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Tennessee: Class-Action Suit Against Private 
Prison Over Diabetic Care Can Proceed

In October 2018, a federal district court declined to dismiss a class-action lawsuit that claimed insulin-dependent diabetic prisoners at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Tennessee are denied basic care for their medical condition.

Trousdale is operated by CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America. The prisoners alleged claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The constitutional claims related to deliberate indifference to serious medical needs by denying blood-sugar monitoring and insulin in coordination with regular meal times.

The defendants included CoreCivic and the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC), and both filed dispositive motions. The TDOC’s motion, based on the plaintiffs’ failure to exhaust administrative remedies, was denied because there were disputed facts that could not be resolved at the motion to dismiss stage.

CoreCivic moved for summary judgment, arguing failure to exhaust and contending the action was moot because the plaintiffs had been transferred to other facilities and the case had not yet been certified as a class-action. For the same reasons as the TDOC’s motion, CoreCivic’s was denied as to the exhaustion issue. The district court noted there was a question as to whether a single member of a class-action satisfied the exhaustion requirement for all class members by exhausting his own administrative remedies with respect to each class claim.

As to the mootness issue, the prisoners argued the case was not moot under the doctrine of “capable of repetition, yet evading judicial review” and because the defendants were “picking off” the plaintiffs by transferring them. The court held they could not rely on the former doctrine because they had not shown a reasonable expectation that they would be returned to Trousdale.

The district court then found there were disputed material facts as to whether the defendants were picking off the plaintiffs by targeting them for transfers. The court found the case was not moot for another reason. It pointed to the “inherently transitory” exception, which requires “(1) the injury must be so transitory that it would likely evade review by becoming moot before the district court could rule on class certification and (2) it must be clear that other potential members are suffering injury.” The “crux of the inherently transitory exception is the uncertainty about the length of time a claim will remain alive.” The prisoners demonstrated that “without the requested relief, other insulin-dependent inmates will suffer injury at Trousdale.”

The district court denied CoreCivic’s summary judgment motion as to the constitutional claims, but held the company cannot be liable under the Americans with Disabilities Act because it is not a public entity and thus not subject to Title II of the ADA. 

On the same day the court ruled on the motions filed by the defendants, it also certified the case as a class-action and denied a motion to intervene submitted by the American Diabetes Association. The case remains pending. See: Dodson v. CoreCivic, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Tenn.), Case No. 3:17-cv-00048; 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 171132. 

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