On July 13, 1998, plaintiff, Bronwyn Ford, filed a civil rights lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, seeking damages from the City of Boston arising from two alleged strip-searches that followed her arrest on a defective warrant. Brown claimed that after being wrongly arrested, she was taken to the Boston Police Station on Berkeley Street where she was strip-searched and was then transported to the Suffolk County Jail on Nashua Street were she was strip-searched again, prior to her detention. Brown further alleged that while in custody she was denied medical treatment by officials deliberately indifferent to her needs. She alleged violations of the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and of Massachusetts state law. Suffolk County was subsequently added as a defendant.
On December 10, 1998, a female plaintiff represented by Boston civil rights attorney Howard Friedman filed a class action Section 1983 lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The lawsuit challenged the strip search policies of the Boston Police Department and the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department. The class action case, styled Mack v. Suffolk County, alleged that all women arrested by the Boston Police Department and who could not post bail were transported to the Suffolk County Jail for detention pending an initial court appearance. Mack further alleged that at all persons confined at the Suffolk County Jail were subjected to a stripsearch and a visual body cavity search, regardless of the offense charged and whether or not there was reasonable suspicion that the search would produce weapons or contraband. Mack alleged that the County's blanket strip search policy violated the Fourth Amendment. Mack further alleged that because the Boston PD only sent female pre-arraignment detainees to the Suffolk County Jail (male detainees were held in police holding cells), only female detainees had to suffer through the unconstitutional blank strip-search policy, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Ford and Mack cases were litigated separately for over a year. During that time, the respective parties engaged in motion practice and discovery. The Mack case was certified as a class action on February 16, 2000. Mack v. Suffolk County, 191 F.R.D. 16 (D. Mass. 2000) (District Judge Nancy Gertner). In an unpublished order, Judge Gertner consolidated the cases on April 4, 2000. While the Ford case was designated as the lead case because it had been filed first, the consolidation order essentially placed the cases under the leadership of class counsel Friedman. After the consolidation, Ms. Ford decided to opt out of the class so that she could pursue her individual damage claim.
All parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, which Judge Gertner ruled on in two separate opinions dated July 31, 2001. As to the Mack class claims, Judge Gertner noted that Suffolk County strip search policy changed over the relevant class period. Until late May 1999, the policy was for all prisoners to be strip searched. On May 24, 1999, the policy was amended to require a finding of probable cause prior to a strip-search of an arrestee charged with a misdemeanor, but continued to require strip-searches of all arrestees charged with felonies. On September 20, 1999, the County eliminated altogether the routine strip-searching of pre-arraignment detainees. Because of the policy change, Judge Gertner created two sub-classes: (1) Sub- class I: class members who were searched following arrests (either originally or on a default warrant) for offenses involving neither violence nor drugs (class representative Katrina Mack); and (2) Sub-Class II: the remaining class members, who were searched after following arrests for offenses (either misdemeanors or felonies) involving drugs or ``violence" (class-representative to be determined). Judge Gertner found that the County's search policies during the class period were facially unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment. She entered summary judgment against both the City and the County for the strip searches of women charged with felonies and misdemeanors not involving drugs or guns, and for women arrested on default warrants for such offenses. Summary judgment was denied as to particular strip-searches of women who arrested for drug offenses or violent crimes. Ford v. City of Boston, 154 F. Supp.2d 131 (D. Mass. 2001).
On Ford's individual claims, Judge Gertner granted Ford summary judgment on the issue of liability for her Fourth Amendment and equal protection claims (strip-searches). Sheriff Rouse was granted qualified immunity for Ford's claims and the County was granted summary judgment on Ford's medical deprivation claim. Ford v. City of Boston, 154 F.Supp.2d 123 (D.Mass. 2001).
Immediately after the rulings, the City and the Mack class began settlement discussions. The City initially refused to talk settlement with Ford, but eventually agreed to mediation. Ford's claims did not settle. Mediation proceeded with the class claims and a global settlement was reached with both the City and the County.
Under the Settlement Agreement, which was approved by the Court on October 1, 2002, the County and the City agreed to pay $10 million ($5 million from each) for settlement of the class claims. Of that sum, the Court approved $3 million for attorney's fees (30%), plus $142,101 for litigation costs (1.42%) and $110,247 for claims administration expenses (1.1%) for a total of 32.52% of the settlement. Class representatives were awarded a $15,000 incentive bonus. The remainder was allocated among the class members per an agreed distribution formula. (See JC-MA-10-0002).
Suffolk County did not timely make its $5 million settlement payment and was held in contempt. The Court levied fines $74,948.79 against Suffolk County.
The Ford case eventually settled as well on all issues except attorney's fees. Judge Gertner awarded Ford's attorneys only $18,816.50, finding that Ford piggybacked the efforts of attorney Friedman in the Mack litigation.
We have no information indicating material post-settlement activity in either case.Dan Dalton - 02/10/2008