On May 30, 2000, three Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state common law against the City of Schenectady and five Schenectady police officers in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York. Plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, asked for compensatory and punitive damages, alleging they were strip-searched pursuant to an unconstitutional city policy in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
On April 1, 1998, Plaintiff C.F. was in front of a store when two defendant officers called him over to their vehicle. The officers asked what he was doing in the area and where the “crack” was. Plaintiff responded that he did not use or know about crack. One officer then searched plaintiff’s pockets and found marijuana. Plaintiff was taken to the police station where he was strip-searched. Plaintiff was kept in a holding cell and released a few hours later. He alleged that $100 was missing from his belongings.
On April 28, 1998, a Defendant Officer stopped Plaintiff G. for a traffic violation. Plaintiff agreed to go to the police station to clear up an “association hit” on her name. Plaintiff alleged she was strip-searched, but Defendants denied strip-searching her. Plaintiff’s fingerprints were then checked, revealing she was not wanted and she was released.
On May 30, 1999, a Defendant Officer responded to a fight call, arrested Plaintiff M.F., brought him to the police station, and charged him with disorderly conduct. Plaintiff was issued an appearance ticket and released. As Plaintiff was leaving the police station, he argued with a police officer. Officers then grabbed him, returned him to the booking area, and then strip-searched him. He was then released without additional charges.
On April 5, 2001, the District Court (Judge Thomas J. McAvoy) denied summary judgment to Defendants and granted summary judgment as to Plaintiff M.F. The Court held: (1) city policy of strip-searching all detainees violated the Fourth Amendment because strip/body cavity searches of arrestees charged with misdemeanors or other minor offenses were unconstitutional unless officers had reasonable suspicion that arrestee concealed contraband, (2) fact question as to whether Plaintiff G. was strip-searched precluded summary judgment because defendant officer and the police matrons on duty denied strip-searching her, and (3) police did not have reasonable suspicion to strip-search either plaintiff. The Court granted summary judgment to Plaintiff M.F. because Defendants admitted to strip-searching him and the Court found that Defendants did not have reasonable suspicion to strip-search him. Plaintiff was not charged with a serious crime and Defendants did not initially strip-search Plaintiff.
Gonzalez v. City of Schenectady, 141 F.Supp.2d 304 (N.D.N.Y. 2001).
On May 31, 2001, the District Court (Judge McAvoy) held that the City’s policy of strip-searching all non-felony detainees was unconstitutional.
On September 17, 2001, the District Court (Judge McAvoy) granted summary judgment for Defendants Officer B, Officer S, and City as to Plaintiff C.F.’s post-marijuana discovery detention claims. The Court granted summary judgment to Defendants on Plaintiff’s claim that his strip-search was unconstitutional. The Court found that the marijuana created a reasonable suspicion that Plaintiff concealed additional contraband, justifying the search. Plaintiff alleged that Defendant S. took $100 frm him, so the Court dismissed this claim as to Officer B. The Court dismissed Plaintiff’s state law claims because Plaintiff did not file within the statute of limitations.
The Court denied summary judgment for Defendants as to Plaintiff’s pre-marijuana discovery Fourth Amendment claims. The Court found that a reasonable jury could conclude the officers detained Plaintiff for questioning without reasonable suspicion that a crime had occurred or was about to occur, Defendant engaged in procedures more intrusive than necessary under the circumstances, and Defendants seized and searched Plaintiff without probable cause. Even if Defendants had reasonable suspicion, their search went beyond a permissible pat down of Plaintiff’s outer clothing for weapons.
The Court granted Defendants’ motion to sever Plaintiff’s claims from the other two Plaintiffs because they involved separate arrests by different officers. The Court granted Defendant Officer’s motion to sever Plaintiff’s claims against him from Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant City and decided to try these cases back to back in front of one jury.
Gonzalez v. City of Schenectady, Case: 1:00-cv-0824, 2001 WL 1217224 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 17, 2001).
On April 16, 2002, a jury trial began on Plaintiffs G’s and M.F.’s claims. The jury found for Plaintiffs G. and M.F. on April 22, 2002. The jury awarded Plaintiff G. $12,500 in actual damages on her Section 1983 and state law claims of an unjustifiable stop. The jury awarded Plaintiff G. $2,500 on her state common law claim of false arrest arising from being detained and brought to the police station. The City was liable for the state law damages under respondeat superior. The jury found for Defendants on Plaintiff G.’s strip search claims. The jury awarded $75,000 to Plaintiff M.F. in actual damages for his illegal strip search, $2,500 in punitive damages against one Defendant Officer, and $10,000 in punitive damages against Defendant Sergeant under supervisory liability.
On August 30, 2002, the District Court (Judge McAvoy) dismissed Plaintiff C.F.’s claims against Defendant Officer B.
On September 4, 2002, at the end of a two-day jury trial, Plaintiff C.F. settled with Defendants Officer S. and City and the District Court (Judge McAvoy) dismissed Plaintiff C.F.’s claims.
On December 30, 2002, the District Court (Judge McAvoy) granted Defendants’ motion for a new trial on the issue of Plaintiff M.F.’s damages unless Plaintiff accepted a remittitur to $40,000 in compensatory damages. The Court found that the strip search had insufficient effects on Plaintiff’s life to justify the jury award. The Court affirmed Plaintiff’s punitive damages award. Gonzalez v. City of Schenectady, Case: 1:00-cv-0824, 2002 WL 34682538 (N.D.N.Y. Dec. 30, 2002).
On January 13, 2003, Plaintiff M.F. accepted the remittitur to $40,000.
On April 7, 2003, the District Court (Judge McAvoy) awarded $94,138.83 in attorney fees to Plaintiffs G. and M.F.Shira Gordon - 04/07/2012