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Case Name Hurley v. Coughlin PC-NY-0032
Docket / Court 77 CIV. 3847 ( S.D.N.Y. )
State/Territory New York
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Special Collection Strip Search Cases
Attorney Organization Prisoners' Legal Services of New York (PLSNY)
Case Summary
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 ... read more >
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

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Affected Gender
Search policies
Strip search policy
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Non-government for profit
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Dept. of Corr. Services
Plaintiff Description Prison inmate seeking to enjoin state prison authorities from subjecting him to strip frisk searches
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Prisoners' Legal Services of New York (PLSNY)
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se Unknown
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1983 - n/a
Filed 1977
Case Ongoing Perhaps, but long-dormant
Additional Resources
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  Jail Strip-Search Cases: Patterns and Participants
Date: Spring 2008
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University in St. Louis Faculty)
Citation: 71 Law & Contemp. Problems 65 (2008)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Henry Hampton Collection: Interview of Hon. Robert Lee Carter
Henry Hampton Collection: Washington University in St. Louis
Date: Nov. 5, 1985
By: Robert Lee Carter, Henry Hampton Collection
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
Opinion (448 F.Supp. 1227) (S.D.N.Y.)
PC-NY-0032-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 04/11/1978
Source: Google Scholar
Opinion (584 F.2d 609)
PC-NY-0032-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 10/06/1978
Source: Google Scholar
Opinion (549 F.Supp. 174) (S.D.N.Y.)
PC-NY-0032-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 09/29/1982
Source: Google Scholar
Reported Opinion (158 F.R.D. 22) (S.D.N.Y.)
PC-NY-0032-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 07/28/1993
Source: Google Scholar
Opinion (1996 WL 46889 / 1996 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 1185) (S.D.N.Y.)
PC-NY-0032-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 02/06/1996
show all people docs
Judges Carter, Robert Lee (S.D.N.Y.) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0032-0001 | PC-NY-0032-0002 | PC-NY-0032-0004 | PC-NY-0032-0005
Mulligan, William Hughes (Second Circuit) show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Angelos, Claudia (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0032-0001 | PC-NY-0032-0003 | PC-NY-0032-0004 | PC-NY-0032-0005
Fuller, Sarah Betsy (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0032-0004 | PC-NY-0032-0005
Giacalone, Arthur J. (New York) show/hide docs
Hellerstein, William E. (New York) show/hide docs
Leven, David C. (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0032-0001 | PC-NY-0032-0004 | PC-NY-0032-0005
Lewis, Dori A. (New York) show/hide docs
Steinbock, Daniel J. (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0032-0002 | PC-NY-0032-0003
Terrizzi, Thomas (New York) show/hide docs
Volkell, Randolph (New York) show/hide docs
Walter, Lanny Earl (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0032-0001 | PC-NY-0032-0002
Defendant's Lawyers Abrams, Robert W. (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0032-0001 | PC-NY-0032-0004
Dahlman, Paul E. (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0032-0002 | PC-NY-0032-0003
Fietkau, August L. (New York) show/hide docs
Hirshowitz, Samuel A. (New York) show/hide docs
Howard, Richard M. (New York) show/hide docs
Janosek Doyle, Eleanor (New York) show/hide docs
Kinburn, Daniel (New York) show/hide docs
Lefkowitz, Louis J. (New York) show/hide docs
PC-NY-0032-0002 | PC-NY-0032-0003
Leong, Vincent (New York) show/hide docs
O'Donnell, Brian (New York) show/hide docs
Vacco, Dennis C. (New York) show/hide docs

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