Court sides with inmate who sued Texas prison over blankets

The provided blankets allegedly made the inmate itch and break out into open sores and lose sleep


Keri Blakinger
Houston Chronicle

BRAZORIA COUNTY, Texas — A federal court this week sided with an inmate who sued the Texas prison system to get a cotton blanket after repeatedly telling officials he was allergic to the standard-issue bedding, which he alleged is made of "recycled waste" that caused him to have open sores.

For 10 years, Calvin Weaver has been asking prison staff for a cotton blanket. But officials refused, so last year the Harris County man took them to court, representing himself from inside the Terrell Unit in Rosharon.

The prison system responded with a motion to dismiss, but on Friday, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt ruled that the suit can continue. Even though Weaver won't be entitled to money, Hoyt wrote, he could get injunctive relief: a new blanket.

"These defendants' argument that replacing Weaver's blanket is beyond their power because they are not Medical Doctors is disingenuous," Hoyt wrote. "It appears from the complaint that each of these defendants is in a position of authority and could, presumably, order that Weaver receive another blanket, or that he receive a medical evaluation."

The problem that sparked the legal wrangling dates back to 2001, when prison medical staff diagnosed Weaver with a wool allergy, according to court papers. At the time, they gave him a medical pass that allowed him to get a cotton blanket. But then in 2009, the pass wasn't renewed, and all the cotton blankets for allergy-suffering inmates systemwide were replaced with a non-wool alternative made from a "blend of recycled waste," Weaver claimed in his lawsuit.

The fiber blend allegedly made Weaver itch and break out into open sores and lose sleep. For nine years, Weaver asked for another blanket, complaining repeatedly to officials all the way up to the agency executive director.

He filed grievances, noting that he knew of at least 10 to 15 other prisoners at his unit who'd gotten cotton blankets.

Officials and medical staff "ignored his complaints," the federal judge wrote in his recent ruling.

So in 2018, Weaver sued, demanding that the prison system give him a new blanket, do a toxicology study on the blended fiber blanket, and give him money for pain and suffering.

The Texas prison system argued that they shouldn't be the target of the suit because the complaint was medical, so they couldn't provide the requested relief. The judge took a dim view of that claim.

Though the court removed two of the defendants — a warden and a doctor — from the case and found that Weaver wasn't eligible for any financial compensation for his suffering, the judge decided he could continue his suit against the agency executive director and two employees who allegedly ignored his requests.

Weaver, who has since been moved to the Pack Unit, does not have an attorney, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice did not offer comment on the case.

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