Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25 (1993)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 91-1958. Argued January 13, 1993—Decided June 18, 1993

Respondent McKinney, a Nevada state prisoner, filed suit against petitioner prison officials, claiming that his involuntary exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) from his cellmate's and other inmates' cigarettes posed an unreasonable risk to his health, thus subjecting him to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. A federal magistrate granted petitioners' motion for a directed verdict, but the Court of Appeals reversed in part, holding that McKinney should have been permitted to prove that his ETS exposure was sufficient to constitute an unreasonable danger to his future health. It reaffirmed its decision after this Court remanded for further consideration in light of Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U. S. 294, in which the Court held that Eighth Amendment claims arising from confinement conditions not formally imposed as a sentence for a crime require proof of a subjective component, and that where the claim alleges inhumane confinement conditions or failure to attend to a prisoner's medical needs, the standard for that state of mind is the "deliberate indifference" standard of Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U. S. 97. The Court of Appeals held that Seiter's subjective component did not vitiate that court's determination that it would be cruel and unusual punishment to house a prisoner in an environment exposing him to ETS levels that pose an unreasonable risk of harming his health—the objective component of McKinney's claim.

Held: 1. It was not improper for the Court of Appeals to decide the question whether McKinney's claim could be based on possible future effects of ETS. From its examination of the record, the court was apparently of the view that the claimed entitlement to a smoke-free environment subsumed the claim that ETS exposure could endanger one's future, not just current, health. Pp. 30-31. 2. By alleging that petitioners have, with deliberate indifference, exposed him to ETS levels that pose an unreasonable risk to his future health, McKinney has stated an Eighth Amendment claim on which relief could be granted. An injunction cannot be denied to inmates who plainly prove an unsafe, life-threatening condition on the ground that nothing yet has happened to them. See Hutto v. Finney, 437 U. S. 678, 682. Thus, petitioners' central thesis that only deliberate indifference


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