On November 1, 2013, several female inmates housed at the all-women Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Pittsfield Township, Michigan, sued the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) over its strip-search policies. Beginning in 2009, MDOC required each prisoner at Huron Valley to sit on a ...
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On November 1, 2013, several female inmates housed at the all-women Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Pittsfield Township, Michigan, sued the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) over its strip-search policies. Beginning in 2009, MDOC required each prisoner at Huron Valley to sit on a chair and spread her labia to allow female corrections officers to check her vaginal cavity for contraband after returning from off-site visits and after meeting with anyone during a direct-contact visits. Plaintiffs allege that the chairs were improperly sanitized, and that prisoners weren’t able to properly sanitize their hands before touching their genitals, exposing them to a heightened risk of contracting diseases trough contact with the bodily fluids of other prisoners. They further alleged that the searches were carried out in view of other prisoners and male corrections officials.
Plaintiffs brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan under 42 U.S.C. §1983. They argued that by forcing inmates to spread their labias under unsanitary conditions in view of other prisoners and male corrections officials, MDOC was deliberately indifferent to the health, safety, privacy and bodily integrity of inmates, in violation of the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiffs asked the court for class certification to represent other prisoners who are, were, or will be confined in Huron Valley and who have been or may be subjected to the spread-labia search by Huron Valley correctional officers and staff. They further asked the court to: declare the spread-labia search technique unconstitutional; issue a permanent injunction requiring Huron Valley correctional staff to stop performing spread-labia searches; issue an injunction requiring Huron Valley to provide medical and mental health care to address ongoing harm being suffered by plaintiffs, including mental anguish, trauma, and infections caused by the unsanitary conditions; award damages to plaintiffs for harm suffered, including punitive damages where appropriate; and to award plaintiffs reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.
On May 1, 2015, the judge assigned to the case, District Judge Paul D. Borman, granted in part and denied in part defendants’ motion to dismiss. Judge Borman ruled that plaintiffs’ claim for monetary damages was barred by the Eleventh Amendment. He also found that because the warden had taken reasonable steps to avert the risks associated with the spread-labia search procedure (conducting an inquiry, taking action to make it more sanitary, and eventually ending it as a routine procedure in 2011), correctional staff had not violated the Eighth Amendment. However, Judge Borman did find that if plaintiffs’ allegations that the spread-labia searches were carried out under unsanitary conditions with other prisoners and male corrections officials watching, then the prison may have violated the prisoners Fourth Amendment right to privacy. Judge Borman further found that because plaintiffs had also alleged that the spread-labia search was still being carried out, even if it was no longer officially a routine procedure, they might be entitled to prospective injunctive relief prohibiting corrections officials from carrying out the spread-labia search in the future. This meant that plaintiff’s fourth amendment claim was sufficiently strong to survive defendant’s motion to dismiss, and that that portion of their argument would be further litigated. 2015 BL 127626
On March 9, 2015, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Borman’s denial of qualified immunity to the prison’s warden, and dismissed defendant’s appeal of Judge Broman’s order denying their motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ claim for prospective injunctive relief. 2016 WL 890614 The case remains ongoing at the district court levels; the plaintiffs recently filed seeking class action status. Ryan Berry - 08/05/2016