Atkinson v. Taylor, et al.
The plaintiff, a blind, diabetic prisoner, who had quit smoking after receiving surgery for a pituitary adenoma, claimed that prison officials and the State of Delaware Department of Corrections violated his right to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, as guaranteed under the United States Constitution, by exposing him to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). According to the plaintiff, the exposure created serious medical needs and posed an unreasonable risk of harm to his health and safety. He therefore asserted that he was entitled to damages for present and future injuries. Furthermore, the plaintiff claimed that prison officials retaliated against him by using excessive force, including the use of physical violence, for filing the lawsuit. The defendants claimed that they were entitled to qualified immunity for the ETS claims, as well as for the retaliation and excessive force claims. The district court denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that a court could decide that the defendants violated the plaintiff's right to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment by exposing him to an unreasonable risk of present and future harm. Insofar as the defendants potentially violated a clearly established fundamental right, they were not entitled to qualified immunity for either the ETS or retaliation claims. The Court of Appeals did not pass judgment on the actual objective or subjective elements of the plaintiff's ETS claims.