Beasley v. City of Sugar Land

Decision Date19 January 2006
Docket NumberNo. Civ.A. H-05-0579.,Civ.A. H-05-0579.
Citation410 F.Supp.2d 524
PartiesLauren M. BEASLEY, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF SUGAR LAND and Officer Kelly Gless, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Texas

Leland M. Irwin, Ellis and Irwin, Richmond, TX, for Plaintiff.

William Scott Helfand, Norman Ray Giles, Chamberlain Hrdlicka et al, Houston, TX, for Defendants.


STEPHEN WM. SMITH, United States Magistrate Judge.

Defendant City of Sugar of Land has filed a motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 22) on plaintiff Lauren M. Beasley's claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Having considered the parties' submissions, oral argument, and applicable legal authority, the court concludes that the motion should be granted.


The following facts are taken as true for purposes of this summary judgment motion.1 On January 3, 2003, a few days after her 18th birthday, Beasley was cited for driving her mother's car with no driver's license, no current motor vehicle inspection or registration, no insurance, and no license plate light. Beasley was summoned to appear in court on January 24, 2003, but mistakenly appeared on January 29, 2003. On February 20, 2003, Sugar Land police officer Kelly Gless arrested Beasley at her home pursuant to an arrest warrant issued for her failure to appear in court. Beasley was allowed to put on shoes and socks, but was taken to jail in the clothes she was wearing, pajama pants and cotton shirt with no bra. On the way to the Sugar Land jail, Gless radioed for a female officer to meet him at the jail to perform a search.

At the jail, a female police officer, Monica Rhodes, told Beasley to stand with her hands against a wall. Rhodes instructed Beasley to lift her shirt, and Rhodes lifted Beasley's breasts to feel beneath them. Rhodes then instructed Beasely to drop her pants while continuing to hold up her shirt. Rhodes pulled Beasley's panties taut and did a quick two-finger swipe across Beasley's vagina.2 Gless allegedly witnessed this search.

Beasley alleges that the strip search conducted by Sugar Land police officers violated her right under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.3


Summary judgment is appropriate if no genuine issues of material fact exist, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). The party moving for summary judgment has the initial burden to prove there are no genuine issues of material fact for trial. Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Goel, 274 F.3d 984, 991 (5th Cir.2001). Dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if the evidence could lead a reasonable jury to find for the nonmoving party. In re Segerstrom, 247 F.3d 218, 223 (5th Cir.2001). "An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action." Terrebonne Parish Sch. Bd. v. Columbia Gulf Transmission Co., 290 F.3d 303, 310 (5th Cir.2002).

If the movant meets this burden, "the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Littlefield v. Forney Indep. Sch. Dist., 268 F.3d 275, 282 (5th Cir.2001) (quoting Tubacex, Inc. v. M/V Risan, 45 F.3d 951, 954 (5th Cir.1995)); Caboni v. Gen. Motors Corp., 278 F.3d 448, 451 (5th Cir.2002). If the evidence presented to rebut the summary judgment is not significantly probative, summary judgment should be granted. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court views the evidence and draws inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505; Hotard v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 286 F.3d 814, 817 (5th Cir.2002).


Beasley has sued Sugar Land pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides in relevant part:

Every person who, under color of any statute ... of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured....

A municipality, such as Sugar Land, cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory. Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs. of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). Municipal liability may be imposed only when the enforcement of a municipal policy or custom was the "moving force" behind the alleged constitutional violation. City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385-91, 109 S.Ct. 1197, 103 L.Ed.2d 412 (1989); Doe on Behalf of Doe v. Dallas Independent School Dist., 153 F.3d 211, 215-16 (5th Cir.1998).

Beasley asserts that Chapter 1 R1 to the Sugar Land Police Department Detention Manual ("Detention Manual") was the moving force behind the unconstitutional strip search. That chapter provides:

Persons in custody should undergo a thorough strip and body cavity search when the Arresting/Transporting Officer reasonably* believes it to be necessary to maintain the security of the facility. The strip search SHALL be conducted by an Officer of the same gender in a reasonable and dignified manner.4

A footnote (represented in the quote by an asterisk), to this provision provides that "[r]easonable suspicion would include an indication from a hand held metal detector/wand that passes over a body cavity." Beasley argues that this policy is unconstitutional because it permits strip searches of all arrestees without any consideration of the type of crime allegedly committed and without reason to believe that the arrestee is concealing a weapon or contraband.

Sugar Land argues that its policy meets constitutional requirements because it requires a particularized suspicion that the arrestee is a threat to security. Sugar Land contends that the detention manual must be read in conjunction with General Order # 70-01. General Order 70-01 generally addresses procedures to be followed when transporting a prisoner to or between jail or other facilities. General Order 70-01 provides:

Since it is not the policy of this department to strip search every prisoner, an officer who believes a strip search is necessary will request authorization from the on-duty supervisor. The on-duty supervisor will only authorize such searches when there is probable cause to believe the person is concealing a weapon or contraband.5

The Fourth Amendment prohibits only "unreasonable" searches. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 558, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979). The Supreme Court has set forth the following guidelines for determining whether a search is reasonable:

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, 99 S.Ct. 1861. Beyond stating the general reasonableness test, Bell, which involved visual body cavity searches of pre-trial detainees conducted after every contact visit, is not helpful to determining the reasonable of a strip search under the facts of this case.

The Seventh Circuit applied the Bell balancing test in Mary Beth G. v. City of Chicago, 723 F.2d 1263 (7th Cir.1983). In Mary Beth G., four women challenged Chicago's policy requiring a strip search and visual body cavity search of all women arrested and detained in city lockups, regardless of the charges against them or whether there was reason to believe they were concealing weapons or contraband. Id. at 1266. The court noted that it must balance the severe invasion of privacy represented by the body cavity inspection with the government interest in conducting the particular searches in question. Id. at 1272. The court concluded that "while the need to assure jail security is a legitimate and substantial concern, ... the strip searches bore an insubstantial relationship to security needs so that, when balanced against plaintiffs-appellees' privacy interests, the searches cannot be considered `reasonable.'" Id. at 1273. The strip searches were unreasonable "without a reasonable suspicion by the authorities that either of the twin dangers of concealing weapons or contraband existed." Id.

The Fifth Circuit followed the lead of the Seventh Circuit in Stewart v. Lubbock Cty., Texas, 767 F.2d 153 (5th Cir.1985). The policy at issue in Stewart permitted the strip search of any arrestee. The court held the policy unconstitutional as applied to minor offenders awaiting bond when no reasonable suspicion existed that they as a category of offenders or individually might possess weapons or contraband. 767 F.2d at 156-57. The Fifth Circuit again scrutinized a jail strip search policy in Watt v. City of Richardson Police Dep't, 849 F.2d 195 (5th Cir.1988). The policy at issue in Watt provided for the strip search of offenders arrested on charges of narcotics, shop-lifting or weapons violations or having a criminal history of such charges. 849 F.2d at 197. The plaintiff in Watt was arrested for failure to license her dog. She was cooperative with police, and volunteered the admission that she had been convicted more than 10 years earlier on a minor narcotics charge. Id. at 196. The court upheld the policy at issue because in many instances, strip searches of arrestees with histories of narcotics, weapons, or shop-lifting charges would be justified by security concerns and constitutional. However, each case requires a case-by-case analysis. Id. at 198. The Fifth Circuit concluded that Watt presented a case in which a strip search based on criminal...

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