In 1980, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against twenty-five defendants, including the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, the Superintendent of the Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI) at Walpole, several correctional officers, and the "Block-10 (segregation unit) Committee," in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Plaintiff, represented by private counsel, sought declaratory and injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive damages, alleging that Defendants violated his constitutional rights by strip-searching him.
Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that MCI-Walpole's policy of strip-searching Block-10 inmates when they entered or left the unit for the prison law library and infirmary and after they received visitors violated his Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and deprived him of access to the courts, because Plaintiff forewent visits to the library and with his attorney so that he would not be strip-searched. Additionally, Plaintiff alleged that he was beaten during the searches and correctional officers made abusive, humiliating and intimidating comments during the searches. Plaintiff alleged that the Block-10 Committee, composed of correctional officers and union members promulgated the rules and regulations for Block 10's daily operation.
On September 28, 1981, the United States District Court (Chief Judge Andrew A. Caffrey) denied Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint. The Court found (1) Plaintiff stated a cause of action by alleging that Defendants searched him unreasonably, by making insulting comments and beating him; and (2) Defendants could be held liable for failing to execute their supervisory responsibilities under state law. However, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims against the "Block 10 Committee" because Plaintiff did not make factual allegations against the Committee.
Arruda v. Berman, 522 F.Supp. 766 (D. Mass. 1981).
On September 29, 1982, following a bench trial, the United States District Court (Chief Judge Caffrey) held that the strip-searches did not violate Plaintiff's Fourth or Eighth Amendment rights or deprive him of access to the courts and entered judgment for Defendants. The Court found: (1) Strip-searching prisoners when they left or entered their cells was justified because prison employees could give prisoners contraband, prisoners could receive contraband through the screens in visiting rooms, and prisoners could receive contraband from other inmates in the infirmary or library. (2) Officers only used force to search Plaintiff when he refused to comply with the search. (3) The Block-10 prisoners' dangerousness justified the greater frequency with which they were strip-searched. (4) Verbal taunts by officers were insufficient to make the search policy unreasonable. (5) The strip-searches did not violate Plaintiff's 14th Amendment privacy rights, because prisoners have lesser privacy rights. (6) The strip-search policy's burden on Plaintiff's access to the courts was outweighed by the prison's interests. Arruda v. Fair, 547 F.Supp. 1324 (D. Mass. 1982).
On June 29, 1983, the First Circuit Court of Appeals (Judges Stephen J. Breyer, Frank M. Coffin, Herbert N. Maletz) affirmed the District Court's decision, holding that Defendants' strip-search policy was justified because (1) MCI-Walpole was the only maximum security facility in Massachusetts, (2) Plaintiff was held in Block-10 because he assaulted a prisoner, (3) the prison had a history of prison contraband problems and when Plaintiff was in the general prison population he had possessed drugs and a weapon, and (4) guards were involved in smuggling contraband to prisoners.
On November 28, 1983, the United States Supreme Court denied Plaintiff's petition for writ of certiorari. Arruda v. Fair, 464 U.S. 999 (1983).Shira Gordon - 03/24/2012