On February 3, 2004, private attorneys Andrew C. Schwartz and Mark E. Merin filed a class action civil rights lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, challenging the San Mateo County Sheriff's policies, practices, and customs concerning the use of strip searches and visual body cavity searches on female detainees in the San Mateo County Jail. Plaintiffs alleged that the Sheriff had a blanket policy of subjecting all female detainees in their custody to strip and visual body cavity searches before they were arraigned, regardless of whether any reasonable suspicion existed that the detainees possessed contraband or weapons. This policy, plaintiffs alleged, violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and California state law. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, monetary damages and class certification. Defendants generally denied the allegations.
On October 31, 2005, the District Court (Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong) granted plaintiffs' motion for class certification. October 28, 2005, the Honorable Saundra Brown Armstrong issued her Order certifying the action to proceed as a class action, with the classes defined as follows:
a. Federal claim ("Class One"): All women who, from February 3, 2002 to December 2, 2003, were arrested on any charge (including felonies) not involving weapons, controlled substances, or violence, and not involving a violation of parole or a violation of probation (where consent to search is a condition of such probation), and who were subjected to a uniform and indiscriminate (blanket) strip/visual body cavity search by defendants before arraignment at the San Mateo County Jail without any individualized reasonable suspicions that they were concealing contraband. This class also includes all female arrestees who were subjected to subsequent blanket strip search before arraignment after the initial strip/visual body cavity search without any reasonable individualized suspicion that they had subsequently acquired and hidden contraband on their persons.
b. State law claim ("Class Two"): All female arrestees who, from June 12, 2003 to December 2, 2003, were arrested on an infraction or misdemeanor charge and brought to the San Mateo County Jail and who were subjected to a uniform and indiscriminate (blanket) strip/visual body cavity search before arraignment without written supervisorial authorization, as required under California Penal Code § 4030(f).
Protracted negotiations followed, including a series of settlement conferences with Chief Magistrate Judge James Larson and the Honorable Raul A. Ramirez (retired). Eventually, the parties reached a tentative resolution and filed a joint motion for preliminary settlement approval on February 5, 2007.
Following a fairness hearing on November 6, 2007, Judge Armstrong approved the class settlement. A final order of dismissal was entered on November 29, 2007. Under the settlement, defendants agreed to pay 1.9 million to settle all class claims. Of that sum, $600,000 went to class counsel Andrew C. Schwartz and Mark E. Merin for attorneys' fees and up to $150,000 was allocated for the costs of claims administration. The named representative plaintiffs collectively shared $120,000. Up to $1.15 million was allocated to pay valid individual claims, based on an agreed distribution formula.Dan Dalton - 01/22/2008