186 F.3d 469 (4th Cir. 1999), 97-2512, Ferguson v. City of Charleston

Docket Nº:97-2512 (CA-93-2624-2-12)
Citation:186 F.3d 469
Party Name:CRYSTAL M. FERGUSON; PAULA S. HALE; ELLEN L. KNIGHT; PATRICIA R. WILLIAMS; LORI GRIFFIN; PAMELA PEAR; SANDRA POWELL; LAVERNE SINGLETON; THERESA JOSEPH; DARLENE M. NICHOLSON, Plaintiffs-Appellants, and STATE-RECORD COMPANY, INCORPORATED; THE EVENING POST PUBLISHING COMPANY, Intervenors-Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF CHARLESTON, South Carolina; HARRISON L. P
Case Date:July 13, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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186 F.3d 469 (4th Cir. 1999)

CRYSTAL M. FERGUSON; PAULA S. HALE; ELLEN L. KNIGHT; PATRICIA R. WILLIAMS; LORI GRIFFIN; PAMELA PEAR; SANDRA POWELL; LAVERNE SINGLETON; THERESA JOSEPH; DARLENE M. NICHOLSON, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

and

STATE-RECORD COMPANY, INCORPORATED; THE EVENING POST PUBLISHING COMPANY, Intervenors-Plaintiffs,

v.

CITY OF CHARLESTON, South Carolina; HARRISON L. PEOPLES, Dr.; THOMAS C. ROWLAND, JR., Dr.; STANLEY C. BAKER, JR., Dr.; CHARLES B. HANNA, Dr.; COTESWORTH P. FISHBURNE, Dr.; E. CONYERS O'BRYAN, Dr.; MELVYN BERLINSKY; PATRICIA T. SMITH; M. J. COOPER; HERBERT C. GRANGER; ROBERT C. LAKE, JR.; PHILLIP D. SASSER; CLAUDIA W. PEOPLES; CARROLL V. BING, JR., Dr., as Trustees of the Medical University of South Carolina in their official capacities; REUBEN GREENBERG; CHARLES MOLONY CONDON; DAVID SCHWACKE; SHIRLEY BROWN, R.N.; EDGAR O. HORGER, III, M.D.; VICTOR DEL BENE; JOHN SANDERS; WILLIAM B. PITTARD, M.D.; ROGER NEWMAN, M.D.; HAROLD BIVENS, M.D.; MELESIA HENRY, R.N., personally and in their official capacities, Defendants-Appellees. CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS, Amicus Curiae.

No. 97-2512 (CA-93-2624-2-12)

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

July 13, 1999

Argued: October 26, 1998

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, at Charleston. C. Weston Houck, Chief District Judge.

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COUNSEL ARGUED: Priscilla Joyce Smith, CENTER FOR REPRODUCTIVE LAW & POLICY, New York, New York, for Appellants. Barbara Wynne Showers, Joseph Camden Wilson, IV, HOOD LAW FIRM, L.L.C., Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Susan K. Dunn, Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellants. Robert H. Hood, HOOD LAW FIRM, L.L.C., Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellees. Kimani Paul-Emile, Barbara Olshansky, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS, New York, New York, for Amicus Curiae.

Before WILKINS and NIEMEYER, Circuit Judges, and BLAKE, United States District Judge for the District of Maryland, sitting by designation.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge Wilkins wrote the majority opinion, in which Judge Niemeyer joined. Judge Blake wrote an opinion dissenting in part.

OPINION

WILKINS, Circuit Judge:

This litigation involves constitutional, statutory, and common-law challenges to a policy instituted by the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in consultation with the Solicitor of the Ninth Judicial Circuit of South Carolina; the City of Charleston, South Carolina Police Department (CCPD); and various social services agencies. The policy was intended to encourage pregnant women whose urine tested positive for cocaine use to obtain substance abuse counseling. Appellants, ten women who were tested pursuant to the policy, brought this action claiming, inter alia, that the testing of their urine for evidence of cocaine use constituted a warrantless search in violation of the Fourth Amendment; that the policy had a racially disparate impact in violation of regulations implementing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 2000d to 2000d-6 (West 1994 & Supp. 1998); that the disclosure of medical information to law enforcement personnel violated

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their constitutional right to privacy; and that MUSC personnel committed the state-law tort of abuse of process in administering the policy. The district court entered judgment for Appellees1 on each of these claims at various stages of the litigation. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

I.

In the fall of 1989, MUSC instituted a policy providing for the testing of the urine of pregnant women suspected of cocaine use and for the reporting, under certain circumstances, of test results to law enforcement officials. The impetus behind the policy came from Nurse Shirley Brown, a case manager in the obstetrics department at MUSC. Brown was concerned about a perceived rise in cocaine use among pregnant women and the consequences for the health of the users' children. Brown spoke with the General Counsel for MUSC who in turn contacted the Ninth Circuit Solicitor (chief prosecuting attorney) concerning the development of a policy to address the problem. Eventually, a task force was formed that included Nurse Brown, the Solicitor, the Chief of CCPD, and doctors from various departments involved in perinatal care at MUSC. During the course of task force meetings, the Solicitor informed the participants that because a viable fetus was a "person" under South Carolina law, a woman who ingested cocaine after the 24th week of pregnancy was guilty of the crime of distributing a controlled substance to a person under the age of eighteen, see S.C. Code Ann. § 44-53-440 (Law. Co-op. Supp. 1997).2

Pursuant to the policy formulated by the task force and implemented in late October or early November 1989, urine drug screens to detect evidence of cocaine use were given to all MUSC maternity patients when certain indicia of cocaine use were present: (1) separation of the placenta from the uterine wall; (2) intrauterine fetal death; (3) no prenatal care; (4) late prenatal care (beginning after 24 weeks); (5) incomplete prenatal care (fewer than five visits); (6) preterm labor without an obvious cause; (7) a history of cocaine use; (8) unexplained birth defects; or (9) intrauterine growth retardation without an obvious cause. When a patient tested positive, the test result was reported to CCPD or a representative of the Solicitor's Office and the patient was arrested for distributing cocaine to a minor. In early 1990, the policy was amended so that a patient who tested positive for cocaine use was given a choice between being arrested and receiving drug treatment. Positive test results of a patient who elected drug treatment were not forwarded to CCPD, and the patient was not arrested, unless she tested positive for cocaine use a second time or failed to comply with treatment obligations. A patient who was arrested could avoid prosecution by completing a drug treatment program. Upon successful completion

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of such a program, the charges would be dismissed.3

Implementation of the policy by MUSC involved substantial record keeping and educational efforts. A maternity patient whose urine tested positive for cocaine use was shown an educational video concerning the harmful effects of cocaine use during pregnancy and was given letters from the Solicitor's Office and the hospital staff relating to the policy. In addition, MUSC personnel advised the patient of the need to obtain substance abuse counseling and scheduled an initial appointment for such counseling. The patient then was given a document noting the date and time of the appointment. Additionally, MUSC maintained records on patients whose urine tested positive for cocaine use as a means of tracking them to ensure that they complied with the requirements of the policy.

Appellants, all of whom were subjected to the policy,4 brought this action asserting, as pertinent here, infringement of their constitutional right to privacy; violation of their Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures; disparate impact discrimination on the basis of race; and commission of the state-law tort of abuse of process. After presentation of the evidence, the district court granted judgment as a matter of law to Appellees on the claims of commission of abuse of process and violation of the right to privacy to the extent Appellants sought damages. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Appellees on the Fourth Amendment claim. At a post-trial hearing, the court denied injunctive relief on Appellants' claims of the denial of their constitutional right to privacy. Finally, the district court rendered findings of fact based on the evidence presented at trial

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and ruled in favor of Appellees on the Title VI claim of disparate impact discrimination.

On appeal, Appellants challenge the submission of the Fourth Amendment claim to the jury and the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the verdict; the decision of the district court granting judgment to Appellees on the Title VI claim; and the orders of the court granting Appellees judgment as a matter of law on the claims for violation of the constitutional right to privacy and commission of the tort of abuse of process. We review these issues seriatim.

II.

At trial, Appellants contended that the urine drug screens constituted searches within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. They further claimed that because they did not consent to the screens, the tests violated the Fourth Amendment.5 The district court ruled that the urine screens fell within the ambit of the Fourth Amendment and submitted the question of whether Appellants had consented to the searches to the jury, which found in favor of Appellees. Appellants now maintain that the district court erred in submitting the issue of consent to the jury and, alternatively, that the verdict is not supported by the evidence. We find it unnecessary to address these contentions because we affirm on the basis that the searches were reasonable as special needs searches.

The Fourth Amendment, made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, provides in pertinent part that "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons ... against unreasonable searches and seizures[ ] shall not be violated." U.S. Const. amend. IV; see Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 655 (1961). Simply put, this amendment guarantees that governmental intrusions into privacy by means of searches or seizures must be reasonable. Typically, this reasonableness requirement acts as a constraint on governmental authority to undertake...

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