SMITH v. PETERS (January 19, 2011)

Anthony Smith was incarcerated in Indiana state prison. He brought suit against prison employees, alleging violations of the First and Eighth amendments. According to the allegations of his complaint, he was a) forced to work outside in freezing conditions without protective equipment (including gloves), b) forced to work in a group with axes and shovels without receiving safety instruction, and c) retaliated against for filing grievances complaining about the work conditions. Chief Judge Young (S.D. Ind.) dismissed the complaint, concluding that a) the outdoor work was merely "the usual discomforts of winter" and b) Smith's fear of dangerous working conditions was not actionable in the absence of a physical injury. He did not address the First Amendment claim. Smith appeals.

In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Posner, Wood, and Williams reversed and remanded. On the protective clothing claim, the Court stated that the allegations of forcing Smith to work in freezing conditions without gloves is sufficient to state an Eighth Amendment Claim. On the dangerous conditions claim, the Court agreed that Smith was not entitled to injunctive relief (because he had been transferred to another prison) or compensatory damages (because of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e)’s a physical injury requirement). However, the complaint's allegation of a reckless exposure to serious physical injury does state an Eighth Amendment claim and the Court concluded that Smith is entitled to seek remedies not precluded by § 1997e (including nominal and punitive damages). Finally, the Court noted that the complaint stated a claim for a First Amendment violation and the district court erred by not addressing it.