Saturday, January 6, 2007

Jones v. Murphy (Maryland U.S.D.C.)

Signed January 4, 2007 -- Memorandum and Order by Judge Catherine C. Blake.

This case involves a proposed class action suit brought on behalf of eight named plaintiffs, bringing constitutional claims (Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment) against the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore ("City") and the Baltimore Police Department ("BPD") (collectively the "City defendants") and current and former wardens ("Wardens") of the Central Booking and Intake Center ("CBIC") (collectively the "State defendants") for alleged mistreatment (strip searches and "over detention") of people arrested and taken to CBIC for booking and processing. Motions before the court were the City defendants' motion to dismiss, the State defendants' motion to dismiss or for summary judgment, and the plaintiffs' motion to deny the State defendants' motion for summary judgment or alternatively to permit discovery. The motions were considered on the briefs without a hearing.

The plaintiffs proposed five classes: 1) suspicionless strip search class, 2) non-private strip search class, 3) equal protection strip search class (males searched, females not), 4) underwear strip search class (males searched, females not), and 5) over detention class (held unreasonable time before presentment). The plaintiffs' theories were that the CBIC has both a policy and practice of unconstitutional strip searches and over detentions, that the State defendants were liable for establishing and being indifferent to those policies and practices, and that the City defendants, knowing of such unconstitutional policies and practices, continued to transport arrestees to CBIC rather than seek alternative dispositions.

For the consideration of the Rule 12(b)(6) motions, the judge accepted the plaintiffs' factual allegations as true, testing instead the legal sufficiency of the plaintiffs' claims. The judge had little difficulty finding that both the strip search and over detention claims against the State defendants were not subject to dismissal, and had little more difficulty rejecting the challenge to the claims against the Wardens based on a lack of supervisor liability or qualified immunity, or the plaintiffs' standing to obtain injunctive and declaratory relief. Claims against one of the Wardens were dismissed, though, since none of the currently named plaintiffs was detained during his tenure.

By contrast, the City defendants fared much better. The judge found that the plaintiffs in effect sought to bring claims against the City defendants under the theory of "entrustment liability," which has neither been adopted nor rejected in the Fourth Circuit, though it has been adopted in other circuits. Where adopted, entrustment liability can be imposed when a municipal body maintains a policy of entrusting arrestees to a jail with knowledge of the unconstitutional treatment those persons will face upon their confinement. The judge found it unnecessary to consider the entrustment liability claim, though, since to impose entrustment liability, the charged party must have had the authority to choose an alternate facility. Here, the City defendants had no choice, since they were not legally permitted to maintain their own facility, and the possibility of alternative dispositions (such as by citation) did not track against the proposed groups, and even if it did, would involve unwarranted judicial assessment of discretionary law enforcement. Thus, the judge found it unnecessary to consider the validity of an entrustment liability claim under Fourth Circuit law.

The full opinion is available in PDF.

No comments: