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Lopez v. Younglood

March 31, 2009

MARSIAL LOPEZ, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DONNY YOUNGBLOOD, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dennis L. Beck United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER RE: PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND/OR SUMMARY ADJUDICATION (Document 67)

ORDER RE: DEFENDANTS' JOINT MOTION FOR SUMMARY ADJUDICATION (Document 36) ORDER RE: DEFENDANTS' JOINT MOTION FOR SUMMARY ADJUDICATION REGARDING COURT RETURNEES, QUALIFIED IMMUNITY AND ELEVENTH AMENDMENT IMMUNITY (Document 63)

On July 17, 2008, Defendants County of Kern, the Kern County Sheriff's Office ("KCSO"), Donny Younglood and Mack Wimbish ("Defendants") filed a joint motion for summary adjudication. On November 7, 2008, Defendants filed a second joint motion for summary adjudication regarding court returnees, qualified immunity and Eleventh Amendment immunity. On November 7, 2008, Plaintiffs Marsial Lopez, Sandra Chavez, and Theodore Medina filed their cross-motion for partial summary judgment and/or summary adjudication. All three motions were heard on December 19, 2008, before the Honorable Dennis L. Beck, United States Magistrate Judge.*fn1 Barrett Litt and Donald Cook appeared on behalf of Plaintiffs. Jennifer Thurston and Terence Cassidy appeared on behalf of Defendants.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Marsial Lopez, individually and as class representative, filed the instant civil rights action on March 27, 2007. On June 21, 2007, Plaintiffs Marsial Lopez, Sandra Chavez, and Theodore Medina, individually and as class representatives, filed a First Amended Complaint ("FAC") against Defendants. Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief and damages resulting from the strip and/or visual body cavity searches of prisoners by the Kern County Sheriff's Department.

The FAC pursues causes of action for violation of the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, violation of Article I, §§ 1, 7, 13 and 17 of the California Constitution and state law violations. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants maintained a policy of indiscriminately strip/body cavity searching all or a large number of persons being processed into the jail without limitation on the number of persons who can see, hear or observe the searches. Plaintiffs also allege that Defendants improperly strip searched detainees who had been ordered released.

On July 17, 2008, Defendants filed a joint motion for summary adjudication regarding group strip searches. Defendants contend that the group strip searches at issue do not violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. In addition, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' equal protection claim state law claims fail as a matter of law.

Pursuant to a briefing schedule, Plaintiffs filed an opposition to the motion on September 16, 2008, along with a statement of disputed and undisputed facts and objections to the declaration of Ian Silva. On October 3, 2008, Defendants filed a reply and objections to the Declaration of Paul J. Estuar filed in support of Plaintiffs' motion.

On November 7, 2008, Defendants filed their second joint motion for summary adjudication regarding court returnees, qualified immunity and Eleventh Amendment immunity.

Defendants contend that (1) the searches of certain Plaintiffs who assert that their constitutional rights were violated when they were subjected to strip searches after returning to the jail following a court appearance in which they were ordered released were reasonable; (2) Defendants Yougblood and Wimbish are immune from liability because the law was not clearly established that searching post-arraignment detainees in small groups violates Plaintiffs' rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and violates the Equal Protection Clause; (3) the Sheriff is a state actor and immune from a § 1983 suit; and (4) the County should be dismissed from this action.

Plaintiffs filed an opposition to Defendants' second motion on November 21, 2008, along with a statement of disputed and undisputed facts and the Declaration of Barrett S. Litt and Donald W. Cook. Defendants filed a reply and objections to Plaintiffs' statement of facts on December 5, 2008.

On November 7, 2008, Plaintiffs also filed their cross-motion for partial summary judgment and/or summary adjudication. Plaintiffs seek a determination that (1) KCSO's policy of strip searching persons ordered released from custody violated the Fourth Amendment; (2) KCSO's policy of group strip searching prisoners violated the Fourth Amendment; (3) the strip search policies violated Plaintiffs' state constitutional rights pursuant to Cal. Const. Art. I, § 1 (privacy), Cal. Const. Art. I, § 13 (unreasonable searches) and Cal. Const. Art. I, § 7 (equal protection); and (4) the entity defendants are liable under federal and state law.

Defendants filed an opposition to Plaintiffs' cross-motion for summary adjudication on November 21, 2008, along with a statement of undisputed facts and objections to the declaration of Donald W. Cook. Plaintiffs filed a reply on December 6, 2008.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Jail Facilities

Defendant KCSO operates four different jail facilities. These facilities include Central Receiving Facility ("CRF"), Ridgecrest, Mojave, and Lerdo. The main function of the CRF facility is booking and receiving arrestees coming straight off the street. Since at least 2003, pre- arraignment misdemeanor arrestees at CRF were not subject to strip searches on a routine basis, either before or after their first court appearance.

If not released from CRF, arrestees are transported to the Kern County Superior Court ("Superior Court") for their initial court appearance. After their initial court appearance, arrestees are transported back to CRF for either (a) housing in the Lerdo jail if remanded to custody or (b) to be released from custody at CRF. Post-arraignment prisoners, including those serving sentences, are housed at Lerdo. Lerdo is divided into four different divisions: pretrial, maximum-medium ("max-med"), female minimum and male minimum.

B. KCSO Inmate Searches

Procedure D of KCSO Policy C-500 specifies that persons in the general inmate population (not pre-arraignment detainees): may be subjected to a strip search or visual body cavity search in the following situations:

* After an inmate has left the facility and returned (i.e., medical appointment, court, etc.)

* After an inmate laborer has completed their assigned duties inside or outside the facility and is returning to their housing area.

* After any contact visit.

* If an officer has a reasonable suspicion that an inmate is concealing a weapon or contraband and that a strip search or visual body cavity search will result in discovery of the weapon or contraband.

KCSO, Detentions Bureau Policies and Procedures, Search Procedures C-500, p. 5; Exhibit E to the Declaration of Terrence Cassidy.

Per KCSO Search Procedure, a strip search involves a "visual inspection of the underclothing, female breasts, buttocks, or genitalia of such person." KCSO, Detentions Bureau Policies and Procedures, Search Procedures C-500, p. 2. A strip search includes a visual body cavity search. A visual body cavity search includes a "visual inspection of the anus and/or vaginal area; generally requiring the subject to bend over and spread the cheeks of the buttocks, to squat, and/or otherwise expose body cavity orifices." Id. From 2003 to present, the manner of strip searching prisoners has not changed.

From January 2005 to October 2007, the Kern County Sheriff's Department conducted a strip/visual body cavity ("strip/vbc") of all inmates who were moved from Lerdo to court and back. Upon arrival at Lerdo, prisoners were routinely subjected to a strip/visual body cavity search without regard to the reasonable suspicion standard. This search policy included both prisoners housed for the first time at Lerdo following an initial court appearance and prisoners who were previously housed at Lerdo but who had been ordered released following a court appearance.

Prior to October 2007, all such strip/visual body cavity searches weregroup searches conducted in view of other inmates. Each prisoner could observe the searches of other prisoners in the group. There were no partitions or other barriers to prevent such observation.

In October 2007, Defendants stopped "group strip searches," adopting an updated policy. KCSO, Detentions Bureau Policies and Procedures, Strip and Body Cavity Searches C-550, p. 2; Exhibit 1 to Declaration of Paul Estuar in Support of Plaintiffs' Opposition to Motion for Summary Adjudication. Defendants now employ privacy partitions or booths when conducting strip searches at Lerdo facilities.

C. Individual Plaintiffs

1. Marsial Lopez

From about July 2005 to November 2006, Plaintiff Marsial Lopez was a prisoner in the Kern County Jail, awaiting trial and resolution of criminal charges filed against him. Between July 2005 and November 2006, Plaintiff Lopez made numerous appearances in Superior Court regarding pending criminal charges. After each appearance, he was returned to Lerdo. Upon his arrival at Lerdo, Plaintiff Lopez was subjected to a strip/vbc search.On November 6, 2006, Plaintiff Lopez appeared in Superior Court. At that time, the court dismissed all charges against him and ordered his release. Plaintiff Lopez returned to Lerdo and was subjected to a strip/vbc search.

2. Sandra Chavez

On February 17, 2007, KCSO deputies arrested Plaintiff Sandra Chavez. She was housed at CRF where she was subjected to a strip/vbc search

3. Theodore Medina

On or about May 10, 2006, KCSO deputies arrested Plaintiff Theodore Medina. He was housed at Lerdo. On May 26, 2006, he appeared in Superior Court at which time the court sentenced him to time served. Plaintiff Medina returned to Lerdo and was subjected to a strip/vbc search.

D. Court Returnees

Between January 2005 and October 2007, the Kern County Sheriff's Department subjected all inmates who were returning from court to a strip/vbc search . Inmates housed at the Lerdo facility of the Kern County Jail are required to be transported to one of the Kern County Superior Court locations to appear regarding the criminal charges against them. Hundreds of inmates are transported to court each day from the Lerdo facility. Sometimes at a court appearance, the court orders that the inmate should be released. Reasons for release may include release on the inmate's own recognizance, posting bail or complete dismissal of the criminal charges.

When the court issues an order of release, the clerk of the court enters the court's order into the local computerized Criminal Justice Information System ("CJIS"), as well as the reason for the order of release. After the clerk enters the information, CJIS creates a "flag" on the inmate's CJIS record. For jail staff to locate the flag, they must run a CJIS search to pull the records with the specific, court entered flag. Once jail staff runs the CJIS search for the inmates ordered released, each of these inmate records must be checked to determine whether there are other reasons for the inmate to remain in jail. Reasons for holding the inmates after a court-ordered release on a particular criminal case may include the existence of other ongoing criminal cases, holds or warrants. To conduct this check, the local CJIS system must be searched, along with the statewide California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System ("CLETS"). If it is determined that there is no other basis for the inmate to be retained in the jail, then the inmate is released.

DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986). "If the party moving for summary judgment meets its initial burden of identifying for the court the portions of the materials on file that it believes demonstrate the absence of any genuine issues of material fact," the burden of production shifts and "the non moving party must set forth, by affidavit or as otherwise provided in Rule 56, 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" T.W. Electric Service, Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). As to the specific facts offered by the nonmoving party, the court does not weigh conflicting evidence, but draws all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at 630-31.

If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party may not rely upon the denials of its pleadings, but is required to tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that the dispute exists. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e);Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 n.11. The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv.,809 F.2d at 630, and that the dispute is genuine, ...


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