Alvarez ex rel. Situated v. Larose

Decision Date09 May 2020
Docket NumberCase No.: 20-cv-00782-DMS (AHG)
Citation445 F.Supp.3d 861
Parties Jacinto Victor ALVAREZ, Joseph Broderick, Marlene Cano, Jose Crespo-venegas, Noe Gonzalez-soto, Victor Lara-soto, Racquel Ramcharan, George Ridley, Michael Jamil Smith, Leopoldo Szurgot, Jane DOE, on Behalf of Themselves and Those Similarly Situated, Plaintiffs-petitioners, v. Christopher J. LAROSE, Senior Warden, Otay Mesa Detention Center, et al., Defendants-respondents.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of California

Nicole D. Horowitz, Ropes & Gray LLP, San Francisco, CA, Bardis Vakili, John David Loy, Mitra Ebadolahi, Sarah D. Thompson, ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, San Diego, CA, for Petitioners

U.S. Attorney CV, U.S. Attorneys Office Southern District of California, San Diego, CA, for Respondents


Hon. Dana. M. Sabraw, United States District Judge

This case is the second one to come before this Court concerning the detention of persons in Otay Mesa Detention Center ("Otay Mesa" or "OMDC") in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first case, Alcantara, et. al., vs. Archambeault, et. al. , No. 20cv00756, concerned civil detainees in immigration custody. In that case, this Court provisionally certified a subclass of medically vulnerable civil immigration detainees at OMDC and found they had established a likelihood of success on their Fifth Amendment due process claim in light of the conditions and their treatment at the facility. Based on that showing, the Court granted the plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order and directed the defendants to immediately review for release those subclass members. That process is underway.

The claims in the present case are virtually identical to those raised in Alcantara , but Plaintiffs in this case are situated differently. Unlike the plaintiffs in Alcantara , who are civil immigration detainees, Plaintiffs here are criminal detainees either awaiting trial or sentencing in federal court. That difference places these detainees in an entirely different position from those in Alcantara , as Congress, through the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), has imposed significant limitations on court intervention in matters that are traditionally within the discretion of the Executive Branch and its prisons. There is no dispute Plaintiffs are "prisoners" under the PLRA,1 and if subject to its provisions this Court may not order the release of Plaintiffs. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds the PLRA applies to Plaintiffs' claims and divests the Court of authority to grant the requested relief. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' motion for temporary restraining order is denied.


Otay Mesa separately houses both Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") civil detainees and United States Marshall Service ("USMS") criminal detainees. Plaintiffs in this case fall into the latter category. On April 25, 2020, when the present case was filed, there were approximately 340 criminal detainees at OMDC. (Mot. for TRO at 9). It appears that as of May 5, 2020, 66 of these detainees have tested positive for COVID-19.2 Plaintiffs allege the virus will continue to proliferate in the detention facility because of Defendants' failure to reduce the OMDC population, maintain adequate cleaning and hygiene standards, and comply with Center for Disease Control ("CDC") guidelines for detention facilities. (Id. ). Plaintiffs include declarations of detainees in support of these allegations.

As a result of Defendants' alleged inaction in controlling the COVID-19 outbreak at OMDC, Plaintiffs filed the present motion for TRO, seeking the release of the medically vulnerable pretrial and post-conviction detainee subclasses. Plaintiffs define medically vulnerable as individuals who are aged 45 years or older or who have medical conditions that the CDC has determined increase their likelihood of becoming severely ill from COVID-19. Plaintiffs allege Defendants' failure to implement adequate measures to protect detainees amounts to unconstitutional punishment in violation of the Fifth Amendment and constitutes deliberate indifference to the detainees' rights under the Eighth Amendment. Defendants do not concede Plaintiffs' factual allegations but contend the PLRA precludes this Court from issuing the relief Plaintiffs seek. In light of Defendants' arguments under the PLRA, the Court has deferred briefing on class certification and declines to address the balance of Defendants' arguments, which include arguments under the PLRA for failure to exhaust remedies and Plaintiffs' failure to seek relief under the Bail Reform Act in their respective pending criminal cases. Those matters may be raised in the briefing on the upcoming hearing on Plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction.


The purpose of a TRO is to preserve the status quo before a preliminary injunction hearing may be held; its provisional remedial nature is designed merely to prevent irreparable loss of rights prior to judgment. Granny Goose Foods, Inc. v. Brotherhood of Teamsters & Auto Truck Drivers , 415 U.S. 423, 439, 94 S.Ct. 1113, 39 L.Ed.2d 435 (1974). The standard for issuing a temporary restraining order is identical to the standard for issuing a preliminary injunction.

Lockheed Missile & Space Co., Inc. v. Hughes Aircraft Co. , 887 F. Supp. 1320, 1323 (N.D. Cal. 1995). Injunctive relief is an "extraordinary remedy that may only be awarded upon a clear showing that the plaintiff is entitled to such relief." Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc. , 555 U.S. 7, 22, 129 S.Ct. 365, 172 L.Ed.2d 249 (2008). To meet that showing, Plaintiffs must demonstrate " [they are] likely to succeed on the merits, that [they are] likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in [their] favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.’ " Am. Trucking Ass'ns v. City of Los Angeles , 559 F.3d 1046, 1052 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Winter , 555 U.S. at 20, 129 S.Ct. 365 ).

A. Likelihood of Success

"The first factor under Winter is the most important—likely success on the merits." Garcia v. Google, Inc. , 786 F.3d 733, 740 (9th Cir. 2015). While Plaintiffs carry the burden of demonstrating likelihood of success, they are not required to prove their case in full at this stage but only such portions that enable them to obtain the injunctive relief they seek. See Univ. of Texas v. Camenisch , 451 U.S. 390, 395, 101 S.Ct. 1830, 68 L.Ed.2d 175 (1981).

Defendants contend Plaintiffs are not likely to succeed on the merits because the PLRA precludes this Court from issuing the relief they seek. Specifically, Defendants argue Plaintiffs are challenging the conditions of their confinement—not the fact or duration of their detention—and seeking release of prisoners. As characterized, Defendants argue the PLRA would apply and preclude the requested relief—as an order requiring release of prisoners may not be entered except by a three-judge panel of the district court and only after other less intrusive orders have failed to remedy the deprivation of the federal right at issue. Plaintiffs argue habeas is the proper vehicle for the relief they seek and the PLRA does not apply to habeas proceedings.

Plaintiffs' argument that the PLRA does not apply to habeas proceedings is partially correct. By its terms, the PLRA does not apply to habeas proceedings "challenging the fact or duration of confinement in prison." 18 U.S.C. § 3626(g)(2). The question in this case, therefore, is whether the claims alleged challenge the fact or duration of Plaintiffs' confinement or the conditions of Plaintiffs' confinement. Simply invoking the habeas label is not determinative, as plaintiffs may challenge either kind of claim—"fact or duration of confinement" or conditions of confinement—in a habeas proceeding. See Ziglar v. Abbasi , ––– U.S. ––––, 137 S.Ct. 1843, 1862-63, 198 L.Ed.2d 290 (2017) (leaving open the question whether detainees "might be able to challenge their confinement conditions via a petition for writ of habeas corpus.")

Given Plaintiffs' allegations, the Court finds Plaintiffs' claims rest entirely on the conditions of the Otay Mesa facility. In the first paragraph of their Complaint, Plaintiffs "challenge their continued detention, and the detention of all similarly situated individuals, under conditions of confinement that imperil their lives in violation of the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution ...." (Compl. ¶ 1 (emphasis added)). Plaintiffs' factual allegations focus exclusively on Defendants' "actions and inactions" concerning the "conditions of confinement" at Otay Mesa. (Id. at ¶¶ 98, 100). For example, Plaintiffs discuss the "[c]leaning standards in OMDC common areas," the scarcity of cleaning supplies and hygiene products, USMS's failure to implement CDC guidelines on preventive measures, Otay Mesa's failure to conduct widespread testing, a lack of masks and gloves, and the absence of appropriate social distancing and quarantining measures. (Id. at ¶¶ 10, 44, 55, 61, 62, 63, 64; see also id. at ¶ 109 ("Defendants have failed to take reasonable measures to abate the risk that the [subject class members] will contract COVID-19.")). Plaintiffs note that the facility's "conditions and population levels" place the proposed class members at "a high risk of exposure" to the virus. (Id. at ¶ 72). For relief, Plaintiffs seek release of "as many incarcerated persons as necessary to allow [for] proper social distancing among those remaining in OMDC." (Id. at ¶ 11; see also id. at ¶ 12 (Plaintiffs "further request various improvements to, and ongoing monitoring of, detention conditions at OMDC, and the staggered release of remaining [Plaintiffs] and other class members until necessary social distancing hygiene measures can be sustained.")).

Plaintiffs' claims, under any good faith calculus, cannot be...

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