University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Spellman v. Humboldt County JC-CA-0030
Docket / Court 4:05-cv-00568-SBA ( N.D. Cal. )
State/Territory California
Case Type(s) Jail Conditions
Special Collection Strip Search Cases
Case Summary
On February 8, 2005, private attorney 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 policies, practices, and customs concerning the use of strip searches and visual body ... read more >
On February 8, 2005, private attorney 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 policies, practices, and customs concerning the use of strip searches and visual body cavity searches in the Humboldt County Jail. The named plaintiff, who was a female citizen arrested for a DWI, alleged that she was forced to strip naked, such that she was nude from the waist up in the presence of male officers not involved in her search. The search was videotaped. Plaintiff alleged that her treatment was the result of the official Humboldt County Jail policy, in which officers routinely subjected detainees in their custody to strip and visual body cavity searches before they were arraigned and without having any reasonable suspicion that the detainees possessed contraband or weapons, in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and California state law. Plaintiff sought declaratory and injunctive relief, monetary damages and class certification.

After the parties engaged in discovery, defendants moved for summary judgment. The District Court (Saundra Brown Armstrong) found that plaintiff failed to present any evidence of similar complaints, which negated that a custom or practice of improper searches existed at the Jail. As such, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of the County of Humboldt and its Sheriff on plaintiff's municipal liability claim. Spellman v. Humboldt County, 2006 WL 1626922 (N.D.Cal. Jun 09, 2006) Plaintiff appealed.

While the case was on appeal, plaintiff refiled the case, individually naming the deputy sheriff that conducted the strip search as a defendant. That new case, which was filed on June 27, 2006, had the new case number 3:06-cv-03956-MHP and was assigned to District Judge Marilyn H. Patel.

About three months later, the parties settled the matter. They filed a joint memorandum of voluntarily dismissal dated October 16, 2006, advising the Court that the parties mutually resolved their differences. Plaintiff also voluntarily dismissed the appeal of the 2005 case. The terms of the settlement were not made part of the Court record.

Dan Dalton - 01/15/2008


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Affected Gender
Female
General
Search policies
Strip search policy
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
State law
Defendant(s) Humboldt County
Humboldt County Sheriff's Department
Plaintiff Description All those who were arrested from 2003-present who were subjected to a strip search at Humboldt County Jail without the defendants having a reasonable suspicion that the searches would be productive of contraband.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Unknown
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Voluntary Dismissal
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year 2006
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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Case Studies After Decision: Implementation of Judicial Decrees in Correctional Settings
Written: Oct. 01, 1977
By: M. Kay Harris & Dudley P. Spiller (Temple University)
Citation: (1977)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ]

  Jail Strip-Search Cases: Patterns and Participants
http://law.duke.edu/journals/lcp
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University in St. Louis)
Citation: 71 Law & Contemp. Problems 65 (2008)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
3:06-cv-03956-MHP (N.D. Cal.) 10/24/2006
JC-CA-0030-9001 PDF | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
4:05-cv-00568-SBA (N.D. Cal.) 02/22/2007
JC-CA-0030-9000 PDF | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Class Action Complaint 02/08/2005
JC-CA-0030-0001 PDF | Detail
Order Granting Summary Judgment 06/09/2006 (2006 WL 1626922 / 2006 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 417) (N.D. Cal.)
JC-CA-0030-0005 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Civil Rights Complaint 06/27/2006
JC-CA-0030-0002 PDF | Detail
Notice of Dismissal by Plaintiff 10/24/2006 (N.D. Cal.)
JC-CA-0030-0004 PDF | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [re: Motion for Reconsideration] 02/22/2007 (N.D. Cal.)
JC-CA-0030-0003 PDF | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Armstrong, Saundra Brown (N.D. Cal.)
JC-CA-0030-0003 | JC-CA-0030-0005 | JC-CA-0030-9000
Patel, Marilyn Hall (N.D. Cal.)
JC-CA-0030-9001
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Merin, Mark E. (California)
JC-CA-0030-0001 | JC-CA-0030-0002 | JC-CA-0030-0004 | JC-CA-0030-0005 | JC-CA-0030-9000 | JC-CA-0030-9001
Schwarzschild, Jeffrey I. (California)
JC-CA-0030-0001 | JC-CA-0030-0002 | JC-CA-0030-0004 | JC-CA-0030-0005 | JC-CA-0030-9000 | JC-CA-0030-9001
Defendant's Lawyers Delaney, Nancy K. (California)
JC-CA-0030-0005 | JC-CA-0030-9000
Other Lawyers None on record

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