Published on: Tuesday, May 5, 2020
Yesterday, in Craig Wilson, et al. v. Mark Williams, et al., No. 203447 (6th Cir. May 4, 2020) (Order), a unanimous 3-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit denied the Federal Bureau of Prison's application to stay District Judge James S. Gwin's (N.D. Oh.) preliminary injunction ordering Elkton prison officals to take immediate steps to identify and transfer all medically vulnerable prisoners from Elkton FCI and its low security satelite prison.  The petitoners in this case--four inmates housed at Elkton FCI and its low security satelite prison representing a class of all Elkton inmates as well as a subclass of medically vulnerable inmates--filed an emergency habeas action seeking release from Elkton on April 13, 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19 within the prison.  After a hearing, the district court entered a preliminary injunction, granting in part and denying in part relief. See Craig Wilson, et al. v. Mark Williams, et al., No. 4:20-cv-00794 (N.D. Oh. Apr. 22, 2020), Dkt. 22.  The district court's order stated, in relevant part:

The Court orders the Respondents to identify, within one (1) day all members of the subclass as defined in this Order. Respondents must identify in the list each subclass member's sentencing court and the case number of their underlying criminal conviction.

Following identification, the Court orders Respondents to evaluate each subclass member's eligibility for transfer out of Elkton through any means, including but not limited to compassionate release, parole or community supervision, transfer furlough, or nontransfer furlough within two (2) weeks.

In undertaking this evaluation, Respondents will prioritize the review by the medical threat level. For example, older inmates with heart, pulmonary, diabetes or immunity risks should receive review priority over subclass members who are younger.

Subclass members who are ineligible for compassionate release, home release, orparole or community supervision must be transferred to another BOP facility where appropriate measures, such as testing and single-cell placement, or social distancing, may be accomplished. In transferring subclass members, Respondents must continue to comply with BOP policy of quarantining inmates for 14 days prior to transfer out of Elkton.

Any subclass members transferred out of Elkton may not be returned to the facility until the threat of the virus is abated or until a vaccine is available and Elkton obtains sufficient vaccine supplies to vaccinate its population, whichever occurs first. IT IS SO ORDERED

The government appealed the District Court's preliminary injunction order and sought a stay from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.  In denying the stay, the Sixth Circuit issued a 5-page stating:

Given the procedural posture of the case, we review not the merits of Petitioners' Eighth Amendment claim, but whether the district court abused its discretion in entering the preliminaryinjunction. We accept the district court's factual findings unless we find them clearly erroneous. Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a)(6). The district court found that Elkton's dorm-style structure rendered it unable to implement or enforce social distancing. The COVID-19 virus, now a pandemic, is highly contagious, and can be transmitted by asymptomatic but infected individuals. Older individuals or those who have certain underlying medical conditions are more likely to experience complications requiring significant medical intervention, and are more likely to die. At Elkton, COVID-19 infections are rampant among inmates and staff, and numerous inmates have passed away from complications from the virus. Elkton has higher occurrences of infection than most other federal prisons. Respondents lack adequate tests to determine if inmates have COVID-19. While the district court's findings are based on a limited evidentiary record, its "account of the evidence is plausible in light of the record viewed in its entirety." United States v. Ables, 167 F.3d 1021, 1035 (6th Cir. 1999). Thus, at this juncture and given our deferential standard of review on motions to stay, "[t]he district court's choice between two permissible views of the evidence cannot . . . be clearly erroneous." Id

The Training Divison is committed to providing relevant, timely, and useful resources to defenders and CJA attorneys regarding the impact of COVID-19 on federal criminal practice through our COVID-19 pages on