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Illinois District Court strip-search case survives summary judgment attack

Plaintiff Angelina Cianfaglione's Fourth Amendment claim alleging an illegal seizure and arrest, excessive force, and an illegal strip and body cavity search that occurred incident to a traffic stop in Edgar County, Illinois has survived a summary judgment motion in U.S. District Court, in the Central District of Illinois, Urbana Division. Although Judge Michael P. McCuskey did dismiss the excessive force complaint and the illegal seizure count, the primary issue of whether there was reasonable suspicion to conduct a strip search of plaintiff for contraband, and also whether there as reasonable suspicion to conduct a body-cavity strip search survived.

In 2008, plaintiff was stopped by deputies Rogers and Burgin of the Edgar County, Illinois sheriff's office based upon a warrant that Assistant State's Attorney Allen A. Bell, Jr. stated was then in effect. After a search for contraband was unsuccessful, she was transported to the Edgar County jail, where, according to the decision, "she was ordered to strip off all of her clothes and bend over and touch her toes." Plaintiff alleged that her vagina was spread apart, and the deputy touched her buttocks, spreading her cheeks apart. No drugs were found, and plaintiff was permitted to bond out. Unfortunately, the warrant relied upon by Edgar County for the arrest was not signed until the day after the arrest.

In its defense, the defense cited the case of Fleming v. Livingston Cnty, 674 F.3d 874 (7th Cir. 2012), to claim qualified immunity "in a false-arrest claim when, if there is no probable cause, a reasonable officer could have mistakenly believed that probable cause existed." This reasonable belief was enough to shield the arresting officers from plaintiff's claim in this cause. The excessive force claim failed based upon various inconsistencies in plaintiff's statement of facts regarding the arrest.

The court had no such problem with the strip-search claim, finding that "Even if there was reasonable suspicion that Plaintiff had contraband on her person, the body cavity search that Plaintiff describes goes well beyond the permissible limits of a search based upon such suspicion." According to the Seventh Circuit, "we can think of few exercises of authority by the state that intrude on the citizen's privacy and dignity as severely as the visual anal and genital searches practiced here." Mary Beth G. v. City of Chicago, 723 F.2d 1263, 1272 (7th Cir. 1983). The court concluded, that "Plaintiff alleges that the intrusion she suffered was more invasive than a 'simple' visual body cavity search. Therefore, it is clear the alleged intrusion into Plaintiff's privacy and dignity would require a strong justification-one that has not been provided by the Defendants."

See: Cianfaglione v. Rogers, et al., 10-CV-02170, U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, Urbana Division, (2012).

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Related legal case

Cianfaglione v. Rogers, et al.