On January 31, 2002, three plaintiffs represented by private New York-based attorneys filed a class action civil rights lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. They alleged that the Orange County Sheriff's Department had an unconstitutional blanket policy and/or practice of strip searching all individuals who entered the Orange County Correctional Facility (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. Under the policy, each detainee was allegedly forced to strip naked, bend over and/or squat, lift his/her genitals and spread the cheeks of his/her buttocks so that jail guards could complete a visual search of his/her body. Plaintiffs alleged that the policy violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. They sought a preliminary and permanent injunction, monetary damages, and class certification.
Defendants, the County and the Sheriff, answered by generally denying all allegations. Defendants also moved to dismiss the request for injunctive relief on standing grounds, as a new strip search policy was adopted at the jail in August 2001. The District Court (District Judge Colleen McMahon) denied the motion to dismiss and ordered a full evidentiary hearing. Dodge v. County of Orange, 208 F.R.D. 79 (S.D. N.Y. 2002). Following a hearing on June 24, 2002, the District Court granted plaintiffs' motion for class certification and issued a preliminary injunction. The injunction allowed defendants to conduct strip searches of newly-arrived inmates only when they had reason to believe the new arrival might be secreting contraband, based on (1) the nature of the crime charged; (2) the circumstances of the arrest; and (3) the particular characteristics of the arrestee. Dodge v. County of Orange, 209 F.R.D. 65 (S.D. N.Y. 2002). Judge McMahon ordered that the case proceed in two phases: (1) trial on liability (whether the policy was unconstitutional and whether a permanent injunction should be issued) and (2) damages.
On October 22, 2002, a second complaint, Rango v. County of Orange, 02 Civ. 8451 (S.D. N.Y. 2002) (" Rango ") was filed. The Rango plaintiffs purported to represent a class of pre-trial detainees charged with felonies who were admitted to the Orange County Correctional Facility ("OCCF") from January 1, 1999, to the present and allegedly strip searched in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Rango plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction soon after filing their complaint.
The Court consolidated the Dodge and Rango cases so that a single trial could be conducted on plaintiffs' requests for permanent injunctive relief in both cases. The consolidated trial was conducted over four days, between May 19 and May 28, 2003.
The Court found that the strip search policy violated the Fourth Amendment to extent that it allowed strip searches without individualized reasonable suspicion. Judge McMahon issued a permanent injunction against unconstitutional aspects of the county jail's policy. Dodge v. County of Orange, 282 F. Supp.2d 41 (S.D. N.Y. 2003). Orange County appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The appeal was dismissed in a summary decision later amended by the court, and the case remanded to the District Court for a determination as to whether plaintiffs had standing (e.g., a likelihood of future harm from the wrongful official policy) to pursue injunctive relief. Dodge v. County of Orange, 99 Fed. Appx. 347 (2nd Cir. 2004), opinion amended and superseded by Dodge v. County of Orange, 103 Fed. Appx. 688 (2nd Cir. 2004).
On remand, plaintiffs withdrew their claim for injunctive relief. They sought decertification of the injunctive class and certification of a class, or classes, of plaintiffs for purposes of recovering damages. Defendants opposed the new damages class request. Judge McMahon bifurcated the liability and damages phases of the cases and certified the classes only on the issue of liability - the constitutionality of the strip search policy. Dodge v. County of Orange, 226 F.R.D. 177 (S.D. N.Y. 2005). Following certification, settlement negotiations ensued and the parties entered into a proposed Settlement Agreement.
Under the Settlement Agreement, Orange County agreed to pay $624,800 into a fund for payment of class claims. Of that amount, $10,000 was to be divided among the class representatives. Eligible felony detainees were to receive $100.00 each. Eligible non-felony detainees were to receive $1,000, unless they met certain reduction criteria, in which case they would receive $250. The County also agreed to pay class counsel attorneys' fees in the amount of $600,000.
On March 2, 2006, the Court preliminarily approved the Settlement Agreement and set the matter for a fairness hearing on June 9, 2006. Final approval was granted for the settlement by Judge McMahon on June 26, 2006.
We have no information that post-settlement activity occurred in the case.Dan Dalton - 02/26/2008