On December 2, 2002, nine female plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, filed this 42 U.S.C §1983 class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs challenged the practice of the U.S. Marshal's Service and the District of Columbia of conducting blanket strip, visual body cavity, and/or squat searches ("strip searches") of female arrestees that were being held in the Superior Court Cell Block of the D.C. Superior Court while awaiting presentment before a judicial officer. Specifically, the plaintiffs complained that the policy and practice of subjecting all female arrestees to strip searches in the absence of reasonable individualized suspicion violated the Fourth Amendment. The plaintiffs further complained that the practice of subjecting female arrestees but not similarly situated male arrestees to blanket strip searches violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, monetary damages, and class certification. The class action complaint was amended twice in 2006.
Defendants denied all allegations and, on May 31, 2006, sought dismissal of the case on numerous grounds, including the defense of qualified immunity. On November 14, 2006, the District Court (Judge Rosemary M. Collyer) denied Defendants' motion to dismiss in its entirety. Johnson v. District of Columbia, 461 F.Supp.2d 48 (D.D.C. 2006). Defendants initially appealed, but the appeal was subsequently voluntarily dismissed. Johnson v. Government of District of Columbia, 2007 WL 1760078 (D.C.Cir. Jun 11, 2007).
On February 8, 2008, the District Court granted the plaintiff's motions for class certification. The Court designated two groups of classes, the Fifth Amendment Class and the Fourth Amendment Class.
The court defined the Fourth Amendment Class as, "Each woman who, during the Class Period (December 2, 1999, until April 25, 2003), was, (i) held in the Superior Court Cell Block; (ii) awaiting presentment under a statute of the District of Columbia; (iii) subjected to a blanket strip, visual body cavity and/or squat search; (iv) under similar circumstances for which male arrestees were not subjected to a blanket strip, visual body cavity and/or squat search."
The court defined the Fifth Amendment Class as, "each woman who, during the Class Period (December 2, 1999, until April 25, 2003), was, (i) held in the Superior Court Cell Block; (ii) awaiting presentment under a statute of the District of Columbia on either (a) a non-drug, non-violent traffic offense, (b) a non-drug, non- violent misdemeanor, or (c) a non-drug, non-violent felony; and (iii) subjected to a blanket strip, visual body cavity and/or squat search; (iv) without any individualized finding of reasonable suspicion or probable cause that she was concealing drugs, weapons or other contraband."
In this opinion, the District Court also dismissed all charges against the United States Marshall's Service.
On February 28, 2008, the plaintiffs filed a cross-claim against United States Superior Court Marshall Todd Dillard on the grounds that he caused them (separately and concurrently) to be subjected strip searches at the D.C. Superior Court cellblock in violation of the 4th and 5th amendments. And that by instituting and implementing a policy which subjected the plaintiffs, all women, to strip searches without individualized suspicion, the co-defendant is liable to the District for all, or part of the claims asserted by the plaintiff against the District of Columbia in this action, by virtue of his practice and policy. This crossclaim was partially in response to the District Court having previously dismissed the plaintiff's claims against the United States Marshall's Service.
On May 23, 2008, the District of Columbia filed for summary judgment for the charges against the District of Columbia. The District Court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment on October 31, 2008. The Court found that the District of Columbia cannot be liable to the plaintiffs as a matter of law on any of the theories they advance inasmuch as the Marshal was a federal official and not an employee, servant, agent or actor under the control of the District of Columbia, and inasmuch as the District of Columbia had no choice but to turn over arrestees to the Superior Court Marshal for presentment. This dismissal left the Marshall (Todd Dillard) as the sole defendant in this case.
On January 14, 2010, the District Court denied the plaintiff's motion to amend their complaint for the third time.
On April 5, 2010, the defendant filed for summary judgment on the plaintiffs' remaining claims against the Marshall.
On April 21, 2011, the District Court issued an opinion that granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment. The Court conceded that the record shows that during the class period female arrestees were subjected to a blanket practice of strip searches while many, if not most, male arrestees were not. It is nonetheless clear that former Marshal Dillard is entitled to qualified immunity from the Fourth Amendment claims. The Fifth Amendment claims similarly fail as the plaintiffs proffered no evidence that former Marshal Dillard purposefully discriminated by intending a gender disparity in search procedures. Summary judgment was denied to the plaintiffs on their Fourth Amendment claims and granted to Marshal Dillard on the Fourth and Fifth Amendment claims. Accordingly the case was dismissed from District Court.
On May 4, 2011, the plaintiffs filed an appeal to the DC Circuit Court.
On August 13, 2014 the DC Court of Appeals issued an opinion affirming the District Court's summary judgment ruling for Superior Court Marshal, finding him entitled to qualified immunity. And also affirming the District Court's summary judgment ruling for the District of Columbia, concluding that because the Superior Court Marshal in charge of the cellblock was at all times a federal official acting under color of federal law, the city had no authority to prevent the strip searches.Dan Dalton - 02/05/2008
Erin Pamukcu - 03/10/2016