Parkell v. Danberg, 833 F.3d 313 (3d Cir. 2016)

2016

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit appointed Pashman Stein Walder Hayden attorney Brendan Walsh as pro bono counsel for Donald D. Parkell, an inmate housed in a Delaware prison, in his appeal from the lower court’s dismissal of his Eighth Amendment claims against various correctional officers and medical contract service providers. The Third Circuit specifically addressed whether the prison violated Parkell’s constitutional rights when it subjected him to strip searches three times a day, “visually inspecting his anus and genitals while he ‘was forced to squat naked and cough loudly.’”

In a precedential decision, the Third Circuit reversed the lower court and remanded the matter for further proceedings, holding that the strip search policy “is not reasonably related to [the prison’s] legitimate interests in detecting and deterring contraband” because “the probability is vanishingly small that an inmate locked in a stripped-down isolation cell . . . once searched, could then obtain contraband during a subsequent eight-hour period involving no human contact.” Ultimately, the court held the search policy “sweeps too broadly with insufficient justification,” adding that the prison’s “security interests are not reasonably advanced by a blanket policy of frequently and intrusively searching inmates who have previously been thoroughly searched and held in a stripped-down isolation cell without human contact ever since.”

Notwithstanding its decision that the prison’s policy violated Mr. Parkell’s Fourth Amendment rights, the Court affirmed the dismissal of Mr. Parkell’s claims for money damages relating to the search policy, holding that he had failed to marshal sufficient evidence that the defendants he named in the lawsuit had sufficient personal involvement in the establishment of the policy, practice, or custom in C-Building. Nevertheless, Walsh explained that the Third Circuit’s strong decision “would effectively end the practice of thrice daily strip searches of isolation inmates and may open the door for further civil rights litigation by other inmates subjected to the policy.”

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