Helling v. McKinney

LOCATION: City Council of Hialeah

DOCKET NO.: 91-1958
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 509 US 25 (1993)
ARGUED: Jan 13, 1993
DECIDED: Jun 18, 1993

Cornish F. Hitchcock - Argued the case for the respondents
Frankie Sue Del Papa - Argued the case for the petitioners
John J. Roberts, Jr. - for U.S. as amicus curiae by special leave of the Court

Facts of the case

William McKinney, who served a sentence in Nevada state prison, brought a suit against his warden and few other jailers for breach of his rights under the Eighth Amendment. The plaintiff explained that he stayed in one cell with a man who smoked five cigarettes packages a day. Thus, he affirmed that because of his suffering of the passive smoking during his remaining in the jail his healthy became much worse and he obtained several diseases. The appellant complained that the wardens didn`t care about the risk of breach of the precedent of the Supreme Court in the previous proceeding.

He brought a suit, but the federal court upheld that he didn`t possess a right to a non-smoking place granted by the Eighth Amendment and his arguments regarding negative impact on his health.

However, the Appellate Court revised proceeding in Helling v. Mckinney and granted him the possibility to confirm that the impact of smoke could cause a negative influence on his future health.

The plaintiff sued to the Supreme Court that ruled that his complaint should be deemed as the appellation regarding infringement of the Eighth Amendment that prohibited any cruel and inhuman penalties. The judges found that the test of Wilson precedent that required the presence of “deliberate indifference” in issues of hard health risks, could not be applied in current non-medical conditions.

The case study stated that the final decision confirmed whether the plaintiff could affirm that the second-hand smoke harmed him and was a threat to his health. Therefore the judgment in Helling v Mckinney granted to appellant the right to relief.

The case brief underlines that this ruling stared the new interpretation of this constitutional provision and made the precedent for smoke cases and regarding the conditions of the sentence in the prisons.


May an inmate sue to prove that his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment has been violated by prison officials who act with "deliberate indifference" to the future health risks associated with second-hand smoke?

Media for Helling v. McKinney

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 13, 1993 in Helling v. McKinney

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in number 91-1958, Donald L. Helling v. William McKinney.

General Del Papa.

Frankie Sue Del Papa:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

Our Nation's prisons are dangerous places.

We take our most troubled and troublesome citizens, we put them behind walls for our protection and their rehabilitation.

We do so in structures and under rules designed for security, ours and theirs, then we ask those who manage them to somehow make it work.

It is a difficult, complex job; one in which the most routine daily decisions can have serious, even lethal consequences.

It is in recognition of those consequences that 35 States, the United States District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and three territories, ask you to reverse a Ninth Circuit opinion that is not only in direct conflict with opinions of other circuit courts, but severely impacts the serious decisions confronting the men and women who run our Nation's over 1,300 prisons.

The respondent in this case was convicted of murder and is serving his sentence in the Nevada prison system.

In 1987 he filed a civil rights complaint alleging he had shared a cell with a series of inmates who were heavy smokers and that prison officials had done nothing to separate smoking and nonsmoking inmates.

He also alleged certain medical symptoms as a result of exposure to secondary cigarette smoke, and that the exposure constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

He sought an injunction prohibiting prison administrators from housing him with inmates who smoke and asked for compensatory and punitive damages.

That complaint launched the case that is before the Court today.

The question is whether, as the Ninth Circuit has held, the respondent has stated a valid Eighth Amendment claim.


Sandra Day O'Connor:

General Del Papa, has Nevada changed its regulations since the institution of the lawsuit, concerning... insofar as they would affect placement of prisoners for smoking or nonsmoking purposes?

Frankie Sue Del Papa:

--No, Justice O'Connor.

The... the... what was in existence at the time of this initial complaint was an informal policy of accommodation in terms of whenever practical.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And now that's embodied in written policies--

Frankie Sue Del Papa:

That's correct.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--That are consistent with the former informal policies.

Frankie Sue Del Papa:

That's correct.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And this particular petitioner, I mean plaintiff in the suit below, has been moved since the institution of the lawsuit.

Frankie Sue Del Papa:

That's correct.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And is he presently being housed in a single cell?

Frankie Sue Del Papa:


Sandra Day O'Connor:

Do you think there's some reason to think that he may be moved again during his incarceration and again subjected to secondary smoke?

Frankie Sue Del Papa:

The underlying facts are capable of repetition, yes.

Because at any time... of course, classifications are reviewed through administrative regulations at least every 6 months.

But, again, there is always the possibility of transfers.