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Huerta v. Ewing

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

October 10, 2018

Jauston Huerta, et al., Plaintiffs,
Greg Ewing, et al., Defendants.


          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         This case is brought on behalf of past and present inmates at the Vigo County, Indiana Jail (the “Jail”) who claim that the Jail is overcrowded, resulting in the violation of inmates' constitutional rights. Plaintiffs bring their lawsuit against Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing, the Vigo County Commissioners (the “Commissioners”), the Vigo County Council (the “Council”), and several individual Commissioners and members of the Council. The Court certified a class of Jail inmates from October 13, 2016 to the present, but did not certify a class with respect to any personal injury claims members of the class may have as a result of overcrowding at the Jail. [Filing No. 46.] Plaintiffs have moved for partial summary judgment on their declaratory and injunctive relief claims, leaving the damages claims of the named plaintiffs for trial. That motion is now fully briefed, and the Court held a hearing on the motion on September 21, 2018. The motion is now ripe for the Court's consideration.

         This litigation is in a somewhat unusual posture. Plaintiffs present extensive facts in their brief in support of their Motion for Partial Summary Judgment to support their argument that conditions at the Jail result in violations of their constitutional rights. [Filing No. 119 at 2-18.] Defendants “concede the [Jail] does not meet constitutional standards because of overcrowding, understaffing and inadequate space.” [Filing No. 131 at 5.] The Court recognizes that Vigo County's challenges are shared by other Indiana counties already engaged in litigation over the status of their county jails. More litigation no doubt will follow, as the problem of jail overcrowding throughout Indiana is well known. Even this Court faces challenges because of county jail overcrowding and the reduction of available beds to house federal pre-trial detainees. That being said, the Court has a responsibility to ensure that conditions at the Jail are constitutional. To that end, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and grants certain injunctive relief, as discussed below.


         Standard of Review

          A motion for summary judgment asks the Court to find that a trial is unnecessary because there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and, instead, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. SeeFed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). As the current version of Rule 56 makes clear, whether a party asserts that a fact is undisputed or genuinely disputed, the party must support the asserted fact by citing to particular parts of the record, including depositions, documents, or affidavits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). A party can also support a fact by showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B). Affidavits or declarations must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant is competent to testify on matters stated. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). Failure to properly support a fact in opposition to a movant's factual assertion can result in the movant's fact being considered undisputed, and potentially in the grant of summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court need only consider disputed facts that are material to the decision. A disputed fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Hampton v. Ford Motor Co., 561 F.3d 709, 713 (7th Cir. 2009). In other words, while there may be facts that are in dispute, summary judgment is appropriate if those facts are not outcome determinative. Harper v. Vigilant Ins. Co., 433 F.3d 521, 525 (7th Cir. 2005). Fact disputes that are irrelevant to the legal question will not be considered. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         On summary judgment, a party must show the Court what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events. Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., 325 F.3d 892, 901 (7th Cir. 2003). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if no reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 875 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court views the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Darst v. Interstate Brands Corp., 512 F.3d 903, 907 (7th Cir. 2008). It cannot weigh evidence or make credibility determinations on summary judgment because those tasks are left to the fact-finder. O'Leary v. Accretive Health, Inc., 657 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court need only consider the cited materials, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3), and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has “repeatedly assured the district courts that they are not required to scour every inch of the record for evidence that is potentially relevant to the summary judgment motion before them, ” Johnson, 325 F.3d at 898. Any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial is resolved against the moving party. Ponsetti v. GE Pension Plan, 614 F.3d 684, 691 (7th Cir. 2010).


         Statement of Facts

          The following factual background is set forth pursuant to the standard discussed above. The facts stated are not necessarily objectively true, but as the summary judgment standard requires, the undisputed facts and the disputed evidence are presented in the light most favorable to “the party against whom the motion under consideration is made.” Premcor USA, Inc. v. American Home Assurance Co., 400 F.3d 523, 526-27 (7th Cir. 2005). Because, as noted above, Defendants concede that conditions at the Jail are unconstitutional, the Court's recitation of the facts need not be exhaustive and is provided more for background.

         A. The Jail's Capacity

         The old part of the Jail, which is linear in structure (all cells are in a row opening into an area outside of the cells), contains 129 beds, and the new part of the Jail, which is not linear but has a control room that looks into multiple units, has 138 beds. [Filing No. 118-1 at 5-7; Filing No. 118-1 at 101.] The Jail has two individual cells for segregation, three individual isolation cells in the booking area for suicide observation, and two cells for sick inmates. [Filing No. 118-1 at 9; Filing No. 118-1 at 101.] The rest of the cells contain either two, four, six, or eight permanent beds. [Filing No. 118-1 at 9; Filing No. 118-1 at 101.]

         Correctional experts recognize that a jail is overcrowded when it is above 80% capacity. [Filing No. 118-1 at 14; Filing No. 118-2 at 4.] Kenneth Whipker, Executive Liaison for Sheriff and County Jail Operations for the Indiana Department of Corrections (“IDOC”), explains:

A jail is overcrowded long before it reaches its maximum capacity. That is because it is essential for the safety of prisoners and staff that a jail has sufficient space to classify prisoners. Obviously, there must be separate correctional space for male and female prisoners. But, there also has to be separate space to separate low-risk from high-risk prisoners as well as prisoners who need to be separated because of personal animosity or because they are co-defendants and the prosecution perceives a need to separate them. There are also certain offenses, e.g., sex offenses against children, where alleged perpetrators are subject to an increased risk of harm from other prisoners. The Jail must have the flexibility to be able to move prisoners from their initial placement if there are reasons to do so. Having sufficient room in a facility so that these sort of classification decisions can be made is absolutely necessary so that the jail can be operated without excessive risk of harm to prisoners and to the staff who supervise the prisoners.

[Filing No. 118-2 at 3-4.]

         Sheriff Ewing agrees that when the Jail rises above 80% of its capacity, the Jail is not able to properly classify inmates so that all inmates and staff are kept safe. [Filing No. 118-1 at 18-19.] The Jail rises above its capacity at times, and it is always above 80% of its capacity. [Filing No. 118-1 at 19.]

         B. The Effects of House Bill 1006

          In 2015, the Indiana General Assembly passed House Bill 1006, which provides (among other things) that individuals with a sentence of less than two years cannot be housed in IDOC facilities but must remain in county jails. At the time the bill was passed, it “raised concerns among many Indiana sheriffs who said that without any money, they would see a 20 percent increase in their jail populations.” Kristine Guerra, House passes $80 million criminal justice bill, Indianapolis Star, February 23, 2015. Although unclear exactly how many inmates are now housed in county jails instead of in IDOC facilities due to House Bill 1006, it was estimated in 2015 that “of the 14, 000 people who were sent to [IDOC] last year, about half” would now be housed in county jails pursuant to House Bill 1006. Id.

         Today, the effects of House Bill 1006 are apparent. The Indiana Business Journal reported on the increase in county inmates just a few days ago:

Taxpayers in dozens of Indiana counties will be paying for new jail beds years after sweeping state criminal code changes began sending more low-level offenders into local jails instead of state prisons.
At least 40 jails in Indiana are over capacity…. A recent state survey found that almost half of all jail inmates are Level 6 felons, the lowest-level felons.
The state pays jails $35 daily for each of those inmates to cover food and staffing, but the money doesn't pay for additional jail space. Dozens of Indiana's 92 counties are studying, actively pursuing or developing expansion plans, or are in the midst of building new facilities.
Huntington County Sheriff Terry Stoffel said he's frustrated state lawmakers have passed on the expense of holding such offenders to local governments.
“Indiana is so great at saying ‘we are so flush with money' and just passed it on to us, ” he said.
The Huntington County Jail was built for 98 beds but recently was holding 156 inmates. Of those, 57 were Level 6 felons.

Many Indiana counties face jail crowding after inmate shift, Indiana Business Journal, October 7, 2018.

         C. Increases in the Jail's Population

         The Jail population has increased due to several factors, including House Bill 1006, a higher number of female inmates, and the opioid crisis. [Filing No. 118-1 at 23.] Due to the constant overcrowding, the Jail attempts to engage in rudimentary classification of inmates: keeping women separate from men, keeping extremely violent prisoners from being placed with ones who are not, and placing prisoners with disability issues together where they can hopefully be observed. [Filing No. 118-1 at 24-26.] Rudimentary classification results in prisoners being assigned to blocks where they do not have a permanent bed, and they are given a mattress and thin plastic ...

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