On March 19, 2004, two plaintiffs represented by private attorneys from Albany, New York, filed a class action civil rights lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, alleging that the Schoharie County Sheriff's Department ("SCSD") had an unconstitutional blanket policy and/or practice of strip searching all individuals who entered the Schoharie County Jail, including those charged with misdemeanors or held on civil matters, regardless of the crime for which they were charged and without reasonable suspicion to believe that the individuals were concealing weapons or contraband.
The named plaintiffs included an Albany County Jail corrections officer arrested for back child support and another man charged with DWI. They alleged that, pursuant to the Sheriff's policy, they were forced to strip naked and subjected to visual inspections in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs also alleged the constitutional violation stemmed from the Sheriff's deliberate indifference to constitutional rights by not adequately training individual officers he employed. The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, monetary and punitive damages and class certification for the thousands of individuals that suffered the same alleged indignities. The defendants, the County and the Sheriff, answered by generally denying all allegations.
The case was assigned to District Judge Lawrence E. Kahn, who referred the case to Magistrate Judge David Homer to oversee scheduling and case discovery. A scheduling order was entered, which directed the parties to complete discovery by June 1, 2005. Discovery ensued. On the last day of discovery, the County moved to amend its answer to assert an affirmative defense that the plaintiffs failed to comply with the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) (PLRA). The District Court (Magistrate Judge Homer) denied the County's request to answer, finding that the PLRA did not apply to the case, as neither plaintiff was incarcerated at the time the case was filed. Kelsey v. County of Schoharie, 2005 WL 1972557 (N.D. N.Y. Aug 05, 2005) (NO. 04-CV-299).
The plaintiffs moved for class certification, which the defendants opposed. Defendants, in turn, moved for summary judgment. Judge Kahn denied defendants' motion for summary judgment and certified the case as a class action. The class was defined as:
All persons in the United States who have been, or will be, placed into the custody of the Schoharie County Jail after being charged with "misdemeanors, violations, or held on civil matters" and were, or will be, strip searched upon their entry into the Schoharie County Jail pursuant to the policy, custom and practice of the Schoharie County Sheriff's Department and the County of Schoharie. The class period commences on March 19, 2001, and extends to the date on which the Schoharie County Sheriff's Department and/or the County of Schoharie are enjoined from, or otherwise cease, enforcing their unconstitutional policy, practice and custom of conducting strip searches absent reasonable suspicion. Kelsey v. County of Schoharie, 2007 WL 603406 (N.D. N.Y. Feb 21, 2007).
Judge Kahn refused to certify his order for immediate appeal by defendants. On December 19, 2007, the Court (Judge Kahn) held a pre-trial conference where parties discussed the settlement but the matter did not settle and a trial date was set for June 16, 2008. During the pre-trial conference, the parties also discussed whether the case would be tried before a jury or Judge Kahn. On March 27, 2008, plaintiffs submitted a letter motion requesting waiver of the previously requested jury trial, followed by defendant's letter brief on April 3, 2008, objecting to plaintiffs' requests to waive a jury trial because withdrawing a jury trial after already submitting a request requires consent of both parties. On April 14, 2008, the Court (Judge Kahn) ordered the case to go forward as a jury trial and adjourned the trial date to September 16, 2008. Thereafter, the jury trial was adjourned three times, notably due to defendants awaiting the Court of Appeals decision on the issue of qualified immunity for two individual defendants.
On October 14, 2009, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the the District Court’s previous decision and order that denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment and defense of qualified immunity (with Judge Sotomayor dissenting). The Second Circuit found that the incidental observation of the body of an arrestee during required clothing exchange, as described by the plaintiffs, was not an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. It also decided that plaintiffs did not identify any constitutional violation on the parts of individual defendants. As a result, the Second Circuit remanded the case back with instructions to dismiss the action (with Judge Sotomayor dissenting).
Following the Second Circuit’s decision, on October 16, 2009, the District Court (Judge Kahn) granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment that was previously filed in 2005, entered judgment in favor of the defendants and dismissed the case in its entirety. The court also granted the defendants’ application for attorneys fees and ordered the plaintiffs to pay that fee of $1,662.60. Later on February 23, 2010, the Court ordered the plaintiffs to pay the total bill of costs, including the previously ordered attorneys fees, that totaled $3,487.20.
The case is now closed. Kristen Sagar - 06/30/2009
MJ Koo - 03/14/2017