On May 22, 1997, several individuals who had been arrested for misdemeanors or non-criminal offenses filed a 42 U.S.C § 1983 class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in order to challenge the blanket strip search policy of the New York City Department of Correction (DOC). Plaintiffs claimed that the DOC's practice of strip searching every arrestee, regardless of the offense alleged and regardless of whether here was any reasonable suspicion that the arrestee was concealing weapons or contraband violated the U.S. Constitution. To remedy the alleged constitutional violation, Plaintiffs sought compensatory and injunctive relief, as well as class certification on behalf of a class of all misdemeanor or non-criminal offense arrestees who were subjected to pre-arraignment strip searches under the DOC's blanket policy.
The DOC answered the complaint by denying Plaintiffs' allegations. Nevertheless, on May 27, 1997, just days after the suit was filed, the DOC officially discontinued the challenged search policy. The DOC's new policy permitted strip searches of pre-arraignment arrestees only where there was a reasonable suspicion that the arrestee was concealing a weapon or other contraband, based on the crime charged, the particular characteristics of the detainee, or the circumstances of the arrest.
On April 13, 1998, the District Court (Judge Kimba M. Wood) certified the case as a class action. Litigation and discovery continued for the next two years until a settlement was reached in January 2000.
Under the terms of the Stipulation of Settlement, the City agreed to pay between $20 million and $50 million to settle all class claims. It was estimated that there were approximately 50,000 eligible class members. In order to receive compensation, each class member was required to file a claim, electing one of three alternatives. Class members who merely filled out a claim form ("Step 1" claimants) would be entitled to receive $250. Class members who further claimed multiple or aggravated searches and provided authorization for an extensive search of their criminal history ("Step 2" claimants) would be entitled to receive up to $9,750. Finally class members who took the further step of providing notarized authorizations for the release of their medical, psychiatric, employment, educational, and social security records and submitted to a deposition and/or psychiatric examination ("Step 3" claimants) would be entitled to receive a payment of up to $4250 for moderate emotional distress; up to $8,500 for serious additional emotional distress; and up to $12,500 for severe additional emotional distress. The Stipulation provided, however, that Awards would be reduced by 50% for class members with a record of criminal conviction. The Agreement also provided that, class counsel would be allowed to make an attorney fee application to the Court.
On July 5, 2001 the District Court (Judge John S. Martin) entered final judgment approving the class settlement. KPMG, LLP was appointed as Class Administrator, and the processing and payment of claims continued through 2006.
Defendants initially agreed to pay class counsel a total of $800,000 as interim fees, pending the hearing on their fee application. Though the parties thereafter settled the issue of remaining attorney's fees, the ultimate fee award is unknown as it was not reported on the PACER docket and the Court's order was unavailable.Dan Dalton - 02/15/2008