251 F.3d 1340 (11th Cir. 2001), 00-12827, Wilson v Jones

Docket Nº:00-12827.
Citation:251 F.3d 1340
Party Name:DEANGELA WILSON, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. JAMES JONES, Sheriff of Shelby County, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:May 23, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Page 1340

251 F.3d 1340 (11th Cir. 2001)

DEANGELA WILSON, Plaintiff-Appellee,


JAMES JONES, Sheriff of Shelby County, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 00-12827.


May 23, 2001

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. D. C. Docket No. 99-00110-CV-TMP-S

Before BARKETT, HILL and KRAVITCH, Circuit Judges.

KRAVITCH, Circuit Judge:

In this appeal, we consider the constitutionality of a strip search performed on Plaintiff DeAngela Wilson, who was detained at the Shelby County Jail after being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. We agree with the district court's finding that the search, conducted without reasonable suspicion, violated Wilson's rights under the Fourth Amendment. Nevertheless, because we hold that Defendant Sheriff James Jones is entitled to qualified immunity, we reverse the district court's finding of liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.


On May 1, 1998, deputy sheriffs of Shelby County, Alabama arrested Wilson at a license checkpoint for driving under the influence of alcohol. After her arrest, Wilson was taken to the Shelby County Jail, where, due to the level of alcohol in her blood, she was required to remain until the following morning. Because the Shelby County Jail does not have separate facilities to hold temporary female detainees, Wilson was placed in a cell within the general female population of the jail.

Before taking Wilson to her cell, a female corrections officer performed a strip search on Wilson pursuant to Policy Number B-103 of the Shelby County Jail, which requires each arrestee to undergo a "complete search" prior to admission into the general population of the jail. The officer escorted Wilson to an unoccupied restroom in the jail and, after allowing her to use the restroom, instructed her to disrobe completely, face the wall, squat, spread her buttocks, and cough three times. The officer also checked Wilson's ears, mouth, nose and breasts during the

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search. She did not, however, do a visual or manual inspection of Wilson's body cavities below the waist.1

Subsequently, Wilson brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Sheriff Jones, asserting that he violated her Fourth Amendment rights by creating and implementing the policy under which she was searched.2 The district court denied Sheriff Jones's motion to dismiss and his motion for summary judgment, finding (1) that the policy requiring a strip search of all arrestees admitted to the Shelby County Jail was unconstitutional; and (2) that Sheriff Jones was not entitled to qualified immunity. Sheriff Jones appeals the district court's denial of his motion for summary judgment.


We review de novo the district court's order denying Sheriff Jones's motion for summary judgment. See Sheth v. Webster, 145 F.3d 1231, 1235 (11th Cir. 1998). In reviewing the district court's denial of summary judgment, we "'must first determine whether the plaintiff has alleged the deprivation of an actual constitutional right at all, and if so, proceed to determine whether that right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation.'" McElligott v. Foley, 182 F.3d 1248, 1254 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting Conn v. Gabbert, 526 U.S. 286, 290 (1999)).

A. Constitutional Violation

We begin our discussion with the Supreme Court case of Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 (1978), which held that strip and visual body cavity searches may, in certain instances, be conducted on inmates with less than probable cause. In Bell, the Court articulated the balancing test by which courts are to evaluate the reasonableness of a particular search:

The test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application. In each case it requires a balancing of the need for the particular search against the invasion of personal rights that the search entails. Courts must consider the scope of the particular intrusion, the manner in which it is conducted, the justification for initiating it, and the place in which it is conducted.

Id. at 559. Balancing "the significant and legitimate security interests of the institution against the privacy interests of the inmates," the Bell Court upheld a prison policy requiring inmates to submit to routine strip searches with visual body cavity inspections after each contact visit with a person from outside the institution. Id. at 560. Despite holding that particular policy constitutional, however, "Bell v. Wolfish [did] not validate a blanket policy of strip searching pre-trial detainees." Masters v. Crouch, 872 F.2d 1248, 1253 (6th Cir. 1989).

Rather, "[t]he Bell balancing test for reasonableness requires at a minimum, that the facts upon which an intrusion is based be capable of measurement against an objective standard . . . ." Justice v.

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City of Peachtree City, 961 F.2d 188, 192 (11th Cir. 1992)...

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