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Levka v. City of Chicago

November 19, 1984

MARIA LEVKA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 83 C 2283 -- Milton I. Shadur, Judge.

Author: Pell

Before BAUER, Circuit Judge, PELL, Senior Circuit Judge, and DUPREE, Senior District Judge.*fn*

PELL, Senior Circuit Judge. This case presents the question whether a jury verdict in the amount of $50,000 rendered in favor of plaintiff-appellee as compensatory damages for an unconstitutional strip search is excessive. Plaintiff brought this suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, claiming that defendant-appellee, the City of Chicago, violated her civil rights when Chicago police officers subjected her to a strip search after her arrest for a misdemeanor offense. As we have held previously, defendant's former policy searching female arrestees violated both the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and the Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection. Mary Beth G. and Sharon N. v. City of Chicago, 723 F.2d 1263 (7th Cir. 1983) (as modified). Because of our prior holding in Mary Beth G., the only question presented to the jury in this case was the issue of damages. Following the jury's award of $50,000 as compensation for emotional injuries, defendant moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, for a new trial or the entry of a remittitur. The district court denied the motion, and defendant appeals.

I. Facts

According to the parties' stipulated statement of the case, in the early morning hours of December 2, 1975, police arrested plaintiff, then aged 53, for a misdemeanor offense*fn1 and took her to the police station at Chicago Avenue and State Street. They later transferred her to the Women's Central Detention facility at 11th and State Streets. During her detention at the lockup, police subjected her to a strip search.

At the time of this incident, the City of Chicago enforced a policy of subjecting every arrestee at this lockup to a strip search regardless of the nature of the charge brought against her and regardless of whether reason existed to believe that she carried drugs or concealed weapons. Defendant stipulated that, pursuant to this policy: "The Arrestee was required to lift up her blouse and brassiere. A visual inspection was made. The Arrestee was then told to pull down her pants and pull down her underpants, then to squat several times, stand up and bend over. Again a visual inspection was made." It was the indiscriminate policy of conducting strip searches that we held unconstitutional in Mary Beth G.

Plaintiff testified at trial that she was arrested at about 1:55 a.m. on December 2, 1975, on the corner across from her house at 1743 North Sedgwick, Chicago. She was taken to the police station at Chicago Avenue and State Street and telephoned her daughter, April Swenson, between 1:30 and 2:30 a.m., requesting her to come to the station and post $25 bond. When Swenson arrived at the station with her sister's boyfriend and one of plaintiff's neighbors, the police told them that plaintiff had been transferred to the Women's Detention facility. According to plaintiff, when she arrived at the lockup a matron took her to a small cell containing a long bench and a toilet. No other arrestees were present in the cell. The matron who escorted plaintiff to the cell asked her to remove her shoes, then inspected between her toes and placed her shoes outside the cell.

A few minutes later, the matron returned to plaintiff's cell with another matron. The first matron asked plaintiff to pull up her sweater and turn her bra inside-out. After asking "why" and being informed "just do it," plaintiff complied. The matrons conducted a visual inspection from a distance of a couple of feet, and then told plaintiff that she could replace her bra and sweater. Then, one of the matrons asked her to lift up her skirt, pull down her underpants and pantyhose, bend over, and spread her buttocks. Again, plaintiff protested and was told "just do it." Plaintiff complied. Following the search, plaintiff testified, "I felt debased and humiliated and degraded, abused, misused. . . . I was absolutely shocked and stunned and horrified. I was sickened."

Plaintiff was released from jail about an hour or an hour and one-half after the strip search, approximately forty-five minutes after her daughter arrived at the lockup. When she saw her mother, Swenson testified, plaintiff looked pale and upset, as if she had been crying. After posting bond, they left the Detention Center between 4:00 and 4:30 a.m. Plaintiff recounted the details of the strip search to her daughter and the others while they were in the car and again when they stopped for coffee on the way home. Swenson testified that plaintiff told them that she was very frightened and humiliated by the search and that she cried on and off and seemed very upset. After breakfast, plaintiff returned home where she tried to sleep. She did not fall asleep until about 9:00 a.m.

With respect to the effects of the strip search, plaintiff testified that in the weeks following the strip search she continued to be frightened and became afraid to go out alone at night. She testified that if she tried to go out alone, she would return home and fall apart. According to plaintiff, her fears became so pronounced that she consulted a psychiatrist one month after the search.*fn2 She did not return for further consultation. As a result of the search, plaintiff claims that she continues to be afraid and that even now she will not go out alone at night. In fact, she testified that she no longer sees movies or attends parties, the ballet, or the theatre. Admittedly, plaintiff cannot separate the impact of her arrest from the impact of her strip search.

At trial, plaintiff produced four witnesses to corroborate her testimony that she has suffered continuous and deep emotional trauma as a result of her strip search. First, her daughter testified that during the two to three weeks following the search, she talked to her mother two to three times a week. Often during these conversations, plaintiff expressed to her daughter that she felt humiliated and afraid, and that she was frightened of the police and fearful for her own safety. Swenson testified that plaintiff does go out alone during the day, but will not go out at night unless accompanied by an escort. Second, Bonnie Deutsch, a neighbor of plaintiff's for the last thirteen years, testified that she noticed a change in plaintiff's behavior in 1976, and that she no longer sees plaintiff outdoors anymore. Although Deutsch learned of plaintiff's encounter with the police in January of 1976, she did not learn of her strip search until one or two months before the trial. On cross-examination, she admitted that she has no knowledge of whether plaintiff is employed or married.

At the time of the strip search, plaintiff worked as a booking agent for various musicians. As part of her job, plaintiff visited various clubs during the night and early morning hours to listen to musicians. Plaintiff offered the testimony of her third and fourth witnesses to corroborate her claim that she could not maintain her job as a booking agent because of her fear of going out alone at night. Lynn Roeder, a professional musician who has known plaintiff for the last 14 years, testified that plaintiff refused her request to act as her agent in 1976, although plaintiff had acted previously as her agent for one to one and one-half years between 1970 and 1972. According to Roeder, after inquiring for almost a year, she learned that plaintiff would not act as her agent because she was afraid to go out at night. On cross-examination, however, defendant impeached Roeder's credibility by pointing out that in an earlier deposition she had testified differently as to the date when plaintiff stopped booking her. Finally, Oett Mallard, a member of the Chiciago Musician's Union and its examining board who has known plaintiff since 1969, testified that plaintiff continued to bring clients to the board for auditions through 1977 or 1978. While he stated that plaintiff brought in fewer musicians in 1977, he admitted that the booking agent business suffered a general slowdown in 1978 or 1979.

To refute plaintiff's claim that the strip search caused her to become a "prisoner in [her] own home," defendant put witnesses on the stand who testified that they have seen plaintiff outside her home on a number of occasions since December 1975.John Danek, a police officer, testified that he saw plaintiff shopping at the neighborhood grocery store two to three times a month during the time that he worked there as a security guard, between 1973 or 1974 and 1975 or 1976. Subsequent to December 1975, Danek stated, he has continued to see plaintiff two to three times a month in the neighborhood and at the grocery store. Further, Danek testified that he has seen plaintiff alone at night on some occasions.

James Shelton, a bartender in the neighborhood who has known plaintiff for over twenty-five years testified that prior to 1975 he had seen plaintiff approximately twelve times a year. Following her strip search, he has seen plaintiff approximately six to eight times a year at the grocery store, at the restaurant in which he works, and once at a church function. Shelton stated that ...


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