Monday, November 10, 2014
In its opinion in Williams v. City of Cleveland, a panel of the Sixth Circuit faulted the district judge for over-extending Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington (NJ) to include a challenge to a practice by Cleveland that "compelled pretrial detainees who were being processed into the facility to undress in the presence of other detainees and to have their naked genitals sprayed with delousing solution from a pressurized metal canister."
Recall that the United States Supreme Court in Florence upheld the authority of jail authorities to strip search a person accused of a minor crime without individualized suspicion under the Fourth Amendment. As we stated when the decision was rendered in April 2012, "Writing for the 5-4 majority, Kennedy's relatively brief opinion could be summed up in a single word: deference."
Yet that deference was not total and today's holding from the Sixth Circuit elaborates on the limits of Florence. The complaint in Williams was stayed pending resolution of Florence, and after Florence, the plaintiffs sought to amend their complaint to distinguish Florence. The district judge denied the motion to amend as "futile" because there was no real constitutional issue raised by the manner of the delousing.
Reversing, the unanimous panel of the Sixth Circuit noted that Florence "took pains to emphasize that its holding applied only to the blanket policy before it, which required a visual strip search and a compulsory shower with self-applied delousing solution." This means, according to the court, that the particular method of conducting a search must still be reasonable, and that this reasonableness is weighed against the level of intrusion.
As the panel described the allegations, the "hose treatment" included the plaintiffs being "ordered to crouch naked on the floor with several strangers in the room while corrections officers" directed a pressurized hose of delousing liquid aimed at their intimate body parts. The incident also included for one plaintiff being hosed off by another detainee and for another plaintiff, the delousing liquid "penetrating her anus." For the panel, "simply spraying the detainee with a hose as if she was an object or an animal," is problematical because
it is not obvious that it would be impracticably onerous for the jail to permit self-application of the delousing solution while reserving the “hose treatment” for instances where individual detainees misapply or refuse to properly apply the provided solution.
However, the panel noted that in "the final analysis" "the jail may have had good reasons for conducting these procedures in the particular manner in which it did." However, "that is a matter for resolution either at trial or on summary judgment, not on the pleadings."
Thus, the case will proceed at the trial level.