Murrell v. Chandler, et al.

A prisoner brought a claim that prison officials violated his Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment by exposing him to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS).  The District Court dismissed his lawsuit.  On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that, in Rochon v. City of Angola, “this court recognized that a prisoner states an Eighth  Amendment claim if he alleges that he was exposed to ETS for a sustained time, even if the ETS had not already harmed his health.  To the extent that Murrell alleged that his future health was harmed by prolonged exposure to ETS and that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his health, he states a claim for which relief may be granted.”  The portion of the district court’s judgment dismissing Murrell’s Eighth Amendment claim relative to exposure to ETS for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted is therefore vacated and the case is remanded for appropriate proceedings.

In Murrell v. Casterline, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12153 (W.D. La. 2005), a Magistrate Judge recommended that the plaintiff prisoner’s complaint be dismissed after granting the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.  That recommendation was adopted by the U.S. District Court at 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94881 (W.D. La. 2006).  However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, at 307 F.Appx. 778, 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 6176 reversed the district court, vacating its dismissal of the complaint and remanding the case for further proceedings.  The magistrate judge took judicial notice of the 2006 U.S. Surgeon General’s report on secondhand smoke and concluded that Murrell had met the first Helling prong. Murrell did provide evidence of deliberate indifference on the part of prison officials.  Also, the Court of Appeals ruled that the defendants failed to respond in a timely manner to Murrell’s request for admissions and that they are to be deemed admitted; those admissions “conclusively establish that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to Murrell’s serious medical needs.”  The defendants later moved to amend their answers to the plaintiff’s request for admissions; that motion was granted on June 22, 2009, at 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52904.

In Murrell v. Chandler, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26212 (E.D. Tex. 2007), the district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, at 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 9475 (U.S.C.A. 5th Cir. 2008), reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.  The Court of Appeals noted that Murrell presented evidence that: “he was assigned to a non-smoking unit but smokers were housed at the same unit; he was exposed to excessive levels of ETS 12 to 24 hours a day in his housing unit and at the factory where he worked; the smoke was often so thick in his housing unit that he had to hold a wet towel over his face to breathe; he advised defendants that the no smoking policy was not being enforced and that he was having serious health problems that included migraine headaches and respiratory problems.”  The Court of Appeals concluded that this evidence “creates genuine issues of material fact regarding whether Murrell objectively proved that he was exposed to unreasonably high levels of ETS and whether the defendants were subjectively indifferent to his plight.”  Thus, the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants was in error.

109 Fed. Appx. 700, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 20326, 19.4 TPLR 2.315 (U.S.C.A. 5th Cir. 2004).