On April 21, 2004, eleven former male detainees of the Fulton County Jail, represented by private attorneys, brought this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. The plaintiffs challenged as unconstitutional the Jail's practices of (a) conducting "blanket strip searches" of inmates entering and/or returning to the Jail without any individualized determination that such searches would reveal contraband; and (b) detaining inmates past their scheduled release dates ("over-detention"). The plaintiffs alleged that these practices had persisted at the Fulton County Jail for years and estimated that some 10,000 or more inmates were affected. The plaintiffs claimed that the practices were improper under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Georgia Constitution and common law. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as monetary damages and class certification.
The complaint was amended four times. In addition to suing the former and current Fulton County Sheriffs, the plaintiffs sued Fulton County and the City of Atlanta, alleging that those governmental entities were liable because their police forces had entrusted arrestees to the Fulton County Jail with knowledge of the unconstitutional conditions that existed there. The plaintiffs alleged that three types of blanket strip searches occurred at the Jail: (1) blanket strip searches of arrestees as part of their point-of-entry booking into the Jail (AR Group); (2) blanket strip searches of detainees who posted bond or were ordered released at the Jail before their point-of-entry booking into the Jail (AL Group); and (3) blanket strip searches of detainees who returned to the jail from a court appearance after having been ordered released in state court (CR Group).
The defendants denied all allegations and sought dismissal of the action for failure to state a claim and under the defenses of both Eleventh Amendment immunity and qualified immunity. On July 5, 2005, the District Court (Judge Richard W. Story) granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motions to dismiss. The Court determined that: (1) the Sheriffs were entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity for the monetary claims against them in their official capacity; (2) the Sheriffs were entitled to qualified immunity for the strip search claims; (3) the Sheriffs were not entitled to qualified immunity as to the over-detention claims; (4) the detainees adequately stated § 1983 claims against the county; and (5) the detainees lacked standing to seek injunctive relief against the county defendants. Powell v. Barrett, 376 F.Supp.2d 1340 (N.D.Ga. 2005). All parties appealed.
In two separate August 23, 2007, opinions, one published and one unpublished, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case to the District Court. In the published opinion, the Eleventh Circuit panel (Justice Susan Harrell Black) found that some plaintiffs could pursue their strip search claims against former Sheriff Barrett in her individual capacity. All of the strip search claims against current Sheriff Freeman, Fulton County, and the City of Atlanta were ordered dismissed. Powell v. Barrett, 496 F.3d 1288 (11th Cir. 2007). In the unpublished opinion, the Eleventh Circuit panel (per curiam) let stand the over-detention claims against former Sheriff Barrett in her individual capacity. All other over-detention claims were ordered dismissed. Powell v. Barrett, 246 Fed.Appx. 615 (11th Cir. Aug 23, 2007).
On February 4, 2008, the Eleventh Circuit, acting en banc, vacated the August 23, 2007 panel opinions and agreed to rehear the appeal. On September 4, 2008, the en banc Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion in which they ruled that a policy or practice of strip searching all arrestees as a part of the process of booking them into the general population of a detention facility, even without reasonable suspicion to believe that they may be concealing contraband, is permissible, so long as the strip search is no more extensive than the one upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 (1979). The en banc panel then remanded the case back to the original Eleventh Circuit panel for proceedings in line with this decision.
The case was promptly remanded to the district court, which on March 27, 2009, dismissed the City of Atlanta, the State of Georgia, and Fulton County from the case and entered judgment in their favor. The case proceeded against other defendants.
On March 3, 2011, the court granted summary judgment to the defendants as to the strip-search claims, but denied the motion for summary judgment for the over-detention claims. Discovery continued regarded the over-detention claims.
On February 17, 2012, the court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment as to the plaintiffs' over-detention claims. Since no claims remained, the court entered final judgment in favor of the defendants. 2012 WL 567065.
The plaintiffs appealed both grants of summary judgment for the over-detention claim and the strip-search claim. On March 7, 2013, the Eleventh Circuit (Judge Hull) affirmed the district court's holding that the defendant was entitled to qualified immunity as to the plaintiffs' over-detention and strip search claims. Specifically, the Eleventh Circuit held that 1) assuming without deciding that, when they were over-detained, the plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by jail employees, the plaintiffs failed to establish that sheriff was liable as a supervisor; 2) the jailers did not violate pre-trial detainees' Fourth Amendment rights by visually searching them for legitimate safety and penological reasons prior to admitting or readmitting them to the jail's general population; and 3) pre-trial detainees have no constitutional right, much less a clearly established right, to be held in a particular cell or a separate area of a jail and not be placed back in the general jail population. 511 F. App'x 957, 964 (11th Cir. 2013).
The plaintiffs petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case, but on November 4, 2013, the Supreme Court denied certiorari. 134 S. Ct. 513 (2013). The case is now closed. Kristen Sagar - 07/12/2009
Jessica Kincaid - 03/18/2016