On January 30, 2006, on behalf of a female and a male plaintiff, the Chicago civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The complaint challenged the Cook County Sheriff's blanket policy of requiring a strip and body cavity search of every detainee who entered the Cook County Jail for booking/intake, irrespective of the nature of the charge against the detainee and of whether there was any reasonable suspicion that the detainee was concealing weapons or contraband. Plaintiffs contended that suspicionless strip and body cavity searches of detainees accused of misdemeanors and other minor offenses violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiffs also alleged that the searches of male detainees were conducted in a degrading manner that was significantly different than the manner in which females were searched. All female detainees, however, were also allegedly given, without their consent, sexual transmitted disease (STD) testing by a vaginal swabbing procedure. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, monetary damages and class certification on the various claims. Approximately a month later, an amended complaint added a third named plaintiff. A month after that, a second amended complaint was filed adding three additional persons, including officers of a health care contractor, to the multiple jail, public health, and governmental officials named as defendants along with Cook County.
Defendants responding by moving to dismiss the case on numerous grounds which included: (1) no personal involvement was alleged as to the individual defendants; (2) testing for STDs by vaginal swabbing was not unconstitutional; (3) the County had no control over the Sheriff; (4) one of the three named plaintiffs (Johnson) was arrested for a felony drug crime, so the strip search of him was lawful; (5) each pretrial detainee arrived at the jail after a judicial determination of probable cause; (6) the issue of living conditions and treatment of pretrial detainees at the jail was decided by the district court in Duran v. Sheahan, Case No.74 C 2949 and the case is therefore barred by the doctrine of issue preclusion; and (7) the Sheriff had no control of the health care company that performed the vaginal swabbing. With the exception of dismissing the official capacity claims against the individual defendants, the District Court (District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly) denied the motion to dismiss by order dated August 25, 2006.
On April 25, 2007, Judge Kennelly certified the case as a class action, with the classes defined as follows: (1) all males who were subjected to a strip search and/or a visual body cavity search as new detainees at the Cook County Jail on or after January 30, 2004; and (2) all persons charged only with misdemeanor or lesser offenses not involving drugs or weapons who were subjected to a strip search and/or a visual body cavity search as new detainees at the Cook County Jail on or after January 30, 2004. Defendants sought leave to appeal the certification order to the Seventh Circuit, but leave was denied. Plaintiffs decided not to seek class certification on the vaginal swabbing claims.
On October 3, 2008, the individual defendants filed two motions for summary judgment, the first based on the constitutionality of the search policy in question, and they second based on principles of qualified immunity. On November 10, 2008, Cook County filed a motion for summary judgment, and on the same day, the plaintiffs also filed a partial summary judgment motion on the issue of liability.
On February 23, 2009, the district court (Judge Michael Kennelly issued an opinion in which it granted the individual defendants' motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity but denied the individual defendants' motion for summary judgment based on the constitutionality of the search policy. The court also granted Cook County's motion for summary judgment with respect to the respondeat superior claims, but otherwise denied the motion. The court granted the plaintiff motion for summary judgment with respect to the claims of the Class II members and with respect to the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims of the Class I members for searches that occurred prior to the installation of privacy screens, but otherwise denied that motion.
On March 5, 2009, the defendants filed a motion for reconsideration, which the court denied on April 2, 2009. 616 F.Supp.2d 834, N.D. Ill 2009. On August 13, 2009, the case went to trial, and the following day, the jury reached a verdict. They found in favor of the plaintiffs, and held that county jail employees violated the law in the manner in which they conducted strip searches of detainees. The defendant subsequently made two motions in response to the judgment and the district court denied them both.
First, on September 15, 2009, the district court denied the sheriff's motion to stay the proceedings pending his interlocutory appeal of a purported 11th Amendment issue, specifically, the Court's ruling denying his motion for judgment as a matter of law at the recent jury trial. The court held that the interlocutory appeal was frivolous. 2009 WL 2986109 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 15, 2009). Second, on November 17, 2009, the court denied the defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law of for a new trial.
The issue of damages still remained, so from March 29, 2010, to April 7, 2010, the court held a jury trial on damages. Immediately after the jury trial and before the verdict was issued, the parties entered into settlement talks.
On April 28, 2010, the Seventh Circuit (Judge Easterbrook) denied the defendants' interlocutory appeal of the District Court's denial of "11th Amendment" immunity (Judge Easterbrook admonished the parties for confusing 11th Amendment sovereign immunity with qualified immunity). Judge Easterbrook held that the denial was not from a “final decision” and that the appeal was frivolous. The defendants had waited three years before they asserted immunity, so the District Court had held that the immunity was waived. 604 F.3d 360 (7th Cir. 2010)
But on August 11, 2010, the court entered judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, but did not decided the amount of damages or attorney's fees. Instead, the parties reached a settlement agreement deciding those amounts. On November 24, 2010, the Court preliminarily approved the class-action settlement, and on March 4, 2011, the Court granted final approval of the class action settlement. The defendants agreed to pay roughly $18 million in attorney's fees and costs and $365,000 in incentive awards to the class representatives. The defendants also established a $55,000,000 cash fund to pay the claims of individual class members as they were submitted to the court. After the settlement agreement, the court retained jurisdiction and has been handling the claims of individual class members from 2011-2016. As of April 7, 2016, there have been no new motions from late claimants.
Note: There was another strip search case against the Cook County Sheriff in the same District Court. That case, Bullock v. Sheahan, No. 04 C 1051, alleged an unconstitutional practice and policy of strip searching male inmates prior to their release from the Cook County Jail. See JC-IL-0039
.Kristen Sagar - 10/20/2009
Jessica Kincaid - 04/07/2016