In the matter of Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington, Civil Action No. 05-3619, the United States District Court, District of New Jersey, addressed the issue of strip searches of non-indictable offenders.

Plaintiffs consisted of a certified class to include all arrestees charged with non-indictable offenses, which were processed at Burlington County Jail and/or the Essex County Correctional Facility and were strip searched without a reasonable belief that they were concealing contraband, drugs, or weapons. Defendants were the Board of Chosen Freeholders of Burlington County, Burlington County Jail, Warden Juel Cole, Essex County Correctional Facility, Essex County Sheriff’s Department, and several John Does.

Plaintiffs sought summary judgment on the issue of whether Defendants violated Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights by their policy of strip searching non-indictable arrestees without reasonable suspicion. Plaintiffs also sought injunctive relief on behalf of the class against the correctional facilities’ strip search policies.

In response, Defendants also sought summary judgment as to whether the strip searches were constitutional. In addition, Defendants sought summary judgment on the following issues: (1) 11th Amendment immunity for the Board of Chosen Freeholders of Burlington County, Burlington County Jail, and Warden Cole in his official capacity; (2) qualified immunity for Warden Cole in his individual capacity; and (3) the dismissal of count five involving section 1983 municipality custom violations regarding Essex County.

The District Court held that blanket strip searches of non-indictable offenders, performed without reasonable suspicion for drugs, weapons or other contraband are unconstitutional. Specifically, the Court indicated that the search policies at Burlington and Essex County jails do not pass constitutional muster under the balancing test set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Bell v. Wolfish. The Court also determined the justification for the blanket policy is not compelling, where it is based on general security concerns and health concerns, as nothing prohibits jail officials from searching non-indictable offenders, assuming they have reasonable suspicion to do so.  

Based upon its finding that blanket strip searches of non-indictable offenders, performed without reasonable suspicion for drugs, weapons or other contraband, are unconstitutional, the Court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment. As to a remedy, the Court denied Plaintiffs’ motion for injunctive relief on account of a lack of standing, since Plaintiffs have failed to show irreparable harm in that they are unlikely to be subjected to strip searches in the future. 

Lastly, the Court denied Defendants’ Motion to dismiss in its entirety. The Court found Defendants’ arguments and factual averments are too scant to support a finding of 11th Amendment immunity and Plaintiffs’ factual allegations regarding municipal liability under section 1983 sufficiently complied with pleading requirements under Federal rules. Finally, the Court determined Warden Cole was not entitled to qualified immunity since a constitutional violation was present and Warden Cole ought to have been put on notice that the strip search policy was unconstitutional.

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Photo of Frank M. Crivelli Frank M. Crivelli

Frank M. Crivelli’s practice revolves around the representation of over eighty-five (85) labor unions in various capacities, the majority of which bargain for law enforcement entities. He is proud to be called on a daily basis to provide counsel to over 12,000 state…

Frank M. Crivelli’s practice revolves around the representation of over eighty-five (85) labor unions in various capacities, the majority of which bargain for law enforcement entities. He is proud to be called on a daily basis to provide counsel to over 12,000 state, county and local law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMS workers.

Mr. Crivelli specializes his individual practice in collective negotiations.  Over the past twenty (20) years, Mr. Crivelli has negotiated well over one hundred (100) collective bargaining agreements for various state, county, municipal and private organizations and has resolved over thirty-five (35) labor agreements that have reached impasse through compulsory interest arbitration.  Mr. Crivelli routinely litigates matters in front of the New Jersey State Public Employment Relations Commission, the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law, third party neutrals for mediation, grievance and interest arbitration, the Superior Court of New Jersey and the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Mr. Crivelli founded and created the New Jersey Public Safety Officers Law Blog (www.njpublicsafetyofficers.com) approximately fifteen (15) years ago where he and members of his firm routinely publish blog posts regarding legal issues related to the employment of New Jersey Public Safety Officers.  The blog now contains over six hundred (600) articles and is reviewed and relied upon by thousands of public employees.  Mr. Crivelli has also published books and manuals pertaining to New Jersey Public Employee Disability Pension Appeals and the New Jersey Worker’s Compensation System. Currently, he is drafting a publication on how to Prepare and Negotiate a Collective Bargaining Agreement.  He lectures annually at the New Jersey State PBA Collective Bargaining Seminar, the National Association of Police Organization’s Legal Seminar, the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission Seminar on Public Employment Labor Law, the United States Marine Corps’ Commander’s Media Training Symposium and to Union Executive Boards and General Membership bodies on various labor related topics.

Prior to entering private practice, Mr. Crivelli joined the United States Marine Corps where he served as a Judge Advocate with the Legal Services Support Section of the First Force Services Support Group in Camp Pendleton, California.  While serving in the Marine Corps, Mr. Crivelli defended and prosecuted hundreds of Special and General Court Martial cases and administrative separation matters.  In addition to his trial duties, Mr. Crivelli was also charged with the responsibility of training various Marine and Naval combat command elements on the interpretation and implementation of the rules of engagement for various military conflicts that were ongoing throughout the world at that time. After leaving active duty, Mr. Crivelli remained in the Marine Corps Reserves where he was promoted to the rank of Major before leaving the service.

For the past fifteen (15) years, Mr. Crivelli has been certified as a Civil Trial Attorney by the Supreme Court for the State of New Jersey, a certification which less than two percent (2%) of the attorneys in New Jersey have achieved.  He is a graduate of Washington College (B.A.), the City University of New York School of Law (J.D.), the United States Naval Justice School, and the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation.