Filed Date: Dec. 20, 2012
Closed Date: Nov. 1, 2022
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This case is about whether the State of Louisiana had sufficient procedures by which to execute individuals sentenced to death. On December 20, 2012, an individual who had received the death penalty filed this lawsuit, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. Represented by private counsel and a non-profit impact litigation organization, he sued the Governor of Louisiana, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections ("DPSC") and its chief executive officer, and the warden and assistant warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, and prison officials involved in the state's execution procedures.
The plaintiff argued that the state's failure to give him an opportunity to review the state's lethal injection protocol and an opportunity to object to the protocols violated his right to due process of law under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment. He also claimed that the state would violate his Eighth Amendment right, as applied to the state via the Fourteenth Amendment, to be free from cruel and unusual punishment if he were to be executed without a valid protocol in place. The plaintiff sought a declaration that it would be unconstitutional for the state to carry out an execution without affording him the opportunity to access and review the execution protocols and that the protocols must be detailed and that the state may not use expired drugs, illegally obtained drugs, and drugs which were not properly stored. The plaintiff also contended that, by deviating from any written execution protocol, the state would violate his right to equal protection under the law under the Fourteenth Amendment. He also sought a permanent injunction banning the defendants from executing him without promulgating a new protocol that comports with the the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The plaintiff also sought compensatory damages for physical pain and suffering and mental anguish, punitive damages, and attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The case was initially assigned to Judge James J. Brady.
On January 23, 2023, another individual moved to intervene in the case as a plaintiff. The intervenor, also an individual sentenced to death in Louisiana, moved for a preliminary injunction on January 31 to enjoin the officials and agents of the state from executing him until the conclusion of the case. At the time of the motion for a preliminary injunction, the intervenor's execution date was set for February 13, 2013. The intervenor filed a complaint on February 6, seeking the same relief on the same grounds as the original plaintiff.
On February 7, the court granted the intervenor's motion for a preliminary injunction. 2013 WL 489809. The court stated that the intervenor had a right to raise Eighth Amendment objections to the state's method of execution but could not challenge the protocol without knowing what it contains. While the state argued that other courts have found that the use of pentobarbital is not violative of the Eighth Amendment and that appeals when execution is imminent are disfavored, the court found that the intervenor had sufficient reasons for delaying suit because he spend years trying to determine the state's execution protocol. The court found that fundamental fairness required that the protocol be provided to the inmate in a prompt and timely fashion in order to give the inmate adequate notice of how his rights are affected. Based on this requirement of fundamental fairness, the court found that the intervenor was likely to succeed on the merits, would suffer irreparable injury without a stay of execution, that a stay would not harm the defendants, and that the public interest weighed toward protecting the intervenor's Fourteenth Amendment rights.
On February 15, the defendants appealed the court's preliminary injunction order to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. On February 22 and March 8, the defendants moved to dismiss the case. On April 16, the court denied the motions to dismiss as to the Secretary of DPSC and the Warden and Assistant Warden of Angola but did find that the plaintiffs were not entitled to seek monetary damages without a showing of prior physical injury. 2013 WL 1637244. The court dismissed the claims against the Governor and the DPSC.
In denying the defendants' motion to dismiss, the court reviewed the state's lethal injection protocols, noting that most recent protocol called for the administration of three drugs: sodium thiopental, an anesthetic to prevent torture and pain to the inmate caused by the other two drugs; pancuronium bromide; and potassium chloride. The court then noted that state's lack of access to sodium thiopental. The court then affirmed that, while the plaintiffs made a public records request for the current protocol in light of the unavailability of the anesthetic, the state refused to provide the requested information and that the plaintiffs had been denied state administrative remedies. The court noted that the defendants had announced in court on February 5 that it would use a single dose of pentobarbital to execute inmates.
The defendants argued that the defendants' claims were prescribed because (1) their sentences became complete when the Supreme Court denied their writs of certiorari and (2) that it had been more than one year since the protocols were changed or adopted. The court rejected the defendants' prescription argument, noting that while the protocol was changed, it was unclear on which date the change became effective. The defendants also argued in favor of dismissal as to the claims against the Governor of Louisiana, the DPSC and its Secretary, and the Warden because the plaintiffs' claims were based on conclusory allegations of respondeat superior. The court rejected this argument, highlighting that the plaintiffs' claims were not based on vicarious liability. Rather, the claims were based upon statutorily conferred duties and powers. The court did find that the plaintiffs could not maintain a § 1983 action against the DPSC--because it is an agency and not an individual--and could not maintain § 1983 actions against Governor Jindal because his only responsibility relevant to the case was to appoint the Secretary and supervise his actions.
The defendants also contended in their motions to dismiss that they were entitled to qualified immunity. They stated that under a qualified immunity analysis, the first question is whether the alleged conduct violated a constitutional right and, if no violation occurred, the judicial inquiry ends. While the defendants cited Thorson v. Epps, 701 F.3d 444, for the proposition that they did not violate the plaintiffs' Eighth Amendment rights because "mere speculation cannot rise to the level of an objectively intolerable risk," the court distinguished Thorson. Unlike in that case, the plaintiffs' claims here were based on lack of notice regarding the execution protocol and not that the protocol itself rose to the level of cruel and unusual punishment. Therefore, the court rejected the defendants' claim to qualified immunity.
The defendants argued that the plaintiffs' case was barred by the Eleventh Amendment. The court, in denying this contention, found this argument meritless under Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, which ruled that the Eleventh Amendment is not a bar against a suit against a state official alleged to be acting in violation of federal law. The court did find that the plaintiffs could not seek monetary damages due to the Prison Litigation Reform Act's prohibition on damages for mental or emotional injury without a showing of physical injury.
On May 15, 2013, the defendants moved for a protective order seeking to limit the information that the plaintiffs could obtain about the execution protocols. The motion was denied on June 4, and the defendants were ordered to turn over the protocols. On August 16, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint to include challenges to the new protocols. The plaintiffs claimed that, by amending the procedures a mere month prior to the scheduled execution of one of the plaintiffs, the defendants precluded timely and effective evaluation and judicial review which amounted to deliberate indifference and a violation of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The plaintiffs also challenged the new protocols on similar grounds as the previous procedures, arguing that there was a lack of safeguards or that the protocols would be administered in a way as to violate the plaintiffs' Eighth Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The plaintiffs also challenged the 2013 protocol for its denial of their right to access counsel and the courts under the First, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments because it excludes the condemned inmate's attorney from the execution chamber. Again, the plaintiffs alleged that the state's deviation from any written execution protocol would violate their Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection under the law. The plaintiffs again requested a permanent injunction, declaratory relief, and money damages under § 1983.
Meanwhile, the Fifth Circuit reversed the February 7 preliminary injunction on August 30, 2013. 729 F.3d 413. The court noted that the district court's reasoning was substantially based on an order by the District of Maryland in Oken v. Sizer, 321 F. Supp. 2d 658, in which the court granted a stay of execution that was subsequently vacated by the Supreme Court of the United States. The court also pointed to a case in the District of Arizona, Beaty v. Brewer, 791 F. Supp. 2d 678, in which the court rejected an inmate's claim that he had the right to review protocol changes and to challenge them under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. The court concluded that no appellate court thus far had recognized a due process claim such as the one the district court had found and therefore found that the district court's finding of the intervenor's likelihood to succeed on the merits of his Fourteenth Amendment claim was in error and that the court had abused its discretion by granting injunctive relief. The court also noted that Louisiana had repealed its lethal injection protocol two years before the intervenor challenged the state's procedures and that the district court therefore abused its discretion by granting a stay of execution.
On September 9, 2013, the defendants again moved to dismiss the plaintiffs' claims. Additional inmates moved to intervene on January 8, 2014. On January 10, one of the plaintiffs notified the court that his execution date was set for February 5, 2014. On the same day, the court granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motion to dismiss. The court dismissed the plaintiffs' due process claims. While indicating some disagreement with the Fifth Circuit's August 13 reversal of the district court's preliminary injunction order, the court found that it was bound by Fifth Circuit precedent to dismiss the plaintiffs' due process claims.
However, the court concluded that the plaintiffs had stated a cognizable Eighth Amendment claim because, taking their allegations as true, the inmates showed that they were at substantial risk of serious harm which would, if proven, amount to cruel and unusual punishment. These allegations included the protocol's lack of review by a medical professional and that expired and improperly stored drugs would be used. The court also found that the plaintiffs had stated a claim under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court found that the plaintiffs had asserted enough facts to make a claim for disparate treatment, given their contentions that the state would substantially deviate from its written protocols which would reduce safeguards and increase the risks of painful deaths for the inmates. The court also found that the plaintiffs had stated a valid claim of relief under the Equal Protection Clause by contending that the defendants' past practices suggest that their protocols would not be executed in a uniform and equal way. As factual support, the plaintiffs had pointed to revisions of protocols on the date of the state's last execution, a lack of necessary specificity in the protocols to ensure uniformity, and lack of training for those performing executions.
The court also found that the plaintiffs had stated a claim under their constitutional right to access to courts. While the defendants argued that the plaintiffs had not alleged an actual injury, the court found that the plaintiffs' other legal claims may require access to the courts to be vindicated. The court concluded that, given the plaintiffs' other legal claims, their factual allegations that the defendants may cease attorney-client contact three to six hours before an execution and that the defendants would not allow attorneys to witness the executions were sufficient to establish an actual injury.
While the defendants asserted the affirmative defense of qualified immunity in their motion to dismiss, the court declined to address the immunity issue. First, it noted that it was unclear from the plaintiffs' complaint upon which claims they sought damages and therefore ordered the plaintiffs to amend their complaint to explain the basis for their damage claims. Second, the court noted qualified immunity did not appear to be relevant for the plaintiffs' requests for the plaintiffs' non-damages claims since those claims were aimed at the prevention of future harm, rather than at previous actions taken by the defendants.
On January 27, 2014, one of the plaintiffs, whose execution was scheduled for February 5, moved for a stay of execution, a temporary restraining order, and a preliminary injunction. On February 3, the plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint. The complaint added additional factual detail regarding the plaintiffs' lack of notice and opportunity to be heard under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the lack of safeguards and administration of the 2013 protocol that the plaintiffs' alleged would amount to cruel and usual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.
On the same day as the plaintiffs amended their complaint, the court ordered a temporary injunction and a stay of execution. The court stated that the defendants had consented to the issuance of the temporary restraining order, which would last 90 days and end on May 4.
On February 14, the defendants moved for a protective order concerning the lethal injection protocols that will be followed during the execution of the plaintiffs. The defendants sought to prevent disclosure of information related to the identities of the manufacturer and source of the lethal injection drugs that would be used, those involved in supplying and testing the chemicals, and the healthcare professionals who would be involved in the executions. The defendants claimed that a protective order was necessary to prevent these individuals from being subjected to harassment, potential loss of business, and other adverse consequences. In the alternative, the defendants requested that the information be disclosed for in camera review by the court and only made available to an exclusive lists of interested parties in the present litigation. The plaintiffs argued that the defendants' motion was an attempt to hide their execution protocol and that there was no good cause for the requested protective order.
On March 5, the court denied in part the defendants' motion for a protective order. The court found that the defendants had failed to show good cause for the order and that the information sought by the plaintiffs was relevant to the merits of the plaintiffs' claims. The court noted that the mere potential for harassment or adverse consequences is insufficient to overcome the plaintiffs' need to adequately present their case. However, the court did conclude that there was good cause to protect the privacy of individuals who would be directly involved in the executions. The court therefore ordered that the defendants identify information of the manufacturer and source of the lethal injection drugs, as well as those involved in supplying and testing the chemicals. It also ordered that the defendants identify the healthcare professionals involved in the process of carrying out the execution but restricted the disclosure to the plaintiffs, counsel for the parties in the litigation, experts who needed the information to formulate their opinions, and court personnel.
On March 10, the defendants moved to stay the court's ruling on the motion for a protective order. On March 11, the defendants filed a petition for a writ of prohibition or mandamus with the Fifth Circuit regarding the court's March 5 ruling. The court denied the motion to stay the ruling on March 12. On March 14, the temporary restraining order and stay of execution through July 23, 2014. On March 21, the Fifth Circuit temporarily restrained the district court's ruling on the motion for a protective order. This stay was lifted on March 31 and the defendants' petition for a writ of mandamus was denied.
On May 28, 2014, the court entered an order, which was agreed to by the parties, to stay the case through November 17, 2014. The court also extended the temporary restraining order and stay of execution to November 17. On November 13, the court entered another order, upon agreement by the parties, to extend the stay and temporary restraining order through June 25, 2015. On June 25, 2015, the court again extended the stay and temporary restraining order through July 11, 2016.
On May 31, 2016, the defendants filed an unopposed motion to extend the stay of the case to January 8, 2018. The motion was granted on June 1, 2016. On June 28, 2016, three additional parties moved to intervene in the case as plaintiffs. The court granted the motions on July 29, and the intervenors filed their complaints for declaratory and injunctive relief on the same day. On April 28, 2017, two additional individuals moved to intervene as plaintiffs. These motions were granted on June 13, and the intervenors filed their complaints on the same day.
On January 4, 2018, the defendants filed an unopposed motion to extend the stay of the case in light of the death of Judge Brady. On January 5, the case was reassigned to Judge Shelly D. Dick. On January 18, another individual moved to intervene in the case. The motion was granted on February 14, and the intervenor filed a complaint on the same day. On July 11, the defendants filed another unopposed motion to extend the stay of the case. The motion was granted on July 16, and the court extended the stay and temporary restraining order to July 18, 2019. On June 28, 2019, the plaintiffs filed an unopposed motion to extend the stay. The motion was granted on July 12.
On July 31, 2019, the State of Louisiana moved to intervene in the case. On September 30, 2019, six individuals moved to intervene as plaintiffs in the case. The motion was granted on October 7, 2019, and the intervenors filed a complaint on the same day. On June 8, 2021, the court denied the motion to intervene by the State of Louisiana.
On July 1, 2021, the court ordered that the case be reopened and ended the stay. On August 5, the parties filed a joint status report, which stated that the defendants did not have drugs available for lethal injection and that they would not be able to procure drugs for the foreseeable future. On August 12, the defendants moved to dismiss the case.
On March 30, 2022, the court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss. 2022 WL 969050. The court found that the plaintiffs claims were moot as the circumstances surrounding the case had changed considerably since the case started in 2012. The state had been unable to procure lethal injection drugs in the intervening years while the case was stayed. While the plaintiffs argued that a dismissal would allow the state to carry out last-minute executions if the state's protocols were changed, the court found these arguments unavailing. The court noted that the only legal method of execution in Louisiana is lethal injection and that the defendants had established that they were unable to obtain execution drugs. The court found that the plaintiffs' claims did not fall into the mootness exception of capable for repetition, yet evading review because they failed to demonstrate a reasonable expectation that the defendants would resume executing prisoners without substantial changes to the execution protocol or the law. The court also found that the plaintiffs' claims did not fall into the voluntary cessation mootness exception because the court found that the defendants' sworn declarations that it had ceased its efforts to obtain lethal injection drugs was true. Since the plaintiffs' claims were moot, the court found that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction.
The court entered judgment for the defendants on March 31, 2022. The plaintiffs moved for reconsideration on April 28. The motion was denied on November 1, 2022. 2022 WL 16571312.
The case is now closed.
Nicholas Gillan (11/18/2022)
For PACER's information on parties and their attorneys, see: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4271219/parties/hoffman-v-jindal/
Bakale-Wise, Elizabeth Ann (Louisiana)
Boren, James E. (Louisiana)
Atkinson, Judith R. (Louisiana)
Babin, Stephen F. (Louisiana)
Balhoff, Thomas E. (Louisiana)
Dick, Shelly Deckert (Louisiana)
See docket on RECAP: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4271219/hoffman-v-jindal/
Last updated Nov. 5, 2023, 5:50 p.m.
State / Territory: Louisiana
Filing Date: Dec. 20, 2012
Closing Date: Nov. 1, 2022
Case Ongoing: No
Two death row inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: No
Class Action Outcome: Not sought
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Defendant
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief: