United States of America, United States District Court for the District of Oregon, 21 March 2022, No. 2:21-cv-00493-SB
Deciding body (English)
Type of body
Type of Court (material scope)
Type of jurisdiction
Type of Court (territorial scope)
Outcome of the decision
Link to the full text of the decision
The Plaintiff, an inmate housed at Two Rivers Correctional Institution, filed action against several Oregon Department of Corrections officials alleging that they acted with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm in violation of the Eighth Amendment by failing consistently to comply with the use of face mask policy. The Plaintiff filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking the Court to order Defendants to comply with the mask policy. The Court reasoned that in order for the injunction to succeed, the Plaintiff "must demonstrate (1) that it was likely to succeed on the merits, (2) that he was likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, (3) that the balance of equities tipped in his favor, and (4) that an injunction was in the public interest." The Court concluded that the elements above were present in the case and partially granted injunctive relief, stating that the “order will expire in ninety (90) days unless extended, superseded, or vacated by a subsequent order.”
Facts of the case
The Plaintiff was an immunocompromised inmate, therefore the severe risk of being infected with Covid-19 could cause irreparable harm.
Type of measure challenged
Measures, actions, remedies claimed
Individual / collective enforcement
Nature of the parties
Type of procedure
Reasoning of the deciding body
The Court analyzed the request for a preliminary injunction and reasoned that:
1) The Prison Litigation Reform Act imposed additional restrictions on a court's ability to grant injunctive relief. Any such " relief must be narrowly drawn,  extend no further than necessary to correct the harm the court finds requires preliminary relief, and  be the least intrusive means necessary to correct the harm."
2) Regarding the likelihood of success, the Court reasoned that the Plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence, in the form of his own sworn declaration and those of others, that Defendants had consistently failed to comply with and enforce mask policy at the facility.
3) Regarding the likelihood of irreparable harm, the Court found that the Plaintiff had demonstrated a likelihood of irreparable harm, both in light of the serious health consequences of the COVID-19 virus and because he was immunocompromised.
4) Regarding the balance of equity and the public interest, the Court argued that: “t here can be no serious dispute two years into the COVID-19 pandemic that the public interest is served by protecting individuals from COVID-19, both in and out of custody. On the other hand, "[s]tates have a strong interest in the administration of their prisons[,]" and the Supreme Court has cautioned "that federal courts must tread lightly when it comes to questions of managing prisons, particularly state prisons.” Balancing the equities and evaluating the public interest here, the Court reasoned that an order requiring Defendants to merely comply with their own mask policy was equitable on balance, in the public interest, and not an inappropriate intrusion in prison administration.
Implementation of the ruling
The Court granted the Plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction and ordered Defendants to comply with the use of face mask policy, but stated that the “order will expire in ninety (90) days unless extended, superseded, or vacated by a subsequent order.”
Fundamental Right(s) involved
Fundamental Right(s) instruments (constitutional provisions, international conventions and treaties)
Rights and freedoms specifically identified as (possibly) conflicting with the right to health
Balancing techniques and principles (proportionality, reasonableness, others)
The Court balanced the public interest in containing the Covid-19 pandemic against the Prison Litigation Reform Act and found that granting injunctive relief would not be an intrusive measure and would be of greater public interest.