United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
P. ELLISON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before this Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Contempt, to
Show Cause, and for Sanctions. (Doc. No. 1459). Plaintiffs
allege that Defendants have repeatedly violated the
settlement agreement (Doc. No. 989-4) and this Court's
orders this past summer by allowing temperatures in units
housing class members to exceed 88℉, failing to notify
Class Counsel of those excessively hot temperatures, and then
misrepresenting conditions and preventing Class Counsel from
discovering such violations of the agreement. Defendants have
conceded that they violated the terms of the settlement
agreement by allowing the temperatures to exceed 88℉
for a period of time in July and August 2019 in the LeBlanc
Unit and then by failing to notify Class Counsel of those
temperatures. They also concede that certain
misrepresentations were made to Class Counsel and the Court
regarding the temperatures in the LeBlanc Unit, the
availability of thermostat temperature readings in the
LeBlanc Unit, and the availability of the LeBlanc warden and
executive administration officials during a scheduled
inspection of the LeBlanc Unit.
Defendants' violations of the settlement agreement and
misrepresentations to both Class Counsel and this Court,
Plaintiffs request that the Court find Defendants in
contempt, order a show cause hearing, and order various
sanctions against Defendants, including fines, discovery, and
attorneys' fees. After careful consideration of all
filings, evidence presented at the hearings held on this
Motion, and applicable law, the Court hereby GRANTS
in part Plaintiffs' Motion as it relates to
attorneys' fees, discovery, and a show cause hearing. The
Court DEFERS ruling on Plaintiffs'
request for a finding of contempt and DENIES
Plaintiffs' requests for sanctions in the form of fines.
has been written about the course of this litigation; the
Court will not recount the full facts here. The events that
are most relevant to the present Motion occurred in July and
August of 2019. In mid-July 2019, Class Counsel began
receiving complaints from class members about temperatures in
both the Stiles Unit and the LeBlanc Unit. (Doc. No. 1459, at
10-11). Defendants later admitted that the Stiles Unit was
having mechanical issues with its chillers beginning in June
2019, and that a temporary rental chiller was not put in
place until July 24, 2019. (Doc. No. 1472, at 6-7). However,
Defendants failed to report the high temperatures to Class
Counsel, as they are required to do by the settlement
agreement. (Doc. No. 1459, at 11).
primary focus of this Motion, however, is on the events that
occurred in July and August 2019 in the LeBlanc Unit. In
mid-July, Class Counsel reported to Defendants' counsel
that class members were complaining of high temperatures in
the LeBlanc Unit dorms. (Doc. No. 1459-41, at 2). Defendants
represented through their attorneys that temperatures had
been maintained at acceptable levels, and that, although
there had been a mechanical issue in mid-July, the air
conditioning had been repaired immediately. (Doc. No.
1459-41, at 2; Doc. No. 1459-46, at 2). Defendants also
provided a document that purported to list all air
conditioning work and maintenance issues at the LeBlanc Unit
in July 2019, all of which were resolved immediately. (Doc.
No. 1459-47, at 3). However, Defendants later revealed that
this document was not comprehensive, and that there were in
fact long-standing problems with cooling in the LeBlanc Unit.
(Doc. No. 1488, at 8-9). It remains unknown who at the Texas
Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) made this document.
Id. at 7.
Counsel continued to receive complaints from class members,
so they requested a site inspection, and one was scheduled
for August 8. (Doc. No. 1459-51, at 7). However, on the
morning of August 7, Defendants' counsel notified Class
Counsel that, due to a family emergency, the warden would not
be able to attend the inspection. Id. at 3. In
addition, Defendants' counsel stated that senior TDCJ
officials were out of town for an American Correctional
Association conference. Id. Defendants' counsel
represented that, for those two reasons, the inspection had
to be moved to August 12. Id. However, Defendants
later admitted that previous representations that the warden
had a family emergency, or that the warden and senior TDCJ
officials were required to be present for an inspection to
take place were false. (Doc. No. 1472, at 2; Doc. No.
1472-19, at 84:16-89:15).
the Court's order, the inspection took place as
originally scheduled, on August 8. (Minute Entry 8/7/2019).
At the inspection, Class Counsel discovered temperatures that
far exceeded the 88℉ heat index maximum required by the
settlement agreement. (Doc. No. 1472, at 2; Doc. No. 1459, at
14). Class Counsel also discovered that, although
Defendants' counsel had stated that LeBlanc Unit staff
had been regularly monitoring temperatures, the only
thermostats in the Unit were mounted inside the air
conditioning components, and thus, were not visible to staff
members without assistance from maintenance staff. (Doc. No.
1472, at 2). Defendants have since admitted that the LeBlanc
Unit air conditioning system was malfunctioning since at
least early August and, despite maintenance conducted
throughout the summer, the LeBlanc Unit was not cooled to
appropriate temperatures. (Doc. No. 1472, at 2, 8; Doc. No.
1472-23). Defendants also failed to notify Class Counsel
about the air conditioning malfunction or elevated
temperatures, in violation of the terms of the settlement
agreement. (Doc. No. 1472, at 2).
have since moved all class members out of the LeBlanc Unit.
Id. at 8. Defendants have also moved all class
members who can live in the Pack Unit back to the Pack Unit,
and consolidated the remaining class members into as few
units as possible. Id. at 10-11. All housing areas
where class members reside now have Kestrel thermometers
mounted permanently on the walls. Id. at 11. These
thermometers measure heat indices automatically and download
the data onto smart phones via an app. Id.
Defendants provided Class Counsel with heat index readings
from all housing areas with class members on a weekly basis
through October 15, 2019. Id. at 12. Defendants have
also set out various policy changes that will govern the
processing of heat-related grievances by class members,
housing reassignments of class members, and notification of
elevated temperatures in units housing class members.
Id. at 11-12. However, Defendants have still failed
to explain who was responsible for the many
misrepresentations made to this Court and to Class Counsel.
(Doc. No. 1488, at 11-12, 13-14). They have also failed to
reveal how long LeBlanc Unit was out of compliance and how it
remained out of compliance for so long without any action on
the part of TDCJ. Id. at 15-16.
addition to Defendants' violations in the Stiles and
LeBlanc Units, Plaintiffs also allege that Defendants have
violated the terms of the settlement agreement by repeatedly
transporting class members in buses that are not air
conditioned and by failing to provide parole-voted programs
for class members in air-conditioned facilities. (Doc. No.
1459, at 17-18). Defendants admit to one instance of using an
un-air-conditioned bus to transport class members. (Doc. No.
1472, at 8- 9). They claim that the delay in provision of
parole-voted programs was due to personnel resignation, not
class members' status as class members in this
litigation. Id. at 10.
courts possess inherent power “to manage their own
affairs so as to achieve the orderly and expeditious
disposition of cases.” Link v. Wabash R.R.
Co., 370 U.S. 626, 630-31 (1962). That power includes
“the ability to fashion an appropriate sanction for
conduct which abuses the judicial process.”
Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 44-45 (1991).
Such conduct includes “disobedience to the orders of
the Judiciary, regardless of whether such disobedience
interfered with the conduct of trial.” Id. at
44 (quoting Young v. United States ex rel. Vuitton et
Fils S.A., 481 U.S. 787, 798 (1987)). Courts must use
their inherent power to sanction “with restraint and
discretion.” Id. For example, where a court
orders payment of attorneys' fees as a sanction against a
party that acted in bad faith, the fees must be compensatory,
and not punitive. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v.
Haeger, 137 S.Ct. 1178, 1186 (2017). However, courts
have the discretion to impose even particularly severe
sanctions, where necessary. See Chambers, 501 U.S.
at 44; see also Nat. Gas Pipeline Co. of Am. v. Energy
Gathering, Inc., 2 F.3d 1397, 1412 (5th Cir. 1993)
(“The ultimate touchstone of inherent powers is
is no dispute that Defendants violated the terms of the
settlement agreement, which is enforceable as an order by
this Court. Defendants have themselves admitted that they
failed to maintain indoor heat index temperatures below
88℉ in both the Stiles and LeBlanc Units, failed to
notify Class Counsel when temperatures exceeded 88℉,
and transported class members on non-air-conditioned buses on
at least one occasion. Additionally, Defendants have also
admitted that they had previously made several serious
misrepresentations to both Class Counsel ...