Sumpter v. Wayne Cnty.

Decision Date18 August 2017
Docket NumberNo. 16-2102,16-2102
Citation868 F.3d 473
Parties Amanda SUMPTER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. WAYNE COUNTY, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

ARGUED: Michael R. Dezsi, LAW OFFICE OF MICHAEL R. DEZSI, PLLC, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellant. Davidde A. Stella, WAYNE COUNTY CORPORATION COUNSEL, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Michael R. Dezsi, LAW OFFICE OF MICHAEL R. DEZSI, PLLC, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellant. Davidde A. Stella, WAYNE COUNTY CORPORATION COUNSEL, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellees.

Before: CLAY, SUTTON, and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges.

GRIFFIN, J., delivered the opinion of the court in which SUTTON, J., joined. CLAY, J. (pp. 492–503), delivered a separate dissenting opinion.


GRIFFIN, Circuit Judge.

Pretrial detainees must tolerate some invasion of their privacy in order to accommodate the important government interests necessary for the operation of the detention facility. For instance, detainees may be subjected to suspicionless strip searches as part of the jail's intake process. See Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of Cty. of Burlington , 566 U.S. 318, 328, 132 S.Ct. 1510, 182 L.Ed.2d 566 (2012). The issue we face is whether periodically conducting group strip searches when the number of jail inmates waiting to be processed makes individual searches imprudent constitutes a violation of clearly established Fourth Amendment law. Under the facts of this case, we answer that question "no" and therefore hold that the jail official who conducted the group searches, defendant Terri Graham, is entitled to qualified immunity. In addition, we affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants Wayne County and the Wayne County Sheriff on plaintiff's Monell claims and requests for injunctive and declaratory relief.


In late 2012, plaintiff Amanda Sumpter spent a month in the Wayne County Jail in Detroit, Michigan.1 During her incarceration, Sumpter underwent four strip searches that she alleges violated her Fourth Amendment rights.

Three of the searches occurred in the jail's Registry, where inmates are routinely strip searched when first arriving to jail or returning from a trip outside. Defendant Corporal Terri Graham conducted the three Registry searches of plaintiff. No male deputies were present for these searches. Each time, Graham escorted plaintiff into the Registry with as many as five other women. Although the door to the room had a window, it was covered with paper, preventing anyone outside the Registry from observing the searches. Inside, Graham instructed the inmates to undress, and if they were arriving for the first time, she collected their street clothes and personal effects. She then directed the inmates to perform a series of tasks, including shaking their hair, opening their mouths, lifting their breasts, and squatting and coughing, while Graham visually inspected for hidden contraband—an experience plaintiff described as "embarrassing" and "humiliating." Afterwards, Graham provided the inmates with jail attire, and escorted the arriving inmates to see medical personnel while the returning inmates waited to be taken to their cellblock.

The fourth search occurred in plaintiff's cellblock, where inmates are housed. After searching the cells for contraband, an unidentified female guard gathered the inmates in the common area, lined them up, and conducted a group strip search. According to plaintiff, the strip search took place in view of the guards' central command post inside the cellblock, commonly called the "Bubble." During this search, plaintiff saw and heard three male guards inside the Bubble. Although she could not identify their faces because the glass was tinted, she saw their silhouettes and believed they were facing the common area.

Two years later, in December 2014, plaintiff filed suit against Graham, Wayne County, and the Wayne County Sheriff, alleging that the searches violated her constitutional rights. Plaintiff's complaint alleged two Fourth Amendment claims: first, she complained that Graham's three Registry searches were unreasonable because they were conducted in an unprofessional manner and in front of other inmates; second, she alleged that the group strip search in her cellblock was unreasonable because male guards were able to watch from the Bubble. Plaintiff sought monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief on behalf of herself and all other similarly situated female inmates at the Wayne County Jail.

Plaintiff also filed motions to certify the class and to preliminarily enjoin the group searches. Before the district court ruled on these motions, defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment. First, Graham argued that she was entitled to qualified immunity on the Registry-searches claim. Relying on Graham's affidavit and deposition testimony that she conducted group strip searches only when the volume of inmates waiting to be processed required it, defendant Graham argued that no case clearly established that her conduct constituted a Fourth Amendment violation. Second, defendants Wayne County and the Wayne County Sheriff moved for summary judgment on plaintiff's cellblock-search claim on the grounds that plaintiff merely alleged an isolated incident without submitting any evidence showing it was the product of an official policy or custom. Finally, defendants argued that plaintiff's requests for injunctive and declaratory relief were moot because Sumpter did not reside at the jail at the time she sued.

The district court agreed with defendants on all three fronts. In the same order, it also denied without prejudice the pending motion for class certification, as well as plaintiff's motion to strike an errata sheet that defendants filed as part of their summary judgment motion.2 Following the entry of a final judgment, plaintiff appeals.


We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Keith v. Cty. of Oakland , 703 F.3d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 2013). Summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). "To prevail, the nonmovant must show sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact," which is to say, "[t]here must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [nonmovant]." Napier v. Madison Cty., Ky. , 238 F.3d 739, 742 (6th Cir. 2001) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). "We consider all facts and inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmovant." City of Wyandotte v. Consol. Rail Corp. , 262 F.3d 581, 585 (6th Cir. 2001).


The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Graham on the basis of qualified immunity. That doctrine shields governmental officials from monetary damages as long as "their actions did not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Chappell v. City of Cleveland , 585 F.3d 901, 907 (6th Cir. 2009). To determine whether a defendant is entitled to qualified immunity, we perform a two-part inquiry, Pearson v. Callahan , 555 U.S. 223, 232, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009), which we may conduct in either order, id. at 236, 129 S.Ct. 808. We ask whether the facts alleged or shown "make out a violation of a constitutional right" and "whether the right at issue was ‘clearly established’ " at the time of the incident. Id. at 232, 129 S.Ct. 808 (quoting Saucier v. Katz , 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001) ). A plaintiff must satisfy both inquiries in order to defeat the assertion of qualified immunity. Wesley v. Campbell , 779 F.3d 421, 428–29 (6th Cir. 2015).


The Fourth Amendment governs plaintiff's claim against Graham. As in most Fourth Amendment contexts, the legal standard in this case requires us to balance the nature of the intrusion against the need for the particular search, though in the corrections setting we afford deference in favor of correctional officials' penological expertise and interests. Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of Cty. of Burlington , 566 U.S. 318, 328, 132 S.Ct. 1510, 182 L.Ed.2d 566 (2012) ("[C]ourts should ordinarily defer to their expert judgment in such matters." (citation omitted)).

This deferential balancing test originates from Bell v. Wolfish , 441 U.S. 520, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979), where the Court confronted for the first time the issue of strip searches in the corrections context. In Bell , the Court held that a federal detention center's blanket policy of conducting visual body cavity inspections of all detainees returning from a "contact visit" did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Id . at 558, 560, 99 S.Ct. 1861. Along with its holding, the Court set forth "general principles" to guide the analysis of searches conducted in the corrections setting. Id. at 545, 99 S.Ct. 1861.

The Court began by recognizing that pretrial detainees "do not forfeit all constitutional protections" as a result of their confinement, id. , but their rights are necessarily limited by "the legitimate goals and policies of the penal institution," id. at 546, 99 S.Ct. 1861. Among the legitimate goals of a penal institution is "maintaining institutional security and preserving internal order and discipline," matters that the Court emphasized were within the expertise of corrections officials. Id. "[T]he problems that arise in the day-to-day operation of a corrections facility are not susceptible of easy solutions," id. at 547, 99 S.Ct. 1861, the Court said, acknowledging that a given corrections official will naturally "have a better grasp of his domain than the reviewing judge," id. at 548, 99 S.Ct. 1861. Consequently, corrections officials "should be accorded wide-ranging deference in the adoption and execution of policies and...

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