MARVIN RAY YATES; KEITH COLE; JACKIE BRANNUM; RICHARD ELVIN KING; FRED WALLACE; LAVAR JOHN SANTEE, Plaintiffs - Appellees,
BRYAN COLLIER; ROBERTO M. HERRERA; TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, Defendants - Appellants.
Opinion Field Date August 21, 2017
from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Texas
REAVLEY, ELROD, and GRAVES, Circuit Judges.
JENNIFER WALKER ELROD, CIRCUIT JUDGE
appeal presents yet another chapter in a long saga of
challenges to conditions of confinement in prisons throughout
this circuit. The plaintiffs are inmates in the Wallace Pack
Unit, a prison operated by the Texas Department of Criminal
Justice. They allege violations of the Eighth Amendment, the
Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act
due to the high temperatures in the prison housing areas.
Plaintiffs sought, and the district court granted,
certification of a general class and two subclasses, and the
defendants now appeal. Because we conclude that the district
court did not abuse its discretion, we AFFIRM.
named Plaintiffs are inmates in the Wallace Pack Unit, a
prison operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
(TDCJ). Plaintiffs brought this lawsuit in 2014 against TDCJ,
Bryan Collier (TDCJ's executive director), and Roberto
Herrera (the Pack Unit's warden) (collectively, the
Defendants). The Pack Unit houses approximately 1, 400
inmates. Though portions of the Pack Unit are
air-conditioned, it is undisputed that the inmate housing
areas are not. During the summer months, indoor temperatures
within the Pack Unit housing area can reach 100 degrees and
consistently exceed 90 degrees. TDCJ is aware of these high
temperatures as it routinely monitors the outdoor apparent
temperatures at the Pack Unit during the summer months.
Acknowledging that these high temperatures are a potential
risk to the health and safety of the inmates in the Pack Unit
and in an effort to reduce the risk from these high
temperatures, Defendants claim that they provide certain
"heat-mitigation" measures-including more frequent
showers, cold drinking water, fans, and temporary access to
air-conditioned "respite areas" outside the housing
until this lawsuit was filed, TDCJ's policy regarding
mitigation measures remained largely unchanged, despite the
heat-related injuries occurring within the Pack Unit and in
various other Texas prisons. Indeed, since 1998, twenty or
more inmates have died as a result of excessive heat. This
history led the district court to conclude that, "as a
factual matter, " there was a "significant history
of serious heat related illnesses" within the Pack Unit.
Only in 2015, after this lawsuit was filed, did TDCJ begin
its respite-area practice.
six named Plaintiffs, only one is younger than 60 years old
and has no medical conditions that would affect his
sensitivity to heat. The remaining five named Plaintiffs
range in age from 60 to 72 years and all have one or more
conditions that render them particularly sensitive to heat,
including Type II diabetes, coronary arterial disease, high
blood pressure, high cholesterol, hypertension,
schizoaffective disorder, and obesity.
assert two causes of action. First, they assert an Eighth
Amendment claim against Collier and Herrera. Second, they
claim that TDCJ has failed to provide reasonable
accommodations for inmates with heat-sensitive disabilities
in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the
Rehabilitation Act. Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment
and a permanent injunction requiring defendants to
"maintain a safe indoor apparent temperature (e.g.,
maintaining a heat index of 88 degrees or lower) inside each
of the Pack Unit's housing areas . . . or enter other
injunctive relief sufficient to protect the health and safety
of the prisoners at the Pack Unit."
moved to certify three classes, one general class and two
General Class: 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.
Heat-Sensitive Subclass: All people who are
incarcerated at the Pack Unit, or in the future will be, that
are subjected to TDCJ's policy and practice of failing to
regulate high indoor heat index temperatures in the housing
areas, and either: (1) have a physiological condition that
places them at increased risk of heat-related illness,
injury, or death (including, but not limited to, suffering
from obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease,
psychiatric conditions, cirrhosis of the liver, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis, asthma, sweat
gland dysfunction, and thyroid dysfunction); or, (2) are
prescribed an anticonvulsant, anticholinergic, antipsychotic,
antihistamine, antidepressant, beta blocker, or diuretic; or
(3) are over age 65.
Disability SubClass: All people incarcerated
at the Pack Unit, or who will be in the future, that are
subjected to TDCJ's policy and practice of failing to
regulate high indoor heat index temperatures in the housing
areas and suffer from a disability that substantially limits
one or more of their major life activities and who are at
increased risk of heat-related illness, injury, or death due
to their disability or any medical treatment necessary to
treat their disability.
district court certified all three classes. It concluded that
Plaintiffs sufficiently demonstrated that they met all
requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a). It
then determined that certification was authorized under Rule
23(b)(2). Last, the district court rejected Defendants'
argument that the Prison Litigation Reform Act-which directs
that prospective relief in the prison context "shall
extend no further than necessary to correct the violation,
" 18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(1)(A)-must be applied as part
of the Rule 23(b)(2) analysis.
moved under Rule 23(f) for authorization
to appeal the district court's certification order, and
this court granted the motion.
review the district court's decision to certify a class
for an abuse of discretion." M.D. ex rel. Stukenberg
v. Perry, 675 F.3d 832, 836 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Bell Atl. Corp. v. AT&T Corp., 339 F.3d 294, 301
(5th Cir. 2003)). "A trial court abuses its discretion
when its ruling is based on an erroneous view of the law or a
clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence."
Bocanegra v. Vicmar Servs., Inc., 320 F.3d 581, 584
(5th Cir. 2003). This deference stems from "a
recognition of the essentially factual basis of the
certification inquiry and of the district court's
inherent power to manage and control pending
litigation." Perry, 675 F.3d at 836.
Nonetheless, this broad discretion must operate "within
the framework of Rule 23, " and we "review de
novo whether the district court applied the correct
legal standards." Id. (citations omitted).
well-established in our circuit "that the Eighth
Amendment guarantees inmates a right to be free from exposure
to extremely dangerous temperatures without adequate remedial
measures." Hinojosa v. Livingston, 807 F.3d
657, 669 (5th Cir. 2015). Over the past several years, we
have decided numerous appeals arising from cases in which
inmates have challenged the heat levels within prisons
located throughout this circuit. We have repeatedly upheld
district court findings that the heat levels within these
prisons violate the Eighth Amendment, and we have done so in
the context of a class action in at least one case.
Gates v. Cook, 376 F.3d 323 (5th Cir. 2004), we
upheld a permanent class-wide injunction based on the Eighth
Amendment, which required the Mississippi Department of
Corrections to "provide fans, ice water, and daily
showers when the heat index is 90 degrees or above, "
id. at 339-40, even though most of the inmates had
the benefit of industrial sized fans as well as smaller
personal fans. Id. at 334. Summer temperatures in
the area averaged above 90° Fahrenheit, and the
ventilation within the facility was "inadequate to
afford prisoners a minimal level of comfort during the summer
months, " and the inmates were "not afforded extra
showers, ice water, or fans . . . when the heat index [was
90° Fahrenheit] or above." Id. Similarly,
in Ball v. LeBlanc, 792 F.3d 584 (5th Cir. 2015), we
affirmed the district court's finding that the heat
within a prison housing area posed a substantial risk of
serious harm to inmates, where the heat index ranged from
81.5° Fahrenheit to 107.79° Fahrenheit and surpassed
100° Fahrenheit on five or more days during a roughly two
week period. Id. at 590-91, 592-94. We did so even
though the inmates had continued access to potable water and
ice, and despite the defendant's argument that
"because it provide[d] the remedies [upheld in
Gates], there can be no Eighth Amendment violation
as a matter of law." Id. at 590, 592. And in
Blackmon v. Garza, 484 F.App'x 866 (5th Cir.
2012), we reversed the grant of judgment as a matter of law
in favor of TDCJ officials. Id. at 874. Though
recognizing that TDCJ had taken some remedial steps, such as
providing cool ice water three times a day and allowing extra
showers, we concluded this was insufficient to justify
judgment in TDCJ's favor. We relied in part on the fact
that "[t]here was no air-conditioning, " "the
windows were sealed, " the unit "did not have a
water fountain, " and "the inmates were not able to
use personal fans, " though there was a large industrial
fan available. Id. at 871-72.
TDCJ officials are, or have been, defendants in numerous
other cases alleging Eighth Amendment violations based on
excessive heat in prison. See, e.g.,
Hinojosa, 807 F.3d at 661 (deciding appeal involving
TDCJ prisoner who suffered a seizure at night due to high
indoor temperatures, "[fell] out of his bed and was
convulsing, " and died twenty minutes later); Webb
v. Livingston, 618 F.App'x 201, 204 (5th Cir. 2015)
(deciding appeal involving the "heat-related deaths of
five prisoners who died while housed in facilities operated
by [TDCJ]"); Valigura v. Mendoza, 265
F.App'x 232, 233-34 (5th Cir. 2008) (deciding appeal
involving prisoner who alleged that "temperatures in the
bunk area reached into the nineties and hundreds due to poor
ventilation" and that "he was not able to use the
restroom or showers without lengthy waits, which caused him
short, we have repeatedly recognized the serious risk of harm
that excessive heat can pose in the prison context absent
adequate mitigating measures, and we have consistently found
evidence sufficient in these cases to support an Eighth
Amendment violation, even when certain mitigating measures
were available. It is against this backdrop that we now
address the discrete issue presented in this appeal: whether
the district court erred in certifying the General Class and
the two subclasses.
challenge only two of the class certification criteria.
First, they assert that the district court erred in
concluding that Plaintiffs demonstrated a common question of
law or fact for each of the classes. Second, Defendants argue that the district
court erred in concluding that the proposed classes could be
certified under Rule 23(b)(2). As part of this second
argument, Defendants reassert their contention that the
Prison Litigation Reform Act precludes certification in this
case. We discuss each in turn.
23(a) states that a class may be certified "only if . .
. there are questions of law or fact common to the
class." Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a)(2). At first blush, it might
seem that Rule 23(a)(2)'s requirement can be easily
satisfied. After all, "any competently crafted class
complaint literally raises common questions."
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338, 349
(2011) (alteration omitted) (quotation marks omitted). As the
Supreme Court has indicated, however, Rule 23(a)(2) demands
that the putative class members' claims "must depend
upon a common contention" that "must be of such a
nature that it is capable of class-wide resolution-which
means that determination of its truth or falsity will ...