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Hicks v. Corrections Corp. of America

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Alexandria Division

June 9, 2015

JAMES HOUSTON HICKS,
v.
CORRECTIONS CORP. OF AMERICA, ET AL

MEMORANDUM RULING

JAMES T. TRIMBLE, Jr., District Judge.

The above-captioned civil rights suit was tried before the undersigned April 6-7, 2015. Following the trial, the court issued an Order instructing the parties to submit post-trial briefs for consideration.[1] Having received all such briefs, the court finds the issues ripe for decision.

I. PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS

Plaintiff, James Houston Hicks, was among a group of ten (10) original plaintiffs to file suit against Corrections Corporation of America, Inc. ("CCA"), the Insurance Company of Corrections Corporation of America, LLC, Ronald Honeycutt, Mr. Langley, Ms. Becky Dugan, Ms. Carol Melton, Mr. Bobby Sanders, Sgt. Flowers, Mr. James LeBlanc, Warden Tim Wilkinson, Warden Jay Morgan, Mr. McGloughlin, Chief Virgil Lucas, Assistant Chief Tommy Glover and Mr. Johnny Smith (collectively "Defendants").[2] The ten (10) plaintiffs' claims were severed into individual civil suits.[3]

Plaintiff's complaint alleges that he was subjected to strip searches in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights while incarcerated at Winn Correctional Center ("Winn"). Winn is located in Winnfield, Louisiana and is operated by Corrections Corporation of America, Inc. ("CCA") under a contract between CCA and the Louisiana Department of Corrections.[4] Plaintiff's suit alleges, more specifically, that he was assigned to work at the Prison Enterprises Garment Center ("PE Garment Factory") and that, because of that duty status, he was subjected to at least two (2) strip searches per day under conditions which failed to meet the requirements imposed by applicable DOC regulation and also constituted an unreasonable search and seizure under the U.S. Constitution. Defendants admit that strip searches are conducted at the PE Garment Factory, but denied violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment by such practice.

We review the evidence presented below.

II. ANALYSIS

Elements of a Fourth Amendment Strip Search Claim

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, made applicable to the States via the Fourteenth Amendment, protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures.[5] While prisoners do not forfeit the whole of their civil rights upon incarceration, the United States Supreme Court and the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals have acknowledged that prisoners retain only a small vestige of their Fourth Amendment rights as incarcerated persons.[6] This is so because the individual right of the prisoner must give way to the legitimate goals and policies of our penal system.[7] Among the most important considerations in any penal institution are the goals of safety and security.[8]

Strip searches are not per se unconstitutional, but must be "reasonably related to legitimate penological interests."[9] The court will defer to the judgment of correctional officials unless the record contains "substantial evidence" that the policy at issue is unnecessary or unjustified in response to concerns of jail security.[10] In assessing whether or not the policy at issue is "reasonable" under the standard, the court should consider the following factors:

(1) whether or not the regulation or, as here, policy, has a "valid, rational" connection to the governmental interest put forth to justify it;
(2) whether the inmate has alternative methods for exercising the right asserted;
(3) what impact the accommodation would have on other inmates or prison staff; and
(4) the existence of easy, rather than hard, alternatives demonstrated by the plaintiff, which show that the policy is an exaggerated ...

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