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Case Name Swain v. Spinney JC-MA-0014
Docket / Court 1:95-cv-10765-GAO ( D. Mass. )
State/Territory Massachusetts
Case Type(s) Jail Conditions
Special Collection Strip Search Cases
Case Summary
On April 13, 1995, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 12, §§ 11H and 11I against police lieutenant, police officer, and the Town of North Reading in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Plaintiff, represented by ... read more >
On April 13, 1995, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 12, §§ 11H and 11I against police lieutenant, police officer, and the Town of North Reading in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Plaintiff, represented by private counsel, asked for compensatory and punitive damages, alleging that the officer's strip search, pursuant to the lieutenant's orders, violated her constitutional rights. Plaintiff alleged that the town had a policy of conscious indifference to the legal rights of arrestees.

On May 18, 1993, police stopped Plaintiff and her boyfriend for shoplifting. Police allegedly saw Plaintiff drop a bag of marijuana on the ground. Plaintiff was patted down, and then brought to the police station. An officer pat-frisked Plaintiff and found rolling papers. Defendant-Lieutenant tried to interrogate her. She refused to answer him, and the Lieutenant became angry. The Lieutenant then ordered Defendant-Officer to search Plaintiff. Plaintiff was strip searched and subjected to a visual body cavity search. Plaintiff's boyfriend was not strip-searched.

On July 5, 1996, the United States District Court (Judge George A. O'Toole, Jr.) granted summary judgment for Defendants. The court held: (1) the search was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment because an officer saw Plaintiff try to discard marijuana and found rolling papers in her purse, (2) Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity, and Defendant Lieutenant's subjective purpose in ordering Plaintiff's strip search was irrelevant to this inquiry, (3) search did not violate Massachusetts Declaration of Rights because this standard was the same as the federal standard, and (4) Plaintiff failed to show that the Town was deliberately indifferent to her rights. Swain v. Spinney, 932 F.Supp. 25 (D. Mass. 1996).

On June 25, 1997, the First Circuit Court of Appeals (Judges Sandra Lynch, Norman H. Stahl, and Hugh H. Bownes) affirmed summary judgment for the Town and reversed summary judgment for Defendant Officer and Lieutenant. The Court held: (1) A jury could find that Defendants did not have the required reasonable suspicion that Plaintiff concealed contraband in order to strip-search Plaintiff. (2) Issues of fact as to basis for search precluded summary judgment for Defendants Lieutenant and Officer. Defendant Lieutenant may have ordered the strip search in retaliation for Plaintiff not cooperating during her interrogation because Plaintiff was allowed to use the bathroom unobserved before being searched, Plaintiff's search was not justified by institutional security because she was the only person in her cell, and her boyfriend was not searched despite his criminal record. (3) Town was not liable under § 1983 for alleged failure to train police because the Town gave officers policy guidelines stating that they could only strip-search arrestees if they had probable cause to believe arrestee concealed contraband and a search warrant was required for a body cavity search. (4) Massachusetts search and seizure provision did not provide less protection than federal constitution. (5) Lieutenant's conduct could count as "intimidation" or "coercion" within meaning of Massachusetts civil rights statute.

Swain v. Spinney, 117 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 1997).

The case settled and was dismissed on September 19, 1997.

Shira Gordon - 03/31/2012

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Affected Gender
Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Unreasonable search and seizure
Strip search policy
Type of Facility
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Town of North Reading
Plaintiff Description Female arrestee strip-searched after being questioned as to her involvement in her boyfriend's shoplifting charges. She was also believed to have had marijuana. All charges against her were eventually dropped.
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Mixed
Public Int. Lawyer Unknown
Nature of Relief Unknown
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Voluntary Dismissal
Filed 04/13/1995
Case Closing Year 1997
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  See this case at (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Jail Strip-Search Cases: Patterns and Participants
Date: Spring 2008
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University in St. Louis Faculty)
Citation: 71 Law & Contemp. Problems 65 (2008)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
U.S. Court of Appeals
JC-MA-0014-9001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D. Mass.
JC-MA-0014-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
U.S. Court of Appeals
Brief of the Defendants-Appellees
JC-MA-0014-0001.pdf | Detail
D. Mass.
Memorandum and Order [ECF# 44] (932 F.Supp. 25)
JC-MA-0014-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
U.S. Court of Appeals
Appellant's Brief and Supplement
JC-MA-0014-0002.pdf | Detail
U.S. Court of Appeals
Appellate Decision (117 F.3d 1)
JC-MA-0014-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
show all people docs
Judges Bownes, Hugh Henry (D.N.H., First Circuit) show/hide docs
Lynch, Sandra Lea (First Circuit) show/hide docs
JC-MA-0014-0003 | JC-MA-0014-9001
O'Toole, George A. Jr. (D. Mass.) show/hide docs
JC-MA-0014-0004 | JC-MA-0014-9000
Selya, Bruce Marshall (FISCR, D.R.I., First Circuit) show/hide docs
Stahl, Norman H. (D.N.H., First Circuit) show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Casey, Michael Edward (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
JC-MA-0014-0002 | JC-MA-0014-0003
Tyler, Michael E. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
JC-MA-0014-0002 | JC-MA-0014-0003 | JC-MA-0014-0004 | JC-MA-0014-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Gilgun, Regina M. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
JC-MA-0014-0001 | JC-MA-0014-9001
Louison, Douglas I (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
JC-MA-0014-0001 | JC-MA-0014-0003 | JC-MA-0014-0004 | JC-MA-0014-9000 | JC-MA-0014-9001
Ryan, Regina M. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
JC-MA-0014-0003 | JC-MA-0014-0004 | JC-MA-0014-9000

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