On March 27, 2007, Plaintiffs, individually and as class representatives, filed a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, Fresno Division, against Kern County California, the Kern County Sheriff’s Department (“KCSD”), and officials in their supervising capacity. Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief and damages resulting from the strip and/or visual body cavity searches of prisoners by Defendants.
The complaint, later amended, pursues causes of action for violations of the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, violation of Article I, §§ 1, 7, 13 and 17 of the California Constitution and state law violations. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants maintained a policy of indiscriminately strip/body cavity searching all or a large number of persons being processed into the jail without limitation on the number of persons who can see, hear or observe the searches. Plaintiffs also allege that Defendants improperly strip searched detainees who had been ordered released.
On July 17, 2008, Defendants filed a joint motion for summary adjudication regarding liability of entities and individuals as to group strip searches. Defendants contend that the group strip searches at issue do not violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. In addition, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim and state law claims fail as a matter of law.
On June 17, 2008, Plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification, seeking certification of two classes—the Post-Release Class and the Group Strip Search Class.
On November 7, 2008, Defendants filed a second joint motion for summary adjudication regarding court returnees, qualified immunity and Eleventh Amendment immunity. Defendants contend that (1) the searches of certain Plaintiffs who assert that their constitutional rights were violated when they were subjected to strip searches after returning to the jail following a court appearance in which they were ordered released were reasonable; (2) Defendants are immune from liability because the law was not clearly established that searching post-arraignment detainees in small groups violates Plaintiffs’ rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and violates the Equal Protection Clause; (3) the Sheriff is a state actor and immune from a § 1983 suit; and (4) the County should be dismissed from the action.
On November 7, 2008, Plaintiffs filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment and/or summary adjudication. Plaintiffs sought a determination that (1) KCSD’s policy of strip searching persons ordered released from custody violated the Fourth Amendment; (2) KCSD’s policy of group strip searching prisoners violated the Fourth Amendment; (3) the strip search policies violated Plaintiffs’ state constitutional rights pursuant to Cal. Const. Art. I, § 1 (privacy), Cal. Const. Art. I, § 13 (unreasonable searches) and Cal. Const. Art. I, § 7 (equal protection); and (4) the entity defendants are liable under federal and state law.
On March 31, 2009, in a published order, the Court (Magistrate Judge Dennis L. Beck) granted in part and denied in part the parties' motions for partial summary judgment/summary adjudication and on April 01, 2009, certified the two putative Plaintiff classes.
Plaintiffs and Defendants sought interlocutory appeals to the Ninth Circuit. However, pursuant to the stipulation of the parties and the supplemental letter filed by counsel on January 21, 2011, these consolidated appeals were voluntarily dismissed without prejudice. On January 21, 2011, the parties filed a joint motion for preliminary approval of a class settlement in the District Court.
On February 23, 2011, the District Court preliminarily approved the Settlement Agreement. In a nutshell, the Settlement Agreement provides that: (1) each Post-Release Class Member who files a claim shall receive $1500; (2) each Group Strip Search Class Member shall receive $200; (3) Post-Release Class Members may receive an additional $750 if s/he was subjected to a second such search during the class period; (4) the class payment figures are subject to certain aggregate maximums to be paid each class (totaling approximately $4,350,000 for the two classes combined), after which payments would be prorated; (5) Defendants shall separately pay $30,000 to each of the three named plaintiffs, pay the cost of class administration, pay class counsel costs not to exceed $65,000, and pay class counsel attorneys’ fees of $2 million.
On August 31, 2011, the District Court issued a final order to approve the Settlement. On September 02, 2011, the District Court awarded the class counsels attorneys' fees in the amount of $2 million, and costs in the amount of $44,393.60.
(Updated on April 21, 2012)Xin Chen - 04/21/2012