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Case Name Gonzalez v. CoreCivic IM-TX-0050
Docket / Court 1:18-cv-00169 ( W.D. Tex. )
State/Territory Texas
Case Type(s) Immigration and/or the Border
Case Summary
On February 22, 2018, a former civil immigration detainee filed a putative class action lawsuit in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas. The plaintiff, represented by private counsel, sued the private prison company CoreCivic, Inc. under the Federal Trafficking in Victims ... read more >
On February 22, 2018, a former civil immigration detainee filed a putative class action lawsuit in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas. The plaintiff, represented by private counsel, sued the private prison company CoreCivic, Inc. under the Federal Trafficking in Victims Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1589 (the “TPVA”). The plaintiff claimed that civil immigration detainees had been forced to work for 1-2 dollars a day or no wages under threats including solitary confinement and denial of basic services. Additionally, the plaintiff also brought claims of negligence and unjust enrichment against CoreCivic. The plaintiff sought declaratory and injunctive relief, monetary damages, including disgorgement of profits and punitive damages, and attorney’s fees and costs. In addition, the Plaintiff sought certification of the class as “All civil immigration detainees who performed labor for no pay or at a rate of compensation of $1.00 to $2.00 per day for work performed for CoreCivic at any detention facility owned or operated by it from February 20, 2007 to the applicable opt-out date, inclusive.”

According to the plaintiff’s complaint, the civil immigration detainees were forced to perform labor such as cleaning the pods where they were housed, cooking meals, and cleaning, maintaining, and operating the detention facilities. Detainees who refused to work were threatened with punishments such as confinement, physical restraint, substantial and sustained restriction, deprivation, solitary confinement, and retaliatory transfer to other facilities. Some were also denied basic hygiene supplies such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, or sanitary napkins unless they worked. During one instance, after the plaintiff filed a complaint signed by other detainees against the facility for serving food infested with worms, the facility responded by fabricating a chickenpox outbreak and placing all the female detainees in quarantine. During the quarantine, the women received spoiled food and water contaminated with dog hair. The plaintiff alleged this was in retaliation for the original complaint about the infested food.

CoreCivic moved to dismiss on June 8, 2018, arguing that the TVPA does not apply to labor performed by lawfully detained immigration detainees held in a private detention center and that the complaint failed to allege sufficient facts to state a claim. Judge Lee Yeakel denied the company's motion to dismiss on March 1, 2019 because the text of the TVPA ("[w]hoever knowingly provides or obtains the labor or services of a person by . . . any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause the person to believe that, if that person did not perform such labor or services, that person or another person would suffer serious harm”) did not exclude the federal government or private centers performing a federal function. 2019 WL 4388425. In addition, Judge Yeakel found that solitary confinement and the threat of solitary confinement sufficiently alleged the means to achieve forced labor and thus, the plaintiff’s action could proceed.

CoreCivic subsequently filed a motion for Certificate of Appealability for Interlocutory Appeal on the denial of its motion to dismiss. The motion was based in part on similar cases against CoreCivic being appealed in other states such as Georgia. Judge Yeakel granted the motion on June 10, 2019 and stayed all proceedings in the district court pending the resolution of the appeal.

On June 24, 2019, this case was appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (Docket #19-50691). The issue on appeal to the Fifth Circuit was whether the TVPA applies to work programs in federal immigration detention facilities operated by private for-profit contractors.

On January 20, 2021, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court and concluded that deciding whether a party is exempt from a statute is a matter for the legislature and beyond the purview of the judiciary. In an opinion written by Judge James Ho, the Fifth Circuit agreed with the Eleventh Circuit judgment in Barrientos v. CoreCivic, Inc., and found CoreCivic’s argument for exemption from the TPVA (that if they were subject to the law, it must also apply to parents who compel their children to do chores) unable to bear scrutiny. In addition, contrary to CoreCivic’s claims, the court concluded that the language of the TVPA was sufficiently broad to apply beyond concerns specific to international human trafficking. CoreCivic’s attempt to invoke the rule of lenity also failed because of the lack of ambiguity in the TVPA. 986 F.3d 536.

The case was remanded to the Western District of Texas and as of October 15, 2021, this case is ongoing.

Mary Novakovic - 10/10/2019
Hannah Juge - 10/15/2021

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Immigration status
Bathing and hygiene
Conditions of confinement
Disciplinary procedures
Forced labor
Placement in detention facilities
Detention - conditions
Detention - procedures
Undocumented immigrants - rights and duties
National Origin/Ethnicity
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Non-government for profit
Causes of Action State law
Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), 18 U.S.C. § 1589
Defendant(s) CoreCivic
Plaintiff Description Former civil immigration detainee at facilities operated by CoreCivic and forced to perform work to clean, maintain, and operate CoreCivic's detention facilities.
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Pending
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 02/22/2018
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Court Docket(s)
W.D. Tex.
IM-TX-0050-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
W.D. Tex.
Complaint [ECF# 1]
IM-TX-0050-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Tex.
Order [ECF# 29] (2019 WL 4388425)
IM-TX-0050-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Tex.
Order [ECF# 42]
IM-TX-0050-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
[Opinion] [Ct. of App. ECF# 00515712811] (986 F.3d 536)
IM-TX-0050-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | External Link | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
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Judges Ho, James Chiun-Yue (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
Oldham, Andrew Stephen (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
Smith, Jerry Edwin (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
Yeakel, Earl Leroy III (W.D. Tex.) show/hide docs
IM-TX-0050-0002 | IM-TX-0050-0003 | IM-TX-0050-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Buenker, Josef F. (Texas) show/hide docs
IM-TX-0050-0001 | IM-TX-0050-9000
Padgett, Thomas H. Jr. (Texas) show/hide docs
IM-TX-0050-0001 | IM-TX-0050-9000
Pattisapu, Vijay Anand (Texas) show/hide docs
Defendant's Lawyers Bowers, Allison L. (Texas) show/hide docs
Hesman, Ashlee (Arizona) show/hide docs
Lee, Jacob B. (Arizona) show/hide docs
Love, Rachel (Arizona) show/hide docs
Struck, Daniel Patrick (Arizona) show/hide docs

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