." He ordered TDCJ to implement a functioning respite program for the young and healthy inmates; to reduce temperatures in dormitories housing heat-sensitive inmates to 88 degrees; to place insect guards on the windows so inmates may cool down from the outdoor breeze without letting insects into their dormitories; and to develop a heat-wave policy for the Pack Unit. The preliminary injunction was to remain in place for 90 days. 2017 WL 3049540.

On August 8, Judge Ellison issued an order specifically outlining the steps the defendants were to take to satisfy the preliminary injunction. The defendants appealed this order to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on August 18.

In late August, Hurricane Harvey hit the gulf and cause severe damage to the Houston area.. In light of the hurricane, and the subsequent relocation of prisoners from the Wallace Pack Unit, the defendants moved to modify the preliminary injunction.

Judge Ellison denied this motion on September 14, holding that the risk to the class members remained and the defendants had several avenues to stay in compliance with the preliminary injunction, notwithstanding the hurricane.

On October 11, Judge Ellison granted the plaintiffs' unopposed motion to extend the preliminary injunction to October 30th, given the expected heat of 88F through the month. The plaintiffs moved to make the order permanent on October 30th. Judge Ellison again granted an unopposed motion to extent the preliminary injunction to the summer of 2018 in January 2018.

Meanwhile, several class members had sent letters to the court requesting to be removed from the class because their transfer to air-conditioned units (in compliance with the preliminary injunction) had lead to a loss of access to services, such as substance abuse classes. Judge Ellison granted these requests on January 29, noting "many of the conditions causing the individuals to ask to leave the class exist because of TDCJ's own decisions about how to implement the Court's second preliminary injunction. Nevertheless, class members may choose to be removed from the lawsuit."

On March 6, the parties proposed a settlement agreement. The agreement included a settlement class defined as, "[a]ll inmates who currently are, or in the future will be, incarcerated at the Pack Unit, and who are subjected to TDCJ's policy and practice of failing to regulate high indoor heat index temperatures in the housing areas." This class included two subclasses - a 'heat sensitive' subclass and a 'disability' subclass. This settlement class narrowed the previous litigation class based on the dates in which individual class members were held at the Pack Unit.

The proposed settlement would require the prison to ensure air conditioning for class members during the summer months, a guarantee of air conditioning if class members were moved to other units, and air conditioning while being transported in vehicles. It also included $4.5 million for attorney's fees and costs. The court would maintain jurisdiction to ensure compliance until the legislature passed a bill for the installation of permanent air conditioning (temporary air conditioning would be used if the legislature did not pass a bill for permanent air conditioning).

That same day, several class members moved to stay the case, asked for independent counsel, and sought declaratory relief. They expressed concern that they had not been given input as to the settlement agreement, fear that the proposed class definition might exclude them, and frustration with the 4.5 mil attorney fee award proposal.

This case is ongoing.

Kevin Nomura - 02/10/2015
Virginia Weeks - 10/17/2016
Gabriela Hybel - 03/21/2018


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief granted
Defendant-type
Corrections
Disability
disability, unspecified
Discrimination-basis
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
General
Conditions of confinement
Sanitation / living conditions
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.
Section 504 (Rehabilitation Act), 29 U.S.C. § 701
Defendant(s) Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Plaintiff Description All inmates who currently are, or in the future will be, incarcerated at the Pack Unit, and who are subjected to TDCJ's policy and practice of failing to regulate high indoor heat index temperatures in the housing areas
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Source of Relief Litigation
Order Duration 2017 - 2018
Filing Year 2014
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  Civil Rights Injunctions Over Time: A Case Study of Jail and Prison Court Orders
N.Y.U. Law Review
Date: May 2006
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University Faculty)
Citation: 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 550 (2006)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons
Book
Date: Jan. 1, 1998
By: Malcolm M. Feeley & Edward Rubin (UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law & Vanderbilt School of Law Faculty Faculty)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PC-TX-0016-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/18/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Second Amended Class Action Complaint [ECF# 412]
PC-TX-0016-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/06/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Order [ECF# 473] (2016 WL 3258345) (S.D. Tex.)
PC-TX-0016-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 06/14/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order for Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 477] (2016 WL 3406439) (S.D. Tex.)
PC-TX-0016-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 06/21/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 584] (S.D. Tex.)
PC-TX-0016-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/07/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Appeal From the United States District Court For the Southern District of Texas [Ct. of App. ECF# 595]
PC-TX-0016-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/22/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Third Amended Class Action Complaint [ECF# 629]
PC-TX-0016-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/07/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Opinion Setting Out Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law [ECF# 737] (2017 WL 3049540) (S.D. Tex.)
PC-TX-0016-0007.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 07/19/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 771] (S.D. Tex.)
PC-TX-0016-0010.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/08/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas (2017 WL 3574968)
PC-TX-0016-0009.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 08/18/2017
Order [ECF# 820] (S.D. Tex.)
PC-TX-0016-0011.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/14/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Order [ECF# 854] (S.D. Tex.)
PC-TX-0016-0012.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/11/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Opinion Setting Out Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law [ECF# 955] (S.D. Tex.)
PC-TX-0016-0013.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/12/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Proposed Settlement Agreement and Release [ECF# 989-4]
PC-TX-0016-0014.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/06/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Davis, W. Eugene (W.D. La., Fifth Circuit)
PC-TX-0016-0006
Ellison, Keith P. (S.D. Tex.)
PC-TX-0016-0003 | PC-TX-0016-0004 | PC-TX-0016-0005 | PC-TX-0016-0007 | PC-TX-0016-0010 | PC-TX-0016-0011 | PC-TX-0016-0012 | PC-TX-0016-0013
Elrod, Jennifer Walker (Fifth Circuit)
PC-TX-0016-0009
Graves, James Earl Jr. (State Supreme Court, Fifth Circuit)
PC-TX-0016-0009
Jones, Edith Hollan (Fifth Circuit)
PC-TX-0016-0006
Reavley, Thomas Morrow (Fifth Circuit)
PC-TX-0016-0006 | PC-TX-0016-0009
Plaintiff's Lawyers Doyle, Jeremy (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0002 | PC-TX-0016-0008 | PC-TX-0016-0014
Edwards, Jeffrey S. (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0001 | PC-TX-0016-0002 | PC-TX-0016-0008 | PC-TX-0016-0014
Frank, Abigail Hill (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0002
James, David Anthony (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0008
McGiverin, Brian Rolland (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0001
Medlock, Scott Charles (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0008
Nader, Wallis (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0002 | PC-TX-0016-0008
Natarajan, Ranjana (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0001
Pennebaker, Andrew (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0002 | PC-TX-0016-0008
Singley, Michael (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0002 | PC-TX-0016-0008
Smith, Nathan (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0002 | PC-TX-0016-0008
Defendant's Lawyers Davis, James E. (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0014
Langley, John S. (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0014
Mase, Lacey E. (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0014
Mateer, Jeffrey C. (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0014
McCarty, Darren L. (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0014
O'Leary, Leah Jean (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0014
Paxton, Ken (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0014
Starr, Brantley D. (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0014
Warner, Craig Michael (Texas)
PC-TX-0016-0014

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