Mills v. Clark, et al.

A nonsmoking prisoner filed a 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983 action alleging that prison officials violated his Eighth Amendment right to not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment because they were indifferent to his exposure to secondhand smoke.  The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina (Britt, J.) had denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the judgment.  While at prison, plaintiff was required to attend weekly sessions in a substance abuse program.  He filed grievances which stated that although no-smoking signs were posted where the program was held, approximately 125 of the 150 inmates participating in the program smoked during the sessions.  He stated that his exposure to secondhand smoke during these sessions caused him shortness of breath and chest pains. The court ruled that qualified “immunity protected officials who made discretionary decisions in such situations where exposure [to secondhand smoke] was not clearly unreasonably high.  Plaintiff’s exposure was not to a degree that would have led a reasonable official to conclude that his rights were violated.  Plaintiff never sought medical assistance for problems due to exposure to the smoke.”  The Court also ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Helling v. McKinney “does not guarantee plaintiff a smoke free environment . . .”

2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 22441, 2000 WL 1250781 (U.S.C.A. 4th Cir. 2000).