On May 15, 2002, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, plaintiffs filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 class action suit in the District Court for the District of Columbia, claiming that D.C. Jail officials violated their Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendment rights in detaining them beyond their release dates and violated their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights by conducting blanket strip searches.
According to the plaintiffs, the District routinely strip searched and rebooked prisoners returning from court, even when charges were dismissed or they were otherwise ordered released. The prisoners would then remain in unlawful custody for as many as several weeks.
The District moved to dismiss the suit for failure to state a claim. The District Court (Judge Royce C. Lamberth) denied the motion and held that the second amended complaint stated valid claims under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Bynum v. District of Columbia, 257 F.Supp.2d 1 (D.D.C. 2002). The District then moved for summary judgment, which the District Court denied as premature, given that discovery had not yet begun. Bynum v. District of Columbia, 215 F.R.D. 1 (D.D.C. 2003).
On March 31, 2003, the District Court granted in part and denied in part plaintiffs’ motion for class certification. The certified class consisted of persons who were overdetained by any DC Department of Corrections facility in the three years preceding the filing of the case, up to and until the date the case was terminated. (“Overdetention Class”). Plaintiffs’ request for a sub-class of strip searched persons (“Strip Search class”) was denied without prejudice as the sub-class as defined didn’t meet the numerosity requirement. Bynum v. District of Columbia, 214 F.R.D. 27 (D.D.C. 2003).
Plaintiffs filed a second motion to certify the Strip Search class, changing the class definition to consist of persons who were strip searched as part of their out processing from DC Department of Corrections custody. The Court granted plaintiffs’ motion and certified the Strip Search class. Bynum v. District of Columbia, 217 F.R.D. 43 (D.D.C. 2003).
While denying a pattern and practice of overdetentions and strip searches, DC agreed in 2005 to pay $14 million to settle the lawsuit: $5 million to build a new Inmate Processing Center (IPC), $200,000 each to six named plaintiffs, over $4 million in attorney fees, and the balance to nearly 4,000 class members and administration fees. The average payment per class member was expected to be about $2,700, but the amount would vary based on the length of over-detention. The District Court (Judge Lamberth) preliminarily approved the settlement on August 25, 2005 and set the matter for a formal approval hearing. Bynum v. District of Columbia, 384 F.Supp.2d 342 (D.D.C. 2005).
Judge Lamberth issued a Final Approval Order after a fairness hearing in January 2006. Bynum v. District of Columbia, 412 F.Supp.2d 73 (D.D.C. 2006).
Rosenthal & Company was appointed as administrator of the class settlement fund. Harold W. Johnson, Jr. filed an emergency motion to stay the distribution of the class settlement funds, apparently challenging the list of class claimants. Following nearly a year of litigation on the issue, the District Court entered an order directing Rosenthal & Company to prepare a final list of class claimants to receive payment under the settlement, so that distribution of the funds could proceed. This case is closed.
Note that following the Bynum settlement, a new lawsuit was filed against the District, alleging that the practices of overdetention and strip searches continued despite the Bynum settlement. That case was styled Barnes v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 06-315 (RCL). [See JC-DC-5 of this collection].Margo Schlanger - 11/02/2006