Ohio middle school student’s suit claims she was subjected to strip search for over-the-counter ibuprofen
Courthouse News Service reports that a female student identified as C claims in a law suit filed in state court that Ridgeview Middle School Principal Sharee Wells subjected her to a strip search because the principal believed C had over-the-counter ibuprofen. According to the suit, a classmate tried to give C an ibuprofen tablet, but she refused to take it. C then went to gym class where the gym teacher instructed her to go to the gym locker room. Upon arriving at the locker room, C was confronted by Principal Wells. Wells informed C that she had been told that C had possession of unauthorized medication.
The suit charges: “Wells then forced [C] to undergo a physical pat down, which revealed absolutely no unauthorized medication or any medication whatsoever. The pat down consisted of Wells physically touching the student’s legs and shorts. Wells then ordered [C] to strip out of her gym clothes and provide Wells with both her gym clothes and school clothes.” It points out that ”[C] complied, and in complying was required to strip down to only her bra, underwear and socks.”
The mother’s complaint contends that, despite clear evidence that C did not possess ibuprofen, she was suspended for three days. The complaint asserts, “Wells stated they wanted to use [C] as an ‘example.’” The mother says that when she met with the principal on the second day of C’s suspension, Wells “refused to discuss what information she had which prompted her to perform the search of [C] or from whom she obtained the information. Wells also admitted taking [C] into the gym by herself and that she patted [C] down (but found no drugs) prior to conducting the strip search.” The suit is seeking punitive damages for emotional distress, illegal search and seizure, and negligence.
Source: Courthouse News Service, 2/28/11, By Kevin Koeninger
[Editor's Note: In May 2010, a three-judge panel of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (MI, OH, KY, TN) ruled unanimously that high school officials who conducted a strip search of students, looking for missing cash, a credit card and other items of monetary value, were not entitled qualified immunity from the students’ suit alleging violations of their Fourth Amendment rights. The panel's unpublished opinion relied on Beard v. Whitmore Lake School District, 402 F.3d 598 (6th Cir. 2005), a factually similar case, to find that a strip search under the circumstances of the present case was unconstitutional and the right to be free from such searches was clearly established. A summary of the Sixth Circuit panel's opinion is available at the first link below.
The Sixth Circuit panel noted that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding, 557 U.S. ___, 129 S. Ct. 2633 (2009), that a strip search of a student by school officials looking for ibuprofen tablets violated her constitutional rights. The Court found, however, that school officials were entitled to qualified immunity from the suit because: (1) there was no clearly established precedent from the Supreme Court finding unconstitutional the strip searching of students under materially similar circumstances; and (2) the appellate courts that had ruled in factually similar circumstances were not in concert. A summary of the Redding opinion is available at the second link below.]