Civil Case Law - First Circuit

Cookish v. Powell , 945 F.2d 441 (1st Cir. 1991): A male inmate brought a § 1983 action against prison officials, alleging that a visual body cavity search conducted in the presence of female correctional officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights.  The prison officials had a reasonable (although mistaken) belief that exigent circumstances existed.  If these circumstances had in fact existed, they would have permitted a visual body cavity search within visual range of officers of the opposite sex.  The court found that in this instance, prison officials could not be held liable for a Fourth Amendment violation of the right to be free from unreasonable searches. 

Bonitz v. Fair , 804 F.2d 164 (1st Cir. 1986): Female inmates in a state facility were subjected to invasive body cavity searches, which were conducted in a non-hygienic atmosphere and in the presence of male officers.  The court found the searches amounted to a violation of the female inmates’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches.

Collins v. Knox County , 569 F. Supp. 2d 269 (D. Me. 2008):  A female inmate brought a § 1983 claim alleging a violation of her Fourth Amendment right to privacy.  The plaintiff alleged that a male officer watched her while she used the toilet.  According to the officer, he gave her a choice of using the hole in her cell, waiting for someone else to escort her, or using the toilet in the adjacent cell.  When the plaintiff chose to use the adjacent cell, he allowed her to do so, and moved away from her while she used the toilet. The court found that this “limited interaction” did not violate her Fourth Amendment rights.

James v. Maloney , 861 N.E.2d 810 (Mass. App. Ct. 2007): A male Muslim inmate filed suit under both the U.S. and Massachusetts Constitutions, alleging that he was subjected to a full body search in view of female correctional officers, who could observe him through large windows and an open door.  The court dismissed his claim, holding that the manner in which the search was conducted was due to the unique circumstances of a large prisoner transfer, and therefore not a substantial burden on the inmate’s free exercise of religion under the First Amendment.

Sabree v. Conley , 815 N.E.2d 280 (Mass. App. Ct. 2004):  The plaintiff and many other male inmates were subjected to an outdoor strip search, in an outside alcove walled on three sides with a chain link fence on the fourth side.  The court concluded that “while strip searches conducted in non-private areas of a prison, viewed by nonessential persons, particularly of the opposite sex, violate the Fourth Amendment unless justified by legitimate penological interests,” the officers in this case were entitled to qualified immunity, as the right to be free from this type of search was not clearly established.   The court also rejected the inmate’s Eighth Amendment claim, as he was not able to show unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain unrelated to penological necessity.

Roberts v. Department of Correction , 2002 WL 31677190 (Mass. Super. 2002):  The entire male inmate population was searched after a prison yard fight.  The male inmates brought suit, complaining that the strip searches were conducted in a prison corridor where the inmates could be seen by both male and female staff as well as civilians.  The court rejected the inmate’s Fourth Amendment claim due to the emergency situation which justified the immediate search.

Ford v. City of Boston , 154 F. Supp. 2d 131 (D. Mass. 2001):  Female inmates brought § 1983 suit challenging the city’s policy of transporting all female arrestees who were unable to post bail to a maximum security pre-trial detention facility.  Due to this policy, female arrestees were routinely subjected to strip and visual body cavity searches, while male arrestees were not.  The court found, therefore, that this policy violated the female arrestees’ rights under the Equal Protection Clause.