JOHNSON v. CITY OF KALAMAZOO Nos. 4:00-CV-44, 4:00-CV-45, 4:00-CV-48, 4:00-CV-80.
124 F.Supp.2d 1099 (2000)
Beniam A. JOHNSON, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF KALAMAZOO, Jamie Edwards, Henry Damsteegt and Jim Williams, Defendants. Michael D. Mann, Plaintiff, v. City of Kalamazoo, Gretchen Mayo and Kathy Mattmueller, Defendants. Malcolm Robinson, Plaintiff, v. City of Kalamazoo, Jason Colyer, Timothy Tull and Jim Williams, Defendants. Troy L. Coleman, Plaintiff, v. City of Kalamazoo, Cory Ghiringhelli and Frances Orfin, Defendants.
United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division.
December 11, 2000.
Richard A. Milligan, Kalamazoo City Attorney's Office, Kalamazoo, MI, for Defendants.
OPINION OF THE COURT ON THE CITY'S MOTIONS FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS
MCKEAGUE, District Judge.
In these four actions, consolidated before the undersigned for limited pretrial purposes, plaintiffs allege they were detained in the Kalamazoo City Jail for varying periods of time, clad only in their underwear. Each of plaintiffs' complaints contains six counts, stating claims against the City of Kalamazoo and individual officers who participated in the complained of detention. On November 20, 2000, all of plaintiffs' claims against the individual defendants were voluntarily dismissed. Now before the Court are the motions of defendant City of Kalamazoo for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). The Court heard oral arguments on September 18, 2000, and has duly considered briefs submitted in support of and in opposition to defendant's motions. For the reasons that follow, the motions will be granted.
I. FACT ALLEGATIONS
Plaintiff Beniam A. Johnson alleges he was arrested by a Kalamazoo public safety officer on March 15, 1999. When asked if he was suicidal during intake at the City jail, Johnson refused to answer. He was ordered to remove his pants in the presence of female officers and then placed in a cell dressed only in his underwear, t-shirt, socks and "flip-flops." Johnson alleges he was detained in this condition for 30 minutes, in a cell where he was subject to monitoring by video camera.
Plaintiff Michael D. Mann alleges he was arrested by a Kalamazoo public safety officer on November 26, 1999 and transported to the City jail. When Mann was asked if he was suicidal, he refused to answer. In the presence of female officers, he was placed in a cell wearing only underwear, t-shirt, socks and flip-flops, and was kept there in this condition from 8:55 p.m. on November 26th until 2:20 p.m. the following day.
Plaintiff Malcolm B. Robinson was arrested by a Kalamazoo public safety officer on September 16, 1998. As Robinson was processed in at the City jail, his clothing was sprayed with pepper spray. Robinson's outer clothing was removed in the presence of female officers and he was placed in a cell wearing only his underwear. He was allegedly kept there from 7:00 a.m. until 4:15 p.m. on September 16th.
Plaintiff Troy L. Coleman was arrested by a Kalamazoo officer on November 13, 1999. During intake at the City jail, Coleman refused to answer questions, was ordered to remove his outer clothing, and was placed in a cell wearing only his underwear. Plaintiff was subject to visual monitoring by video camera. He was kept there in this condition from 3:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. on November 13th.
The City's position is that a detainee's clothing was to be totally removed as a precautionary measure if he claimed to be suicidal or refused to answer whether he was suicidal. Upon removal of the detainee's clothing, he was to be issued a "suicide gown." In each of these four cases, it appears no suicide gown was available. For this reason, each plaintiff was allowed to retain his underclothing.
II. PLAINTIFFS' CLAIMS
Each of plaintiffs' complaints contains the same six claims, praying for relief exclusively in the form of monetary damages. Counts I and V contain claims exclusively against individual officers, which claims have been voluntarily dismissed. Count II contains a federal civil rights claim against the City of Kalamazoo under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Each plaintiff alleges the City violated his Fourth Amendment privacy rights and Fourteenth Amendment equal protection and substantive due process rights by detaining him clad only in his underwear. The City is said to be liable because the individual officers allegedly
Plaintiffs have not pled facts specifically supporting their claims for denial of equal protection. At the hearing conducted on September 18, 2000, the Court confronted plaintiffs' counsel with this pleading deficiency. Counsel conceded that the complaints were not well-drafted and made no objection to the Court's bench ruling dismissing all claims for denial of equal protection.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The City's motions for judgment on the pleadings test the legal sufficiency of the pleadings. The Court must construe the complaints in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, accept all fact allegations as true, and determine whether the plaintiffs undoubtedly can prove no set of facts in support of their claims that would entitle them to relief. Mixon v. State of Ohio,
IV. § 1983 LIABILITY
In counts II, III and IV of their complaints, plaintiffs seek damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of their federally protected civil rights under color of state law. The City of Kalamazoo cannot be held liable under § 1983 for the actions of its employees pursuant to the doctrine of respondeat superior. Board of County Commissioners of Bryan County, Oklahoma v. Brown,
A. Fourth Amendment Privacy
Plaintiffs allege first that detention in their underwear violated their right of privacy under the Fourth Amendment. However, they cite no authority specifically supporting this proposition.
The applicability of the Fourth Amendment turns on whether the person invoking its protection can claim a justifiable, reasonable, or legitimate expectation of privacy that has been invaded by government action. Hudson v. Palmer,
Hudson thus upheld, against Fourth Amendment challenge, a policy permitting random cell searches. The court recognized the risk that "random" searches could be conducted out of malicious motive, strictly for the purpose of harassing inmates. The court expressly disavowed any intent to condone such abuse, but held that the appropriate remedy is found not in the Fourth Amendment, but in the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, or in state tort law. Id. at 528-30, 104 S.Ct. 3194.
At least one court has construed Hudson as holding categorically that "the Fourth Amendment does not protect privacy interests within prisons." Johnson v. Phelan,
In Bell v. Wolfish,
Id. at 917.
Defendant City contends that each plaintiff's outer clothing was removed as a suicide prevention measure, in response to the plaintiff's refusal to answer the intake question as to whether he was suicidal.
Defendant identifies several significant circumstances. First, plaintiffs were not stripped naked; they were allowed to keep their underwear and t-shirts and maintain a minimal measure of modesty. Second, the City notes the relatively short duration of A each plaintiff's underwear confinement; the shortest period being 30 minutes, and the longest being 18 hours and 25 minutes. Further, in their claims against the City, none of the plaintiffs have alleged he was subject to close or continuous observation by females. These circumstance, the City contends, distinguish plaintiffs' claims from those which have been found to implicate cognizable Fourth Amendment privacy interests.
Apart from Hudson v. Palmer, plaintiffs have cited no case law authority in support of their Fourth Amendment claim. As discussed above, Hudson affords plaintiffs only very weak, if any, support, the Supreme Court having held that prisoners do not have a Fourth Amendment right of privacy in their cells. In Cornwell v. Dahlberg, 963 F.2d at 916, the Sixth Circuit recognized the facial validity of a Fourth Amendment invasion of privacy claim where male prisoners were allegedly strip searched outside in the prison yard in the presence of other inmates and female officers. In Kent v. Johnson,
The instant claims do not involve an intrusion of any such magnitude. Plaintiffs were allowed to keep their underwear and t-shirts, clothing no more revealing than a swimsuit. They do not allege that they were forced to expose their genitals in the presence of female officers. The period of each plaintiff's confinement in his underwear was of limited duration immediately after intake at the jail. Given plaintiffs' refusal to cooperate fully, a fact essentially admitted by each plaintiff in his complaint, this initial period of observation presumably afforded detention officers fair opportunity to ascertain that plaintiffs were not suicidal before allowing them to have articles of clothing which otherwise might have posed some risk of self-inflicted harm.
In the wake of Hudson, the contours of prisoners' minimal privacy rights are still being defined by the courts. However, in view of the total absence of legal authority to support plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims, the Court is convinced that society is not prepared to recognize as legitimate any subjective expectation by a prisoner that he may not be confined even for a short period of time clad only in his underwear.
Applying the Bell v. Wolfish reasonableness standard to plaintiffs' allegations yields the same conclusion. The nature and duration of the intrusions upon privacy were minimal. Further, the City's asserted justification for the intrusions (tacitly recognized in plaintiffs' pleadings), i.e., discharging its obligation to secure inmates' safety, is plausible and reasonable.
Because plaintiffs' allegations thus fail to make out a Fourth Amendment violation, it is not necessary or appropriate to analyze the alleged policy under the rational
B. Fourteenth Amendment Due Process
Plaintiffs also allege that their underwear confinement constituted a denial of due process. Indeed, pretrial detainees, who have not been convicted of any crime, retain at least those constitutional rights enjoyed by convicted prisoners. Bell, 441 U.S. at 545, 99 S.Ct. 1861. Thus, although pretrial detainees are not technically within the protection of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, they receive analogous protection under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. County of Sacramento v. Lewis,
The Eighth Amendment prohibits the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." Ingraham v. Wright,
The City argues that even though plaintiffs' short-term detention in their underwear may have been uncomfortable, they have not alleged a sufficiently serious deprivation of "life's necessities" to satisfy the objective component. Again, plaintiffs have failed to identify case law specifically supporting their due process claims. Nor has the Court uncovered any.
In Kent v. Johnson, supra, the Sixth Circuit observed in 1987 that no federal court had yet held that subjecting male prisoners, while naked in the shower, to surveillance by female officers constituted an Eighth Amendment violation. 821 F.2d at 1227. Nonetheless, the Kent court vacated the dismissal of such a claim where the plaintiff alleged "that female prison guards [had] allowed themselves unrestricted views of his naked body in the shower, at close range and for extended periods of time, to retaliate against, punish and harass him for asserting his right to privacy." Id. at 1227-28. In other words, the Sixth Circuit recognized that cross-gender surveillance of naked prisoners could conceivably, under some circumstances, satisfy the objective component of a conditions of confinement claim. The court distinguished the alleged facts before it from "occasional and almost inadvertent sightings" by female guards, which would not be actionable. Id. at 1228.
Since Kent, the "possibility" that cross-gender surveillance of naked prisoners could rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation has not been developed in the case law. In fact, in Somers v. Thurman, 109 F.3d at 622, allegations that female officers conducted visual body cavity searches of male prisoners and watched
Here, in contrast, plaintiffs have not alleged that they were stripped naked at all. Neither have they alleged, in the claims pending against the City, that they were subject to regular and continuous surveillance by female officers. At worst, they allege they were required to remove their outer clothing in the presence of female officers and then were subject to video surveillance — possibly by female officers — while wearing only underwear and t-shirts. In comparison with the clearly more egregious conditions of confinement held to fall below the "minimal civilized measure of life's necessities," the instant alleged facts clearly fall short. See Somers, 109 F.3d at 623 (collecting cases).
Also distinguishable are the facts of Rushing v. Wayne County,
There is "a de minimus level of imposition with which the Constitution is not concerned." Ingraham, 430 U.S. at 674, 97 S.Ct. 1401; Tesch v. County of Green Lake,
V. DUE PROCESS UNDER MICHIGAN CONSTITUTION
In count VI of their complaints, plaintiffs allege the City is liable for violating their due process rights under the Michigan Constitution. The due process protections afforded by the Michigan Constitution are co-extensive with those afforded under the United States Constitution. American States Ins. Co. v. State of Michigan Department of Treasury,
For all the foregoing reasons, defendant City of Kalamazoo is entitled to judgment on the pleadings on all of plaintiffs' remaining claims. Plaintiffs have failed to allege facts which, even if proven, would entitle them to relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or under state law for violation of their constitutional rights to privacy and due process. A judgment order consistent with this opinion shall issue forthwith, awarding judgment to the City on all of plaintiffs' remaining claims against it.
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