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Yates v. Collier

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

January 30, 2017

MARVIN RAY YATES; KEITH COLE; JACKIE BRANNUM; RICHARD ELVIN KING; FRED WALLACE; LAVAR JOHN SANTEE, Plaintiffs - Appellees
v.
BRYAN COLLIER; ROBERTO M. HERRERA; TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, Defendants-Appellants

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas

          Before REAVLEY, DAVIS, and JONES, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM JUDGE.

         This interlocutory appeal arises out of a preliminary injunction that Appellees obtained and have since allowed to expire. For the reasons set out below, we DISMISS the appeal as MOOT, VACATE the district court's order, and REMAND for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I.

         This is a conditions of confinement case brought by prisoners housed in the Wallace Pack Unit ("Pack Unit") of the Texas prison system. The prisoners allege that they are exposed to extreme heat throughout the summer months and that such exposure, without sufficient mitigation, violates the Eighth

          Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. To mitigate the effects of the heat, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice ("TDCJ") encourages its prisoners to drink water. However, the water served at the Pack Unit contains more arsenic than the maximum prescribed (but not yet fully enforced) under federal regulations promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA").

         Armed with these undisputed facts, the prisoners, on May 23, 2016, filed a motion for preliminary injunction, seeking any and all relief necessary to "stop the Texas Department of Criminal Justice from exposing them to the combination of dangerously high temperatures 'mitigated' primarily by water poisoned with arsenic." On June 21, 2016, the district court issued the injunction, ordering the TDCJ "to provide drinking water to the inmates at the Wallace Pack Unit that conforms with EPA maximum contaminant level requirements for arsenic beginning not later than [July 6, 2016] and continuing until September 22, 2016."

         On September 23, 2016, the preliminary injunction automatically expired pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(2). We must therefore first determine whether we have jurisdiction to address the merits of this injunction.

         II.

         "Because mootness is jurisdictional, " we cannot reach the merits of an injunction that is moot.[1] Generally, when an injunction "expires by its own terms, " it is moot and "there is nothing to review."[2]

         The TDCJ, however, asserts that this appeal falls into an exception to mootness known as capable of repetition yet evading review. A dispute is capable of repetition yet evading review if: (1) the challenged action is too short in duration "to be fully litigated prior to its cessation or expiration, " and (2) "there is a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party will be subject to the same action again."[3] The Supreme Court has noted that "the capable-of-repetition doctrine applies only in exceptional situations . . . ."[4]"Accordingly, a party seeking to invoke this exception . . . bears the burden of showing its application."[5]

         The TDCJ has not established that it will be subject to the same preliminary injunction in the future. The Pack Unit was, as of last summer, the only Texas prison unit serving water that violates the EPA's current arsenic-related guidelines. And the TDCJ has assured us that, by next summer, the Pack Unit will enjoy "a new filtration system" that will ensure that these violations do not recur.

         We see no evidence that the TDCJ will be subject to the same injunction in the future. The injunction is therefore moot, ...


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