Civil Case Law - Fourth Circuit

Amaechi v. West , 237 F.3d 356 (4th Cir. 2001): Female arrestee was subject to cross-gender search in public.  The arrestee was handcuffed and forced to stand on the street with her dress open, in view of her family and the public.  The arresting officer slightly penetrated her genitalia and kneaded her buttocks. She was arrested for a misdemeanor noise violation, and no other circumstances suggested a security risk or risk of weapons concealment.  The plaintiff sued under § 1983, asserting claims for assault and battery and for unconstitutional search. The court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the arrestee had stated a viable claim for unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment, and that the officer’s conduct could be a violation of state law.

Mitchell v. Strickland , 87 F.3d 1309 (4th Cir. 1996): An inmate filed a written grievance with the prison administrator, stating that he had been subjected to a cross-gender search.  The prison official discussed the grievance with the inmate, informing him that cross-gender searches were permissible.  The inmate later filed an Eighth Amendment claim against the official.  The court dismissed the claim, finding that the official had properly addressed the inmate’s grievance.

X v. Bratten , 32 F.3d 564 (4th Cir. 1994): A male inmate filed a § 1983 claim against various prison officials, alleging that he was strip searched while a female officer was present.  He contended that the officer “was standing off looking and disapprovingly shaking her head from side to side,” while the officer asserted she had turned her back to avoid seeing the search.   The court found that the contradictory assertions precluded a motion for summary judgment.

Lee v. Downs , 641 F.2d 1117 (4th Cir. 1981): Female plaintiff filed suit for incident where a female nurse removed her undergarments in the presence of male correctional officers, after the plaintiff had expressed willingness to remove her underclothing if the male officers left.  The court affirmed the jury verdict for the plaintiff’s § 1983 claim, finding that “[m]ost people ... have a special sense of privacy in their genitals, and involuntary exposure of them in the presence of people of the other sex may be especially demeaning and humiliating. When not reasonably necessary, that sort of degradation is not to be visited upon those confined in our prisons.”

Bryan v. Fultz , 2009 WL 334441 (E.D. Va. Feb. 10, 2009): A female detainee was subjected to cross-gender strip searches while incarcerated. The weekend following her release, she cried all night, saw a counselor who diagnosed her as suffering from acute stress disorder, and refrained from having intimate relations with her husband for several months.  However, she went to work and suffered no lost wages, did not attend regular counseling or seek any other medical attention, and led mostly a “normal life.”  The court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, because a jury could not find, on the basis of her allegations, that her emotional distress was too severe for a reasonable person to endure.

Jones v. Murphy , 470 F. Supp. 2d. 537 (D. Md. 2007): Male arrestees brought a § 1983 action under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments against mayor, municipal council, and police wardens at a central booking and intake center.  Arrestees claimed that they were strip searched, and that the searches violated their Equal Protection rights, in that male arrestees were strip searched, either fully or down to their underwear, while similarly situated females were not. The court denied the wardens’ motion to dismiss, as the right to be free from invasive strip searches that were not conducted on similarly situated female detainees was clearly established.

Jackson v. Wiley , 352 F. Supp. 2d. 666 (E.D. Va. 2004): Male inmate was strip searched as a part of the prison intake process, while two female nurses were present, having already been in the room in order to perform a routine medical exam on the inmate.  The court found that a corrections officer did not violate a male prisoner’s constitutional right to privacy in his genitals by carrying out a “routine” strip search during the intake process.  The court distinguished the case at hand from other cross-gender strip searches, noting that medical personnel routinely examine patients of the opposite sex.