University of Michigan Law School
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Case Name Rafael L.O. v. Tsoukaris IM-NJ-0014
Docket / Court 2:20-cv-03481 ( D.N.J. )
State/Territory New Jersey
Case Type(s) Immigration and/or the Border
Special Collection COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)
Case Summary
Five individuals detained on immigration-related charges in the Newark, New Jersey Essex Correctional Facility filed this complaint and petition for writ of habeas corpus on April 1, 2020 in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. The case was brought against employees of ... read more >
Five individuals detained on immigration-related charges in the Newark, New Jersey Essex Correctional Facility filed this complaint and petition for writ of habeas corpus on April 1, 2020 in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. The case was brought against employees of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), employees of the Department of Homeland Security, and employees of the Essex County Correctional Facility, collectively referred to as “the government.” Represented by attorneys from the American Friends Service Committee and the Immigration Defense project, the plaintiffs alleged violations of substantive due process stemming from the government’s failure to reasonably provide for their safety and protection from harm in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and sought injunctive relief.

The petitioners alleged that they each had medical conditions putting them at high-risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 infection and asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order ordering their immediate release after facility personnel and incarcerated persons at the facility were reported to have contracted COVID-19. The government did not deny that the petitioners had medical conditions that put them at increased risk, but argued that the Essex County facility had taken reasonable precautions against COVID-19 and argued that the individual petitioners’ criminal histories or pending charges supported denying the request for release. The case was assigned to Judge John Michael Vazquez.

On April 9, 2020, the court granted release for three of the individuals, imposing conditions on the petitioners including ankle bracelet monitoring, home confinement, required mental health treatment, and obligations to follow government COVID-19 regulations. Each petitioner was also ordered to comply with individual conditions for release based on their prior criminal histories. The remaining two petitioners were released by ICE before the court’s ruling and their petitions were dismissed without prejudice.

In granting the temporary restraining order, the court relied on the 1993 Supreme Court case Helling v. McKinney, in which an incarcerated person alleged Eighth Amendment violations stemming from exposure to environmental tobacco smoke in prison. Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25 (1993). Leaning on Helling, the court reasoned that the Eighth Amendment protects against future harm and that the detained plaintiffs did not need to actually be infected with COVID-19 in order to bring a claim.

In granting the temporary restraining order, Judge Vazquez also relied heavily on a declaration from a program director of the American Friends Service Committee which explained unsanitary conditions at the Essex County facility, such as lack of soap access, the impossibility of social distancing, maggot-infested sinks, and inadequate access to medical care, all of which the court found supported the petitioners’ claim of unsafe conditions.

The court also noted that under the Fifth Amendment, the detained individuals needed to show their conditions of confinement “amount[ed] to punishment of the detainee[s]” and were not “reasonably related to a legitimate governmental objective.” The court did not find that the government expressly intended to punish the plaintiffs, but concluded that the conditions of confinement nonetheless amounted to punishment because the COVID-19 pandemic was an unusual circumstance which affected whether the government’s methods of pursuing legitimate objectives were reasonable.

Despite granting the TRO, the opinion did note that the government took affirmative steps to lessen the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the Essex County facility, but nevertheless concluded that prisons and jails were not designed for housing individuals during pandemics.

On May 14, 2020, the temporary restraining order was converted to a preliminary injunction, which would last until the case concluded. On July 13, 2020, the government appealed the preliminary injunction and on October 6, 2020, following a private agreement between the parties, the case was dismissed. The terms of the agreement are not known.

Betsy Sheppard - 10/29/2021

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Due Process: Substantive Due Process
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief granted
Population-Medically vulnerable
Release granted-group
Release granted-individual
Release-process created/modified
Bathing and hygiene
Conditions of confinement
Habeas Corpus
Placement in detention facilities
Sanitation / living conditions
Constitutional rights
Medical/Mental Health
Medical care, general
Mental health care, general
Special Case Type
Type of Facility
Causes of Action Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)
Habeas Corpus, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241-2253; 2254; 2255
Defendant(s) CHAD F. WOLF
WILLIAM P. BARR, Attorney General of the United State
Plaintiff Description Individuals detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and/or Department of Homeland Security with high-risk of contracting COVID-19.
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se Unknown
Prevailing Party Unknown
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Source of Relief Settlement
Filed 04/01/2020
Case Ongoing Unknown
Additional Resources
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Court Docket(s)
IM-NJ-0014-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Opinion [ECF# 24] (2020 WL 1808843)
IM-NJ-0014-0001.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 25]
IM-NJ-0014-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 29]
IM-NJ-0014-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 39]
IM-NJ-0014-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
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Judges Vazquez, John Michael (D.N.J.) show/hide docs
IM-NJ-0014-0001 | IM-NJ-0014-0002 | IM-NJ-0014-0003 | IM-NJ-0014-0004 | IM-NJ-0014-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Castle, Brittany (New York) show/hide docs
Johnson, Matthew Anthony (New Jersey) show/hide docs
Defendant's Lawyers Dharia, Kruti D. (New Jersey) show/hide docs
Hajdarpasic, Enes (New Jersey) show/hide docs
Ruymann, John Andrew (New Jersey) show/hide docs
Stinson, John T. (New Jersey) show/hide docs

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