In 1977, Michael Hurley filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS), seeking to enjoin state correctional officers from routinely subjecting him to a strip frisk search in the ...
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In 1977, Michael Hurley filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS), seeking to enjoin state correctional officers from routinely subjecting him to a strip frisk search in the absence of probable cause to believe that he has concealed contraband in his body. Plaintiff was represented by Prisoners' Legal Services of New York. The court (Judge Robert Lee Carter) granted the relief holding only that the specific practice of requiring prisoners during strip search procedures to lift their genitals and to bend over and spread their buttocks violated basic federal civil rights. Hurley v. Ward, 448 F.Supp. 1227 (S.D.N.Y. 1978). It enjoined this practice in the absence of probable cause but did not enjoin other practices involved in the searches. On Appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Judge William Mulligan) reversed the district court's decision to grant relief to all inmates in the New York state correctional system and restricted application of the injunction to Hurley. Hurley v. Ward, 584 F.2d 609 (2d Cir. 1978).
On November 9, 1979, the court amended the injunction so that it no longer applied to strip frisk searches after contact visits. The district court also certified the matter as a class action on behalf of all prisoners in state custody. Khalil A. Rahman intervened on behalf of all Muslim inmates who challenged the state strip search on religious grounds. Another inmate, Isma'il Abdur Rahim filed a lawsuit in 1978 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 challenging the search practices. Rahim suffered from glaucoma and because he refused to submit to the searches for religious reasons, he was unable to go to a facility where he could be treated. The cases were consolidated and jointly tried. Washington Square Legal Services (now NYU Legal Services) represented the Muslim inmates and the Legal Aid Society, Prisoners' Rights Project represented Rahin.
The district court (Judge Carter) held that routine strip searches may be required after contact visits but are unreasonable and unjustifiable under all other circumstances unless there is probable cause. Hurley v. Ward, 549 F.Supp. 174 (S.D.N.Y. 1982). The strip frisks after contact visits were also required of Muslim prisoners. The court held that regular strip searches may be justified under many circumstances. Defendants were required to provide Rahim proper medical attention for the treatment of his illnesses. The parties entered into a consent decree on July 21, 1983 (see Appendix to 158 F.R.D. 22). The decree outlined procedures to be followed regarding the court's decision. It was to be followed in every facility under the DOCS.
According to subsequent proceedings, the defendants ignored complaints of violations of the consent decree. Several conferences were held with the court between 1990 and 1993. Plaintiffs moved for an order holding defendants in contempt. The district court (Judge Carter) held that the plaintiffs proved that the defendants were no longer conducting searches according to the terms of the consent decree and had returned to the procedures in place before the consent decree. Hurley v. Coughlin, 158 F.R.D. 22 (S.D.N.Y. 1993). The court appointed a master to oversee the consent decree and ordered the defendants to post the decree in the library of each facility in Spanish and English. The court chose not to impose sanctions. In January of 1994, the parties entered into an agreement regarding the monitoring system, embodied on a Stipulation and Order signed by the court. In 1996, Judge Carter awarded attorneys' fees to plaintiffs. Hurley v. Coombe, 1996 WL 46889 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 6, 1996).
The Decree remained in place for at least some time. It is described as active in Shabazz v. Pico, 994 F.Supp. 460 (S.D.N.Y. 1998), and referred to more obliquely in still later matters. But its docket is not digitized and we are unable to ascertain its current status more directly. Angela Heverling - 04/05/2006