Weaver v. Clarke, et al.

An inmate in Nebraska brought a civil rights claim alleging that prison officials unconstitutionally exposed him to environmental tobacco smoke and that “he suffers various medical problems — severe headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and breathing difficulties — when roomed with a smoking inmate.”  Although Weaver’s room was designated as “no-smoking,” he alleges that the authorities did nothing to stop his cellmate from smoking there after numerous complaints and that the prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his existing serious medical needs and permitted conditions that pose a substantial risk of future harm to him.  The district court denied the prison officials’ motion to dismiss on the ground that Weaver had stated a claim despite the asserted qualified immunity defense.  The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of the motion to dismiss, saying that “Weaver alleges deliberate indifference to his existing health,” as contrasted to the Helling v. McKinney case, which was based on deliberate indifference to a prisoner’s future health.  Weaver successfully stated a claim that the prison officials had violated its Eighth Amendment duty to provide humane conditions of confinement. After a hearing, the magistrate judge concluded that the evidence was sufficient to show a substantial risk of serious harm to the inmate and therefore required the defendants to take reasonable precautions to avoid the risk.  Two weeks after the initial hearing, the department of corrections banned smoking in all its facilities.  Thus, the district court granted summary judgment to the defendants because the Eighth Amendment claims had been rectified.  The court did, however, grant the Plaintiff $11,299.17 for attorney’s fees and expenses.  See “PLRA [Prison Litigation Reform Act] Does Not Protect Nebraska DOCS From Paying Attorneys Fees in Inmate ETS Case,” Corrections Professional, August 26, 1996, Vol. 1, No. 23.

Both sides appealed; the Defendants challenged the district court’s fee award while Weaver contended that the district court had erred in finding that the Defendants had not been deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs.  Denying both parties’ appeals, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed at 120 F.3d 852, 1997 U.S. App. LEXIS 18461.

881 F. Supp. 947 (D. N.J. 1995).