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Case Name Lewis v. Dallas County Sheriff JC-TX-0028
Docket / Court DC-20-11810 ( State Court )
State/Territory Texas
Case Type(s) Jail Conditions
Special Collection COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)
Case Summary
COVID-19 Summary: This is a case brought by a jailer working in the Suzanne Lee Kays Detention Facility of the Lew Sterrett Justice Center in Dallas, TX against the Dallas County Sheriff. The plaintiff filed this suit on behalf of himself and other Detention Service Officers (“DSOs”), alleging ... read more >
COVID-19 Summary: This is a case brought by a jailer working in the Suzanne Lee Kays Detention Facility of the Lew Sterrett Justice Center in Dallas, TX against the Dallas County Sheriff. The plaintiff filed this suit on behalf of himself and other Detention Service Officers (“DSOs”), alleging that the Sheriff allowed conditions to exist at the Jail that promoted the spread of COVID-19 and posed a health and safety danger to officers, their families, and their communities. The defendant filed a Plea to the Jurisdiction, asserting that the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the complaint. The trial court agreed and dismissed the case. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth District of Texas at Dallas affirmed the lower court’s ruling, terminating the case.


A Detention Service Officer employed at the Suzanne Lee Kays Detention Facility of the Lew Sterrett Justice Center (“the Jail”) in Dallas, Texas, filed this complaint on August 24, 2020 in Texas’s 162nd District Court against the Dallas County Sheriff. The plaintiff alleged that the Sheriff, sued in her official capacity, allowed conditions to exist at the Jail that promoted the spread of COVID-19. The plaintiff sought to represent a class of all individuals employed by Dallas County and working as DSOs at the Jail who had not been diagnosed at any time with COVID-19 and asked the court to grant temporary and permanent injunctive relief.

Specifically, the Officer alleged that the Jail was too crowded and that social distancing was impossible due to insufficient space; that Dallas County failed to provide COVID-19 testing for DSOs and provided inadequate testing of people incarcerated at the Jail; that the supply of personal protective equipment available to DSOs and those incarcerated at the Jail was insufficient to protect them from COVID-19 infection; that Dallas County failed to provide adequate training in the handling of symptomatic detainees; and that ineffective cleaning and poor hygienic practices in the Jail heightened the risk posed by COVID-19.

The complaint alleged that sovereign immunity did not apply because the Sheriff’s conduct violated Texas statutory and common law by creating an ongoing “public health nuisance,” failing to maintain the Jail “in a clean and sanitary condition in accordance with standards of sanitation and health,” and providing insufficient staff to perform required functions of the Jail. The plaintiff further argued that the Texas Tort Claims Act waived immunity for threats of “personal injury and death so caused by a condition or use of tangible personal or real property” and asserted that injunctive relief was appropriate to prevent ongoing ultra vires conduct by the Sheriff.

The plaintiff also claimed that the Sheriff’s actions and inactions constituted negligence and gross negligence by creating an unreasonable danger to DSOs; violating CDC health and safety rules; and exhibiting “an entire want of care and a high degree of recklessness towards the DSOs, including those who [were] medically vulnerable, who depend[ed] on the Sheriff to act in a manner that [did] not imperil their health, safety, and lives.” The plaintiff sought temporary and permanent injunctions requiring the Sheriff to immediately begin and continue to maintain effective preventative measures to control the spread of COVID-19 at the Jail.

On September 2, 2020, the Sheriff filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting that the District Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the suit. A hearing on the defendant’s plea took place before the trial court on September 14 and a week later the trial court granted the plea, dismissing the case for lack of jurisdiction.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth District of Texas at Dallas affirmed the lower court’s ruling in an opinion filed on May 5, 2021, finding that the Sheriff had not acted without lawful authority nor failed to perform a ministerial act. The court further held that the action was barred by sovereign immunity as a suit seeking to direct or control a government official in the exercise of her absolute discretionary authority and that the Texas Tort Claims Act did not waive the Sheriff’s immunity for the negligence claims. The case was dismissed.

Rachel Harrington - 10/19/2021


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief denied
COVID-19
Mitigation Denied
Mitigation Requested
Crowding
Crowding / caseload
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Law-enforcement
General
Conditions of confinement
Sanitation / living conditions
Medical/Mental Health
Medical care, general
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action State law
Defendant(s) Dallas County Sheriff
Plaintiff Description A Detention Service Officer (jailer) employed by the Dallas County Sheriff
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Mooted before ruling
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Filed 08/24/2020
Case Closing Year 2021
Case Ongoing No
Court Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
State Trial Court
08/24/2020
Plaintiff's Original Petition and Application for Temporary and Permanent Injunctions
JC-TX-0028-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
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Plaintiff's Lawyers Eichman, John C. (Texas) show/hide docs
JC-TX-0028-0001
Manthey, Ronald E. (Texas) show/hide docs
JC-TX-0028-0001

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