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Lee v. Young

June 24, 2008


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 02-CV-281-J. Phil Gilbert, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flaum, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED MAY 14, 2008

Before BAUER, FLAUM, and MANION, Circuit Judges.

Flynt Jules Lee is a former prison inmate who suffered from asthma. During his stay at a particular prison, he claims that he was exposed to secondhand smoke that triggered his asthma and exacerbated his respiratory condition. He sued prison officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for exhibiting deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant prison officials, finding that Lee in fact could have had a serious medical need, but that the prison officials were not deliberately indifferent to it. We affirm.

I. Background

From 1989 to 2002, Lee was an inmate in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC"). He was housed in the Shawnee Correctional Center ("Shawnee") from 1995 to 1996, and again from 2001 to 2002. It is the latter portion of his stay in Shawnee that is the subject of this litigation. Lee has suffered from chronic asthma since childhood. He claims that his condition worsened while he was in prison due to environmental tobacco smoke ("ETS"). In 1998, he was hospitalized for respiratory failure that presumably arose from his asthma. Later that year, the Acting Medical Director of the IDOC signed a memorandum stating that Lee "has severe asthma and may need prompt medical attention." Two years later, Lee was taken to a non-IDOC emergency room for respiratory problems.

All of this occurred before Lee arrived at Shawnee on January 29, 2001. Upon his arrival, an IDOC health status form was prepared and it listed "acute asthma" as one of his "chronic conditions." The report noted that Lee was already taking several asthma-related medications- namely Accolate, Albuterol, and Azmacort-and continued to participate in an asthma clinic. On February 22, 2001, he was transferred to Shawnee's non-smoking medical unit on account of severe abdominal pain that also caused his asthma to "act up." A related memorandum explicitly acknowledged Lee's "history of having severe asthma attacks . . . ." Once his situation had stabilized soon thereafter, Lee requested to be transferred to a non-smoking cell,*fn1 and his request was granted.

Unfortunately, Lee was still exposed to ETS. Shawnee did not contain any entirely smoke-free wings (nor was it required to), and so smoke from nearby cells would filter into Lee's cell. What was worse is that Lee's cell-mate smoked even though it was a non-smoking cell. Lee then filed a series of grievances based on the presence of secondhand tobacco smoke. He complained that Shawnee "does not have a smoke-free living unit" and that "being placed in a non-smoking cell does not alleviate entirely his exposure to secondhand smoke." On April 20, 2001, a grievance officer recommended approval of the grievance, and the warden concurred several days later and stated that Lee "should be moved to a non-smoking cell." Obviously, Lee responded and notified the warden that he was already in a non-smoking cell, but his cell-mate and others nearby still smoked. Since Shawnee did not have a smoke-free wing, Lee asked to be "transferred to another institution that has a non-smoking wing . . . ." He filed a similar grievance a month later.

In July 2001, a medical doctor was asked to review Lee's records and found no medical problem that "would necessitate special housing placement." Similarly, in August and December 2001, when Lee visited the asthma clinic, the doctor wrote that Lee had no recent asthma attacks and that his asthma was "controlled."

Accordingly, Lee's prescriptions were renewed as before. Still, between November 2001 and December 2002, Lee repeatedly complained about his exposure to ETS to the medical staff. The record reflects over a dozen instances where Lee complained of "smoking inmates," "smoke in his cell," that his "cellmate smokes," and that he had to use his Albuterol inhaler with greater frequency. Prison doctors took note of the fact that he used this inhaler more often, but kept his prescriptions levels essentially intact.*fn2 Lee lodged his final complaint with medical staff on December 4, 2002.*fn3 The doctor who saw him on his sick call concluded that Lee's condition had "improved" with Azmacort and that he should continue with his current medications.

Even though inmates at Shawnee were not permitted to possess smoking materials in non-smoking cells, the prison commissary unwittingly sold cigarettes to inmates housed in non-smoking cells. Nevertheless, correctional officers enforced the non-smoking policy by issuing disciplinary tickets to inmates who smoked or possessed smoking materials in non-smoking areas. At some point during Lee's stint at Shawnee, his cellmate was issued a ticket for smoking in their non-smoking cell. In addition, two other inmates were given disciplinary tickets for possessing or using tobacco in non-smoking areas.

Apart from the complaints regarding ETS, Lee also complained about the prison ventilation system. Specifically, on July 9, 2002, he filed a grievance alleging that his housing unit had "no ventilation system working to extract the ETS" which "endanger[ed his] overall health and safety." A grievance officer reported that the exhaust fans were subsequently repaired on August 31, 2002.

Lee initially proceeded pro se, and filed his complaint with the district court on April 1, 2002. His second amended complaint was filed on August 4, 2003. He sued defendants Donald Young, former warden at Shawnee; Melinda Fields, former business administrator at Shawnee; Donald Snyder,*fn4 former director of IDOC; Mike Hicks, commissary supervisor at Shawnee; and Steven Cagle, housing placement officer at Shawnee. Lee alleged violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983-grounded in his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punish-ment-based on exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke. Because of injury to his existing and future health, he seeks compensatory and punitive damages totaling $1.575 million.

Defendants moved for summary judgment. They argued that the asthma was not a serious medical condition, that they did not exhibit deliberate indifference, and that they were entitled to qualified immunity. A magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation that summary judgment be denied on the question of whether defendants violated Lee's Eighth ...

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