HUERTA v. EWING et al
ORDER - For the foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES Plaintiffs' Motion for the Appointment of a Three Judge Panel, 95 . To the extent that circumstances change which would support the appointment of a three-judge panel, Plaintiffs may re-file their motion (SEE ORDER FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION). Signed by Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson on 2/8/2018. (DW)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
TERRE HAUTE DIVISION
JAUSTON HUERTA, THOMAS BOLTON, JR.,
CURTIS GILLIE, CARL SHERB, DEREK HICKS,
and DURAND RANDLE, individually and on
behalf of present and future inmates of Vigo
SHERIFF GREG EWING, VIGO COUNTY
COMMISSIONERS, VIGO COUNTY COUNCIL, ET
In October 2016, Plaintiff Jauston Huerta, an inmate at the Vigo County Jail (the “Jail”)
initiated this litigation as a putative class action against Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing, the Vigo
County Commissioners, and the Vigo County Council alleging that the Jail is overcrowded, does
not adequately protect inmates against exposure to disease, and does not provide adequate due
process to inmates in violation of the United States Constitution. The following month, Mr. Huerta
filed an Amended Complaint adding several additional named plaintiffs. After attempting without
success to reach an agreement with Defendants regarding overcrowding at the Jail, Plaintiffs have
moved for the appointment of a three-judge panel to address that issue, [Filing No. 95], and their
motion is now ripe for the Court’s decision.
Shortly after Plaintiffs filed their Amended Complaint, they also filed a Motion to Certify
Class and a Motion for Preliminary Injunction. [Filing No. 10; Filing No. 12.] In May 2017, the
Court certified a class of all inmates at the Jail from October 13, 2016 to the present, including
current and future inmates who are or will be incarcerated at the Jail and all current and future
individuals who were transported to other county jails as a result of overcrowding at the Jail.
[Filing No. 46 at 3-4.] Plaintiffs filed an Amended Motion for Preliminary Injunction, [Filing No.
65], only to withdraw it when it appeared that the parties had reached an agreement regarding
overcrowding at the Jail, [Filing No. 87]. The parties, however, have not been able to reach
agreement to date regarding an agreed preliminary injunction, and Plaintiffs filed a Motion for the
Appointment of a Three Judge Panel on January 11, 2018. [Filing No. 95.]
In their motion, Plaintiffs argue that Defendants, “in spite of many promises and hoped-for
resolutions, have not committed to building a new jail, which is the only feasible solution in the
long run to address the chronic overcrowding conditions.” [Filing No. 95 at 2.] Plaintiffs discuss
a Private Consent Settlement Agreement that was reached in a different case related to
overcrowding at the Jail, David Acosta, et al. v. William Harris, et al., Case No. TH00-081-C-Y/H
(the “Acosta Agreement”). [Filing No. 95 at 2.] Plaintiffs contend that the Acosta Agreement
required that the Jail capacity be kept at no more than 268 inmates, that “[t]he population reached
the design capacity within a few years and has been overcrowded and continues to be
overcrowded,” and that the Vigo County Sheriff, Vigo County Commissioners, and Vigo County
Council “ignored” the Acosta Agreement. [Filing No. 95 at 2-3.] Plaintiffs note that the American
Civil Liberties Union then brought an enforcement action related to the Acosta Agreement in Vigo
County Superior Court, Hos v. Ewing, et al., Case No. 84D01-1308-PL-007173, which is currently
pending in Sullivan Superior Court before a Special Judge. [Filing No. 95 at 3.] Plaintiffs assert
that although no preliminary injunction has been entered in this case, “the Court should order the
release of prisoners so as to ensure the jail population is not sleeping on the floor,” and that only a
three-judge panel can order the release of prisoners pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3626. [Filing No. 95
They request appointment of a three-judge panel “to address the continuing
unconstitutional problems” at the Jail. [Filing No. 95 at 4.]
Defendants did not respond to Plaintiffs’ motion.
18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(3) provides for the appointment of a three-judge panel to consider
whether the release of prisoners should be ordered to remedy constitutional violations. To obtain
a prisoner release order, the plaintiff must show that:
a court has previously entered an order for less intrusive relief that has failed
to remedy the deprivation of the Federal right sought to be remedied through
the prisoner release order; and
the defendant has had a reasonable amount of time to comply with the
previous court orders.
18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(3)(A). The term “prisoner release order” “does not necessarily mean an order
requiring the release of inmates; instead, the [Prison Litigation Reform Act] broadly defines the
term as including ‘any order, including a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunctive
relief, that has the purpose or effect of reducing or limiting the prison population, or that directs
the release from or nonadmission of prisoners to a prison.’” Plata v. Schwarzenegger, 2007 WL
2122657, *1 (N.D. Cal. 2007) (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 3626(g)(4)).
Section 3626(a)(3)(C) provides that:
A party seeking a prisoner release order in Federal court shall file with any request
for such relief, a request for a three-judge court and materials sufficient to
demonstrate that the requirements of subparagraph (A) [a prior court order for less
intrusive relief that has failed to remedy the deprivation and a reasonable amount
of time to comply] have been met.
18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(3)(C).
When considering whether a three-judge panel should be convened, the Court need not
consider whether a prisoner release order is ultimately appropriate, which would require showing
by clear and convincing evidence that crowding is the primary cause of the violation of a Federal
right, and no other relief will remedy the violation of the Federal right. See 18 U.S.C. §
3626(a)(3)(E); Plata, 2007 WL 2122657 at *1.
Plaintiffs here have failed to meet the first requirement for appointment of a three-judge
panel – that a court has “previously entered an order for less intrusive relief that has failed to
remedy the deprivation of the Federal right sought to be remedied through the prisoner release
order.” 18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(3)(A). Plaintiffs discuss failed negotiations with Defendants in this
case, the Acosta Agreement, and the Hos enforcement action. But they do not point to a court
order that has been entered in this case, in Acosta, or in Hos related to the claims raised in this
litigation. This failure is fatal to their request for appointment of a three-judge panel at this point
in the proceedings, and mandates that the Court deny their motion.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES Plaintiffs’ Motion for the Appointment of a
Three Judge Panel, . To the extent that circumstances change which would support the
appointment of a three-judge panel, Plaintiffs may re-file their motion.
Distribution via ECF only to all counsel of record
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