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Headrick v. Buyak

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

December 26, 2013

TIMOTHY HEADRICK, Plaintiff,
v.
RICHARD WATSON, OFFICER CASEY, and OFFICER BUYAK, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff, who is currently incarcerated at the St. Clair County Jail ("the Jail"), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He claims that Defendants subjected him to an unconstitutional strip search.

Before his transfer to the Jail, Plaintiff had been a prisoner serving a sentence in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections.[1] According to the instant complaint (Doc. 1, p. 2), Plaintiff was transferred to the Jail due to a successful appeal. He arrived at the Jail on October 18, 2013. Upon his arrival, he was ordered inside the building and was made to stand with other inmates and "get naked." Id. He was then told to bend over, spread his buttocks, and lift his genitals. Other male officers were observing Plaintiff and the other prisoners while the search took place. Id.

Plaintiff names Richard Watson (St. Clair County Sheriff) as a Defendant. The other Defendants are Correctional Officers Casey and Buyak, both of whom held the rank of "strip search officer, " and who were assigned to the Jail's Booking Department (Doc. 1, pp. 1-2).

Plaintiff argues that "upon information and belief strip searches are not to be conducted in front of anyone else but the inmate and the officer conducting the strip search." Id. In support of this claim, he cites 725 Illinois Compiled Statutes 5/103-1(d)(e), and (h). He adds that the "illegal strip search" violated his rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and from cruel and unusual punishment, under the Fourth and Eighth Amendments (Doc. 1, p. 3).

He seeks declaratory relief, compensatory and punitive damages, and a preliminary and permanent injunction to stop illegal strip searches of Jail inmates.

Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

Under § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint, and to dismiss any claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from an immune defendant. After fully considering the allegations in the complaint, the Court concludes that this action is subject to summary dismissal.

Since his discharge from the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections, Plaintiff's detention status has changed. He was formerly a convicted felon, but since that conviction has been reversed or vacated, he now is considered a pre-trial detainee.

Courts have recognized that arbitrary or blanket strip searches of pretrial detainees may violate the Constitution. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 558-60 (1979) (search of pretrial detainees after contact visits with outsiders was reasonable); Calvin v. Sheriff of Will Cnty., 405 F.Supp.2d 933, 938-940 (N.D. Ill. 2005) (noting that " Bell did not validate a blanket policy of strip searching pretrial detainees"). Bell instructs that in balancing the detainee's constitutional rights with the security concerns of the institution, courts must consider the scope of the intrusion, the manner in which it is conducted, the justification for initiating it, and the place in which it is conducted. Bell, 441 U.S. at 559.

Although civil rights claims brought by detainees arise under the Fourteenth Amendment and not the Eighth Amendment, see Weiss v. Cooley, 230 F.3d 1027, 1032 (7th Cir. 2000), the Seventh Circuit has "found it convenient and entirely appropriate to apply the same standard to claims arising under the Fourteenth Amendment (detainees) and Eighth Amendment (convicted prisoners) without differentiation.'" Board v. Farnham, 394 F.3d 469, 478 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Henderson v. Sheahan, 196 F.3d 839, 845 n. 2 (7th Cir. 1999)).

Strip searches of prisoners that are not related to legitimate security needs, or are conducted in a harassing manner in order to humiliate and inflict psychological pain, may be found unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. Mays v. Springborn, 719 F.3d 631, 634, (7th Cir. 2013) (group of inmates were strip searched together, gratuitously exposing prisoners' nude bodies to each other, while guards uttered demeaning comments); Calhoun v. DeTella, 319 F.3d 936, 939 (7th Cir. 2003) (a strip search conducted in a harassing manner intended to humiliate and inflict psychological pain could violate the Eighth Amendment); see also Meriwether v. Faulkner, 821 F.2d 408 (7th Cir. 1987) (allegation of calculated harassment by strip searches stated Eighth Amendment claim), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 935 (1987).

The facts in Plaintiff's complaint fail to suggest that the strip search was conducted in an unconstitutional manner. He does not describe any harassing, humiliating, or demeaning comments or behavior on the part of any prison staff. Nor does it appear that the search was performed with the intent to degrade him, or that it was unnecessary in light of legitimate security concerns. The search he challenges was conducted immediately after he arrived at the Jail, having been transferred from the state prison where he had been incarcerated. That status raises security concerns that may not be present with a person who arrives at a jail following an arrest by law enforcement officers. The Court presumes that jail officials have a legitimate security need to search prisoners who have been transferred from a state correctional institution, to prevent the introduction of contraband into the facility, and/or to protect the safety of jail staff and other detainees. Still, even if a valid penological reason existed for the search, "the manner in which the search [was] conducted must itself pass constitutional muster." Mays, 719 F.3d at 634 (quoting Mays v. Springborn, 575 F.3d 643, 649 (7th Cir. 2009)).

Plaintiff objects to the fact that the strip search was performed in the view of other jail officers, and that prisoners were searched together in a group (Doc. 1, p. 2). However, these facts alone do not violate the Constitution, when none of the allegations suggest that the search was intended to humiliate, harass, or demean Plaintiff. Without a doubt, being required to undergo a strip search is disagreeable. Nevertheless, in balancing Plaintiff's constitutional rights with the Jail's ...


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