On August 9, 2002, two plaintiffs represented by private attorneys from Minnesota and Wisconsin filed a class action civil rights lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. The plaintiffs challenged the policies, practices, and customs concerning the blanket strip and visual body cavity searches at Wisconsin's St. Croix County Jail. Plaintiffs alleged that, pursuant to a policy adopted by the St. Croix County Sheriff's Department on May 5, 1996, all persons entering the jail were strip searched, whether or not reasonable suspicion existed that the searches would produce contraband or weapons. This policy, plaintiffs alleged, violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiffs sought monetary damages and class certification. The Sheriff and County denied all allegations.
On February 13, 2003, the District Court (Judge Barbara Crabb) certified the case as a class action, defining the class as: "All United States citizens arrested for misdemeanors or ordinance offenses unrelated to weapons or illegal drugs who were required by officers of the St. Croix County jail to remove their clothing for visual inspection of their genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or breasts between August 6, 1996, and February 27, 2001." Blihovde v. St. Croix County, Wis., 219 F.R.D. 607 (W.D. Wis. Feb 13, 2003). See Blihovde v. St. Croix County, Wis., 2003 WL 23095561 (W.D. Wis. Mar. 05, 2003) (regarding notice to class members). The Court approved two proposed class notices: one for adult class members and one for minor class members. Blihovde v. St. Croix County, Wis., 2003 WL 23200374 (W.D. Wis. Apr. 25, 2003).
Following notification of some 2,917 potential class members, the parties settled the case and submitted the proposal to the District Court for preliminary approval. Following a fairness hearing, Judge Crabb issued an order of final approval on February 2, 2004. Under the settlement, the Sheriff and County agreed to pay a total of $6.965 Million to resolve all class claims. Of that amount, over $1.3 Million were awarded to class counsel as attorneys' fees and costs. The named plaintiffs each would receive $35,000. The remaining $5.5 Million were divided among the 1,983 identified and responding class members per an agreed distribution scheme, with each getting just under $2800.
After the claims were paid, several individuals who had not received class notices filed letters with the court, which deemed them motions to reopen the case. The Court denied the motions, noting that although the individuals were not able to participate in the settlement, they were still free to file their own lawsuits. Brecher v. St. Croix County, Wis., 2004 WL 1196982 (W.D. Wis. May 26, 2004).
We have no information indicating other post-settlement activity in the case.Dan Dalton - 02/05/2008