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Smart v. Taylor

March 19, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge



Pro se plaintiff, Salahuddin F. Smart, brought claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that defendants violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they performed a body cavity search on his person when he reentered the Camden County Correctional Facility ("CCCF"). Subsequent to filing his amended complaint on June 8, 2006, plaintiff filed approximately nine documents entitled "ajudicative facts," two "affidavits," a "supplemental brief" and a post card (collectively "plaintiff's supplemental filings").*fn1 Based on plaintiff's amended complaint and supplemental filings, it appears that on March 17, 2005,*fn2 plaintiff was a pretrial detainee and attended a bail hearing before the New Jersey Superior Court in the Camden County Hall of Justice (hereinafter "courthouse"). Although the facts are not entirely clear, it appears that plaintiff was stripped searched before the hearing on March 17, 2005, and again upon reentering the CCCF after the hearing concluded.*fn3 Plaintiff does not contest the first strip search, but does allege that the second search was a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Plaintiff alleges that during the second strip search he was stripped naked and a "body cavity" search was performed on his person. Plaintiff alleges that no reasonable suspicion existed to search him because he was "shackled" and in the custody of the Sheriff's Department while attending the hearing at the courthouse which is connected by a tunnel to the CCCF and, therefore, he was never "outside" of the building to warrant a search upon re-entry to the CCCF. In addition to his § 1983 action, plaintiff alleges that he has suffered from "intentional emotional pain" by defendants in violation of state law.*fn4

Before the Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment, plaintiff's cross motion for partial summary judgment, and plaintiff's emergency motion. We address each in turn.


This Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 over plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action for violation of his federal constitutional rights. We exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claim of "intentional emotional pain" pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.


A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "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." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.

An issue is "genuine" if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence "is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Marino v. Industrial Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004)(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. A party opposing summary judgment must do more than just rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or vague statements. Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001). If review of cross-motions for summary judgment reveals no genuine issue of material fact, then judgment may be entered in favor of the party deserving of judgment in light of the law and undisputed facts. See Iberia Foods Corp. v. Romeo Jr., 150 F.3d 298, 302 (3d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted).

B. Qualified Immunity

Since the correctional facility and the sheriff's department were dismissed,*fn5 the two remaining defendants are the Warden, Eric M. Taylor, and John Doe, a CCCF Officer.*fn6 Following the liberal pleading rules applicable to pro se plaintiffs, see Estelle, 429 U.S. at 107, it appears that plaintiff has sued the two individual defendants in their official and individual capacity.

These individual defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity. Deciding whether local officials are entitled to qualified immunity is a two-step process. First, it must be determined whether a constitutional right would have been violated on the facts alleged. Doe v. Groody, 361 F.3d 232, 238 (3d Cir. 2004)(citations omitted). Second, if a constitutional violation did occur, it must be determined whether the right was "clearly established" at the time so that the official would have had fair notice that his conduct was unlawful. Id. The test is whether the official's conduct was reasonable at the time. Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 198 (2004)(stating that "... whether the officer had fair notice that her conduct was unlawful, reasonableness is judged against the backdrop of the law at the time of the conduct). The inquiry is objective and is taken "in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general proposition." Id. (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 201 (2001).

1. Constitutional Violation

Plaintiff alleges that defendants violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches when he was subject to a body cavity search upon his re-entry to the CCCF. Defendants state that no violation occurred because such searches are reasonable and also in compliance with New Jersey regulations permitting searches upon entry to the correctional facility after leaving for any reason.

The Supreme Court in Bell v. Wolfish 441 U.S. 520 (1979) examined whether strip searches of pretrial detainees were constitutional. The Supreme Court recognized that the government has a legitimate interest in maintaining security at its facilities and making sure that no drugs or weapons come inside the facility. Id. at 540. In determining whether a search of a pretrial detainee rises to the level of a constitutional violation, the Supreme Court explained that the inquiry "... requires a balancing of the need for the particular search against the invasion of personal rights that the search entails." Id. at 559. "Courts must consider the scope of the particular intrusion, the manner in which it is conducted, the justification for initiating it, and the place in which it is conducted." Id. (citations omitted). The Supreme Court held that a visual cavity inspection could be conducted upon less than probable cause. Id. at 560. The Supreme Court, however, also recognized that even ...

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