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BRADLEY v. U.S.

September 10, 2001

YVETTE BRADLEY
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nicholas H. Politan, U.S.D.J.

      This matter comes before the Court on a motion to dismiss and/or for summary judgment by Defendants. Oral argument was heard on July 23, 2001. Thereafter, the parties submitted supplemental briefs addressing whether the Court could hold an evidentiary hearing for purposes of determining whether qualified immunity shielded Defendants from liability. The Court declines to hold such a hearing, and will now decide the pending motion.

The Court will treat this as a summary judgment motion because material beyond the pleadings has been considered. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b); 56.*fn1

STATEMENT OF FACTS

On April 5, 1999, Plaintiff, Yvette Bradley, ("Plaintiff") was returning from a vacation in Jamaica when she was stopped United States Customs Inspectors at Newark International Airport. Plaintiff was singled out for a luggage search, subjected to a pat down search, and ultimately released by Customs officers. No contraband was found on Plaintiff's person.

Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on May 12, 2000 against the United States of America, the United States Customs Service and certain agents thereof. An Amended Complaint was filed on February 6, 2001 naming three individual Customs inspectors as defendants. The gravamen of Plaintiff's Complaint is that she was discriminated against when she was selected for a search, claiming that the reason she was selected is because she is a black woman. Plaintiff further claims that the search was unreasonably intrusive and invaded Plaintiff's privacy rights.

Defendants contend that Plaintiff was initially selected for a luggage search because, based on their observations, suspicions were raised. Defendants claim that Plaintiff was wearing an unusual hat under which drugs could be secreted, was wearing clothing which appeared too heavy considering she had just come from a warm climate, and the country from which Plaintiff had just arrived, Jamaica, is a known source country for narcotics. While the parties disagree on whether Plaintiff's dress was loose-fitting or snug, it is undisputed that Plaintiff was wearing a long dress with a jacket over it, was wearing an unusual hat, and was not wearing underwear.

Plaintiff alleges in the Amended Complaint that the Customs Officer who initially selected Plaintiff for a luggage search was Defendant Officer Anthony Scaringella ("Scaringella"). Defendants deny this, contending that it was not Scaringella who initially selected Plaintiff for the search, but that Plaintiff was sent to Scaringella's belt by another officer, and Scaringella performed the luggage inspection. Plaintiff's brief in opposition to this motion appears to concede that in fact it was not Scaringella who initially selected Plaintiff for further inspection. Defendants have submitted sworn statements indicating that Plaintiff was belligerent and hostile throughout the luggage search, using profanity throughout. Scaringella Decl., ¶¶ 10-14, Townes Decl., ¶¶ 3-7. After Scaringella searched Plaintiff's suitcase, backpack, and purse, he instructed Plaintiff to follow two female officers, Defendants Jacqueline Castleberry ("Castleberry") and Michelle Mazzarulli Quinlan ("Mazzarulli")*fn2 into a small room. Scaringella testifies that his suspicions were raised based on Plaintiff's hostile behavior. Scaringella Decl., ¶ 14.

Plaintiff contends that inside of this room she was subjected to an "abusive" "involuntary non-routine personal search." Am. Compl., ¶ 27. Plaintiff was first told to remove her shoes, and no illegal material was found inside. Plaintiff was then told to remove her jacket and to stand against the wall with her legs spread apart and her palms to the wall. Id.

Then, Plaintiff asserts, either Mazzarulli or Castleberry approached Plaintiff from behind and through her "sheer slip dress, proceeded to slowly rub her hands all over and beyond the surface of Ms. Bradley's entire body, including her breasts and the inner and outer labia of her vagina, completely disregarding the fact that it was apparent there were no underwear or contraband under Ms. Bradley's dress." Am. Compl., ¶ 27. The declarations of Castleberry and Mazzarulli suggest that it was Mazzarulli who conducted the pat down search. Castleberry Decl., ¶ 12; Mazzarulli Decl., ¶ 16. Plaintiff appears to accept this fact as true. Bradley Aff., ¶¶ 25, 26, 28.

When the search concluded, Plaintiff immediately filed a complaint with Defendant Robert Lucania, the Customs Supervisory Inspector on duty on the evening of April 5, 1999. Plaintiff indicates that the total course of events, including the subsequent filing of a complaint, lasted forty-five minutes. Bradley Aff., ¶ 34.*fn3 The following day, Plaintiff contacted Defendant Ricardo Bowen, the Passenger Service Representative of Customs at Newark Airport, and again lodged a complaint and requested the badge numbers for all Customs officers involved in the April 5th selection and search. Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Bowen later notified Plaintiff that his investigation revealed that the reason Plaintiff was initially chosen for a search was because of the unusual hat she was wearing. Am. Compl., ¶ 31. Plaintiff contends that this could not have been the true reason for the search because a group of young white male individuals who were wearing baseball caps were not selected by Customs officers for a search. Id., ¶ 32.

Plaintiff further contends that black women are disproportionately selected and searched by Customs officers on the basis of their race and gender and that the United States Customs Service has a custom and policy of promoting such behavior. Id., ¶ 40. The Complaint speaks generally of a class of black women and avers that there is a pattern amongst Customs officials in disproportionately selecting black women for searches. This case, however, has not been pled nor certified as a class action. Yvette Bradley is the sole Plaintiff.

Plaintiff alleges that Mazzarulli, Castleberry, and Scaringella acted unlawfully in subjecting Plaintiff to a search without the requisite suspicion, and that she was held incommunicado. Id., ¶¶ 49, 50. Plaintiff also specifically claims that Defendants Raymond W. Kelly, Samuel H. Banks, Charles Winwood, Ricardo Bowen, Kathleen Haage, and Robert Lucania (all agents of the U.S. Customs Service) in their official capacity:

(a) improperly authorized, encouraged or directed Customs Inspectors to engage in non-routine personal searches, or condoned such searches, based on race and gender, which are unduly invasive and without sufficient legal basis;
(b) recklessly allowed Customs Inspectors at Newark to conduct non-routine searches without independent evaluation by a Supervisor of whether a search was necessary and appropriate, thereby violating Customs' own internal rules;
(c) failed to properly train and instruct Customs Inspectors to prevent race and gender from influencing the selection of persons to be examined or searched; and
(d) failed to properly supervise and exercise reasonable control over Customs Inspectors at Newark Airport to prevent discrimination in the selection of passengers for examination and searches and to prevent excessively intrusive searches.

Id., ¶ 51. Plaintiff maintains that as a result of her experience with Customs officers on April 5, 1999, she has suffered extreme emotional distress, mental anguish, humiliation, shame, embarrassment, and loss of personal integrity and dignity. Id., ¶ 52.

Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to make out a prima facie case for each of the claims in the Amended Complaint. Defendants Scaringella, Mazzarulli, and Castleberry further argue that, even assuming the facts as alleged by Plaintiff were true, they are entitled to qualified immunity from suit.

DISCUSSION

A. Standard Governing Motion for Summary Judgment

All Defendants move for summary judgment on all claims alleged. The standard governing a summary judgment motion is set forth in Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), which provides, in pertinent part, that:

[t]he judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.

Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty ...


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