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Case Name Wachtler v. County of Herkimer JC-NY-0041
Docket / Court 3:91-cv-01328 ( N.D.N.Y. )
State/Territory New York
Case Type(s) Jail Conditions
Special Collection Strip Search Cases
Case Summary
On November 11, 1991, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Village of West Winfield and the County of Herkimer in the United States Court for the Northern District of New York, Syracuse Division. Plaintiff proceeded pro se and claimed violations against nineteen ... read more >
On November 11, 1991, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Village of West Winfield and the County of Herkimer in the United States Court for the Northern District of New York, Syracuse Division. Plaintiff proceeded pro se and claimed violations against nineteen defendants of his First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendment Rights. Specifically, plaintiff claimed that his arrest for speeding and obstruction of governmental administration, and his subsequent strip search and detention, violated his constitutional rights.

On August 11, 1990, plaintiff was driving through the town of Winfield when he was pulled over for speeding. He asked the officer if he was under arrest, and when the officer informed him that he was technically under arrest, Plaintiff immediately invoked his Miranda right to counsel, and refused to identify himself. He was taken in front of a judge, and further refused to identify himself, and refused to post bail. He was detained in the Herkimer County Jail overnight, where he was strip-searched.

On October 1, 1993, the Court (Judge Thomas McAvoy) dismissed plaintiff's amended complaint and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the basis of judicial, qualified immunity, or failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Plaintiff appealed.

On September 9, 1994, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, (Judge Ralph K. Winter, then-Judge Stephen Breyer, and Judge Frank X. Altimari) issued an opinion written by Judge Winter. (35 F.3d 77). The Court found that the arresting officer was entitled to qualified immunity on the false arrest charge; the specific officers involved in the strip search were entitled to qualified immunity because the contours of reasonable suspicion in these circumstances is not clearly established federal law; that absolute immunity attached to judicial and prosecutorial defendants. However, the Court found that Herkimer County was not entitled to qualified immunity.

On January 11, 1995, a jury trial was held between the plaintiff and defendant Herkimer County. At the close of plaintiffs case, the Court granted the Defendant's motion to dismiss, and judgment was entered for Herkimer County.

Blase Kearney - 05/09/2012

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Affected Gender
Constitutional Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Access to lawyers or judicial system
Over/Unlawful Detention
Strip search policy
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Chuck's Towing and Collision Service
County of Herkimer
Herkimer County Sheriff's Department
The Village of West Winfield
Town of Columbia
Plaintiff Description Male plaintiff, pulled over for speeding, refused to present driver's license to officer. He was then arrested for obstructing governmental administration. He then refused to post bond and was privately strip-searched later that night.
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se Yes
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Order Duration 1993 - n/a
Filed 11/11/1991
Case Closing Year 1993
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  See this case at (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Jail Strip-Search Cases: Patterns and Participants
Date: Spring 2008
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University in St. Louis Faculty)
Citation: 71 Law & Contemp. Problems 65 (2008)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
JC-NY-0041-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
U.S. Court of Appeals
Opinion (35 F.3d 77)
JC-NY-0041-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
show all people docs
Judges Altimari, Frank X. (E.D.N.Y., Second Circuit) show/hide docs
Breyer, Stephen Gerald (First Circuit, SCOTUS) show/hide docs
Smith, Ralph W. (N.D.N.Y.) show/hide docs
Winter, Ralph K. Jr. (FISCR, Second Circuit) show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Wachtler, Stephen J. (New York) show/hide docs
Defendant's Lawyers Bersani, Frank A. (New York) show/hide docs
Buskus, Michael S. (New York) show/hide docs
Carrig, Bart M. (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0041-0001 | JC-NY-0041-9000
Foley, Francis Hubert (Virginia) show/hide docs
Horigan, Timothy (New York) show/hide docs
Klucsik, John F. (New York) show/hide docs
Koppell, G. Oliver (New York) show/hide docs
Lehner, Francis E. (New York) show/hide docs
Noll, Carrie McLoughlin (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0041-0001 | JC-NY-0041-9000
Pennock, John H. (New York) show/hide docs
Schiff, Peter H. (New York) show/hide docs
Sidd, John P. (New York) show/hide docs
JC-NY-0041-0001 | JC-NY-0041-9000
Spiegel, Nancy A. (New York) show/hide docs
Tracy, Terrence X. (New York) show/hide docs

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