On June 3, 1999, a plaintiff represented by New York attorney Robert L. Herbst filed a civil rights lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The plaintiff challenged the blanket strip search policy of the Nassau County Correctional Center. Under the policy, the plaintiff alleged, all misdemeanor and minor offense arrestees were strip-searched, without any suspicion that such arrestees are concealing weapons or other contraband. The plaintiff alleged the policy violated the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments and sought declaratory and injunctive relief, monetary damages, and class certification. This case, which was styled Augustin v. Jablonsky, followed another case, Shain v. Ellison, 96-CV-3774 (JC-NY-0016
in this Clearinghouse), that was filed against Nassau County by attorney Herbst and also challenged the County's strip-search policy. This case was filed just days after the Court in Shain v. Ellison issued an order finding the Nassau County strip search policy unconstitutional. See Shain v. Ellison, 53 F.Supp.2d 564, 565 (E.D. N.Y. 1999).
In addition to the Augustin case, two similar suits -- O'Day v. Nassau County, 99-cv-2844 (JC-NY-0029
), and Iaffaldano v. County of Nassau, 99-cv-4238 (JC-NY-0044
) -- had also been filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, challenging the blanket strip search policy of the Nassau County Correctional Center. All plaintiffs moved to consolidate the cases and for class certification for a class defined as "all persons arrested for or charged with non-felony offenses who have been admitted to the Nassau County Correctional Center and strip searched without particularized reasonable suspicion." The District Court (Judge Denis J. Hurley) consolidated the cases but denied class certification. 2001 WL 770839 (E.D. N.Y. Mar. 08, 2001).
The plaintiffs renewed their motion for class certification several times, all of which were denied.
The parties entered into a stipulation for settlement, under which the defendants agreed to pay the lump sum of $350,000 to the ten named plaintiffs in the consolidated cases, who agreed to split the fund equally, each plaintiff receivng $35,000. The stipulation reserved plaintiffs' right to appeal the District Court's orders denying class certification and, in the event that the orders were overturned, the defendants agreed that the named plaintiffs could continue to pursue the class claims and would be entitled to receive up to $1,000 more in incentive payments if a class was eventually certified. If the orders denying certification were not overturned on appeal, plaintiffs would be allowed to request attorneys' fees up to $125,000. Judge Hurley approved the settlement on July 5, 2005. The plaintiffs then appealed the certification denial.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case with instructions to certify a class as to liability and consider certifying a damages class as well. In re Nassau County Strip Search Cases, 461 F.3d 219 (2nd Cir. 2006) (Circuit Judge Chseter J. Straub).
On remand, the District Court certified a liability class and the parties briefed the issue of certification of a damages class. The liability class consisted of all persons arrested for misdemeanor and non-criminal offenses in Nassau County who thereafter were strip searched upon entry to Nassau County Correctional Center, from May 20, 1996, to June 1, 1999.
On March 27, 2008, the Court granted the plaintiffs' motion to extend the above class certification to include damages. The Court held a hearing in March of 2009 and set the trial for September of 2009. Following the hearing, the Court issued an opinion holding that parties could select their own witnesses from the class, but that each witness would only be able to testify as to the facts of the strip search (and not their personal feelings about their experiences). 2009 WL 706252. The plaintiffs moved the Court to reconsider its order that witnesses only testify as to the facts of their experiences, but the Court denied the motion. 2009 WL 1312909. The defendants, on the other hand, requested access to class members in order to select witnesses, but the Court also denied this request, stating that there is no need for access because witnesses would only testify as to the details of search procedures. 2009 WL 1456011.
On February 25, 2010, the Court allowed the defendants to reduce the class size. 2010 WL 680988.
Trial was held in late 2009, and on September 22, 2010, the Court held that the defendants had unlawfully strip searched people arrested for misdemeanor and non-criminal offenses after admitting them to the correctional center. The Court ordered the defendants to pay $500 per strip search in general damages to compensate each person affected by the unlawful searches. 742 F.Supp.2d 304. The Court held that the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) was inapplicable to this case and thus did not limit recovery, since the PLRA's recovery limitation applies only when a plaintiff is incarcerated at the time of bringing suit, and the named plaintiffs in this case were not incarcerated at the time of bringing suit. 2010 WL 3781563.
On October 19, 2011, the Court decertified the class on the defendants' motion, holding that special damages must be determined on an individual basis. 819 F.Supp.2d 153.
On July 18, 2013, the defendants moved the Court to reconsider the January 16, 2007 order granting summary judgment on liability in favor of plaintiffs. The defendants based their argument on the Supreme Court's decision in the year 2012 in Florence v. Bd. Of Chosen Freeholders
, JC-NJ-0022. In that case, the Supreme Court decided that new-admit strip searches did not violate constitutional rights. This court followed Florence and granted the defendants' motion with respect to constitutional claims, but upheld its grant of summary judgment based on state claims against strip searches. 958 F.Supp.2d 339.
On April 2, 2014, the court awarded $4,018,030.25 in attorney fees and costs to the plaintiffs' class counsel. 2014 WL 1338426. As of July 30, 2014, the parties were continuing to work on a proposed final judgment to submit to the Court.Dan Dalton - 03/05/2008
Maurice Youkanna - 07/30/2014