On October 31, 2003, three plaintiffs represented by private attorneys with law firms in New York and Washington, D.C., filed this class action civil rights lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. They alleged that the Erie County Sheriff's Department had an unconstitutional blanket policy and/or practice of strip searching all individuals who entered either the Erie County Holding Center or the Erie County Correctional Facility, regardless of the crime charged and without reasonable suspicion that the individuals were concealing weapons or contraband. The plaintiffs alleged that the policy violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, and class certification.
The parties engaged in contentious discovery, resulting in numerous discovery motions and request for sanctions. District Judge John T. Curtin and Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott made numerous unpublished rulings on these issues. See, e.g., Pritchard v. County of Erie, 2006 WL 1455484 (W.D. N.Y. May 22, 2006) and Pritchard v. County of Erie, 2006 WL 2927852 (W.D. N.Y. Oct 12, 2006) (order relating to the deposition of an Assistant County Attorney). Additionally, the judges issued opinions regarding discovery of e-mails sent by a former Assistant County Attorney to individual defendants and other Sheriff's Department officials regarding the Sheriff's Department's evolving policies regarding inmate strip searches. See Pritchard v. County of Erie, 2006 WL 3858475 (W.D. N.Y. Jan. 04, 2006); objections overruled by Pritchard v. County of Erie, 2006 WL 3872844 (W.D. N.Y. Apr. 17, 2006); vacated and remanded by In re County of Erie, 473 F.3d 413 (2nd Cir. 2007) (Circuit Judge Dennis Jacobs); on remand, the Court found that dissemination of attorney's advice did not waive attorney-client privilege. Pritchard v. County of Erie, 2007 WL 1703832 (W.D. N.Y. June 12, 2007). On reconsideration, the Court found that the defendants waived the attorney-client privilege with respect to the disputed e-mails by placing the information in those communications "at issue" in the litigation. Pritchard v. County of Erie, 2007 WL 3232096 (W.D. N.Y. Oct 31, 2007).
On September, 2009, the plaintiffs sought class certification of the class of all persons who have been placed into the custody of the Erie County Correctional Facility and/or the Erie County Holding Center after being charged with misdemeanors, violations, violations of probation or parole, traffic infractions, civil commitments or other minor crimes and were strip searched upon their entry into the Erie County Correctional Facility and/or the Erie County Holding Center pursuant to the policy, custom and practice of the Erie County Sheriff's Department and the County of Erie. The plaintiffs requested that the Court certify this action as a money damages class action under Rule 23(b)(3). In the alternative, the plaintiffs sought partial certification under Rule 23(c)(4). The court held in favor plaintiff and found that all the requirements for class certification had been met. 269 F.R.D. 213, 219. But, the court defined two separate classes for the Erie County Holding Center and Erie County Correctional Facility, respectively, based on its finding that the two facilities did not share enough commonality due to the different procedures each had in place. 269 F.R.D. 213.
However, in 2010, the Supreme Court courted decided Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders
, 132 S.Ct. 1510 (2012), and held that searches in a New Jersey jail did not violate the Fourth or Fourteenth Amendments. In response, the plaintiffs in this case submitted a brief distinguishing this case from Florence
. The plaintiffs argued that the strip searches in Florence
were private, individual searches, while the searches in this case were in groups. (In ECHC, class members were searched in groups of three in a shower area, and in ECCF, class members were searched in larger groups in a large common room). The plaintiffs further argued that the Florence
decision was limited to the facts addressed in that case.
The Court instructed the parties to provide a joint submission regarding the procedural posture of this action based on the Florence
decision, but the parties did not reach an agreement. Instead, on May 23, 2012, the plaintiffs requested that the Court allow the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint.
As of March 22, 2016, the court had not ruled on the request for leave to file an amended complaint and no other action has occurred in the case. Dan Dalton - 03/05/2008
Soojin Cha - 03/22/2016