Davidson v. Coughlin, et al.

A state prison inmate brought a civil rights action alleging that the officials’ poor prison conditions — including exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) — constituted deliberate indifference to his health amounting to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.  The District Court held that Davidson failed to demonstrate that his exposure to smoke was sufficiently serious or that prison officials acted with deliberate indifference in allegedly failing to provide him with a smoke-free environment.  The Court ruled that the plaintiff has to satisfy the Wilson v. Seiter two-pronged test by showing that “he himself is being exposed to unreasonably high levels of ETS” and that the “risk of which he complains is not one that today’s society chooses to tolerate.”  Here, the Court held, Davidson “was housed in his own individual cell and has not demonstrated exposure to levels of ETS comparable to those in Helling.”

On February 27, 1998, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court, at 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 3230, ruling that the Defendants could invoke qualified immunity “insofar as their conduct [did] not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”  The Court of Appeals further ruled that, prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 1993 decision in Helling v. McKinney, “no reasonable official in the defendants’ position would have understood that exposing an inmate to ETS could entail liability under the Eighth Amendment.”‘

920 F. Supp. 305, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3522 (N.D.N.Y. 1996).