Smith v. Montgomery County, Md., Civ. No. Y-82-1323.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
Citation643 F. Supp. 435
Docket NumberCiv. No. Y-82-1323.
PartiesVivian Anderson SMITH, et al. v. MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND, et al.
Decision Date08 September 1986

Robert H. Symonds, Lanham, Md., Clausen Ely, Jr., Ellen J. Flannery, Arthur B. Spitzer, Elizabeth Symonds, Washington, D.C., and Edward L. Genn, Rockville, Md., for plaintiffs.

Carole A. Jeffries, Silver Spring, Md., and Robert G. Tobin, Rockville, Md., for defendants.


JOSEPH H. YOUNG, District Judge.

On November 12, 1981, at approximately 10:00 p.m., two officers of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department arrested plaintiff Vivian Smith at her home for failing to appear before the Circuit Court for Montgomery County in a child support action. The officers took Smith to the Rockville District police station, and then to the Montgomery County Detention Center ("MCDC"). Upon Smith's arrival at MCDC, a female correctional officer took Smith into a holding cell, where in the presence of another female inmate, the officer ordered Smith to remove her clothing, which was searched, and to squat for a visual body cavity ("vbc") search. Ms. Smith then showered and was placed in the holding cell overnight. A magistrate dismissed the charge against her the next day.

Smith brought this suit against Montgomery County and several of its officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that the Detention Center's policy of strip searching all temporary detainees was unconstitutional. She sought declaratory and injunctive relief and damages for past constitutional violations, both for herself and for persons similarly situated. In a Memorandum and Order dated September 17, 1982, Judge Jones of this Court found MCDC's indiscriminate strip search policy unconstitutional, and issued a preliminary injunction which stated:

Defendants will be enjoined from permitting, promulgating a policy permitting, or enforcing a policy permitting the visual strip search of a temporary detainee ... except upon probable cause to believe such detainee has weapons or contraband concealed on his or her person and from permitting, promulgating a policy permitting or enforcing a policy permitting the conducting of such searches other than in private.

Smith v. Montgomery County, 547 F.Supp. 592, 599 (D.Md.1982) (Smith I).

After Judge Jones' resignation, this case was re-assigned. In a Memorandum and Order dated October 26, 1983, the Court dissolved the preliminary injunction and denied declaratory relief because plaintiff did not have standing to challenge the prospective application of Montgomery County's strip search policy. However, the Court granted Ms. Smith's motion for certification of a retrospective damages class. The class was defined as:

All persons who were `temporary detainees' at the Montgomery County Detention Center ("MCDC") since May 20, 1979 the date Montgomery County adopted the strip search policy, and were strip searched absent probable cause to believe that they possessed either weapons or contraband. The term `temporary detainees' is defined to include all persons arrested and held for 24 hours or less.

Smith v. Montgomery County, 573 F.Supp. 604, 611 (D.Md.1983) (Smith II).

The Fourth Circuit subsequently dismissed defendants' appeal from the Court's October 1983 order for lack of appellate jurisdiction. Smith v. Montgomery County, 740 F.2d 963 (4th Cir.1984) (unpublished opinion). Defendants moved this Court to reconsider its determination that the strip search policy was unconstitutional, and the Court denied that motion in a Memorandum and Order dated April 30, 1985. Smith v. Montgomery County, 607 F.Supp. 1303 (D.Md.1985) (Smith III).

Defendants have obtained addresses through the Motor Vehicle Administrations of Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia for persons detained less than 24 hours at MCDC from May 20, 1979 until Judge Jones issued the original injunction in this case and mailed notice to these potential class members, giving them the opportunity to "opt in" to the class. Counsel for the defendants persist in their assertions that the strip search policy is constitutional, and have argued that probable cause existed to strip search every person who has opted in to the class. The Court must set some broad guidelines and procedures to determine membership in the class.

To begin, Smith II followed Judge Jones' initial determination that the defendants required probable cause to strip search temporary detainees. See Smith II, 573 F.Supp. at 609, n. 4; Smith I, 547 F.Supp. at 596, n. 9. However, in light of the Supreme Court's recent emphasis on deference to jail administrators, see Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 104 S.Ct. 3194, 82 L.Ed.2d 393 (1984); Block v. Rutherford, 468 U.S. 576, 104 S.Ct. 3227, 82 L.Ed.2d 438 (1984), and the unanimous developments in this area in the lower federal courts, this Court will adopt a reasonable suspicion standard and redefine the class as follows:

All persons who were temporary detainees at the Montgomery County Detention Center since May 20, 1979, and were strip searched absent a reasonable suspicion that they possessed either weapons or contraband. The term temporary detainee is defined to include all persons arrested and held for 24 hours or less.

See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 560, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 1885, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979); Stewart v. Lubbock County, Texas, 767 F.2d 153, 155 n. 3 (5th Cir.1985), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 106 S.Ct. 1378, 89 L.Ed.2d 604 (1986); Giles v. Ackerman, 746 F.2d 614, 615 (9th Cir.1984), cert. denied, 471 U.S. 1053, 105 S.Ct. 2114, 85 L.Ed.2d 479 (1985); Mary Beth G. v. City of Chicago, 723 F.2d 1263, 1273 (7th Cir. 1983); Hunter v. Auger, 672 F.2d 668, 674 (8th Cir.1982) (visitors to penal institutions); Fann v. City of Cleveland, Ohio, 616 F.Supp. 305, 312-13 (N.D.Ohio 1985); Kathriner v. City of Overland, Missouri, 602 F.Supp. 124, 125 (E.D.Mo.1984); Hunt v. Polk County, Iowa, 551 F.Supp. 339, 345 (S.D.Iowa 1982); Simenc v. Sheriff of DuPage County, Westlaw slip op. at p. 5, No. 82-C-4778 (N.D.Ill., Dec. 9, 1985) Available on WESTLAW, DCTU database; see also Blackburn v. Snow, 771 F.2d 556 and cases listed at 565 (1st Cir.1985); but cf. Tinetti v. Wittke, 479 F.Supp. 486, 491 (E.D.Wisc.1979), aff'd, 620 F.2d 160 (7th Cir.1980) (probable cause required to strip search non-misdemeanor traffic offenders).

Articulating the reasonable suspicion standard is easier than applying it. In the context of this class action lawsuit, the Court must draw bright lines according to the offenses that class members were arrested for, or embroil itself in hundreds of individual evidentiary disputes. And bright lines are necessary to guide the future decisions of jail personnel, who cannot be expected to ponder the niceties of Fourth Amendment law every time they admit a potentially dangerous inmate into their facilities.

At first blush, categorizing temporary detainees according to the offenses they were arrested for may appear philosophically at odds with the presumption of innocence. Recent arrestees have not been convicted of the crimes for which they are being held,1 and many are housed overnight before a magistrate has had the opportunity to determine if probable cause existed for their arrests. But however necessary the presumption of innocence may be in the courtroom to protect defendants from arbitrary government actions, it does not prevent jail personnel from protecting themselves against violent defendants. Recent arrestees at MCDC are thrown into a stressful, and often desperate situation; a police officer or a magistrate has previously determined that probable cause exists to believe they have already committed one crime.

It is no answer, of course, that we deal here with restrictions on pretrial detainees rather than convicted criminals. For, as we observed in Wolfish, in this context, "there is no basis for concluding that pretrial detainees pose any lesser security risk than convicted inmates." 441 U.S. at 546, n. 28 99 S.Ct. at 1878 n. 28. Indeed, we said, "it may be that in certain circumstances detainees present a greater risk to jail security and order." Ibid.

Block v. Rutherford, 468 U.S. 576, 104 S.Ct. 3227, 3233, 82 L.Ed.2d 438 (1984) (other citations omitted).

Determining reasonable suspicion based upon broad categories of criminal charges may also appear at odds with traditional Fourth Amendment jurisprudence requiring individualized suspicion. Of course, individualized suspicion often means that the individual has followed a pattern of behavior characteristic of a broad class of persons engaged in similar criminal activity. And a police officer's determination of probable cause to believe that a detainee has already committed a serious crime is sufficient to raise a reasonable suspicion that the detainee is hiding weapons or contraband, especially in light of the government's compelling interest in maintaining safety in jail security.

To determine whether a jail administrator's suspicion and subsequent decision to strip search a temporary detainee was reasonable, the Court must balance the "intrusion on the detainee's Fourth Amendment interest against the promotion of legitimate governmental interests." Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 654, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 1396, 59 L.Ed.2d 660 (1979). In weighing that balance, the courts have consistently recognized that the general threats posed by classes of offenders in the jail context may outweigh an individual detainee's Fourth Amendment interests. See Bell v. Wolfish, supra, 441 U.S. at 559, 99 S.Ct. at 1884 ("A detention facility is a unique place fraught with serious security dangers. Smuggling of money, drugs, weapons, and other contraband is all too common an occurrence."); Giles v. Ackerman, 746 F.2d 614, 617 (9th Cir.1984), cert. denied, 471 U.S. 1053, 105 S.Ct. 2114, 85 L.Ed.2d 479 (1985) ("the County has not demonstrated that its security interests warrant the serious invasion of...

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