Safford Unified School District v. Redding

PETITIONER: Safford Unified School District #1, et al.
RESPONDENT: April Redding
LOCATION: Safford Middle School

DOCKET NO.: 08-479
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 557 US (2009)
GRANTED: Jan 16, 2009
ARGUED: Apr 21, 2009
DECIDED: Jun 25, 2009

ADVOCATES:
Adam B. Wolf - argued the cause for the respondent
David O'Neil - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae
Matthew W. Wright - argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

Savana Redding, an eighth grader at Safford Middle School, was strip-searched by school officials on the basis of a tip by another student that Ms. Redding might have ibuprofen on her person in violation of school policy. Ms. Redding subsequently filed suit against the school district and the school officials responsible for the search in the District Court for the District of Arizona. She alleged her Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure was violated. The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case. On the initial appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. However, on rehearing before the entire court, the court of appeals held that Ms. Redding's Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure was violated. It reasoned that the strip search was not justified nor was the scope of intrusion reasonably related to the circumstances.

Question

1) Does the Fourth Amendment prohibit school officials from strip searching students suspected of possessing drugs in violation of school policy?

2) Are school officials individually liable for damages in a lawsuit filed under 42 U.S.C Section 1983?

Media for Safford Unified School District v. Redding

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 21, 2009 in Safford Unified School District v. Redding

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 25, 2009 in Safford Unified School District v. Redding

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Souter has our opinion this morning in case 08-479, Safford Unified School District versus Redding.

David H. Souter:

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Savana Redding, a 13-year old student at Safford Middle School was identified by a fellow student as having brought forbidden prescription and over-the-counter drugs to school.

Savana was called into the assistant principal's office and confronted with the accusation.

She denied it and agreed to a search of her backpack.

No pills were found.

She was then taken to the school nurse's office where the nurse and an administrator asked her to remove her clothes and pull her bra and underpants away from her body an action that necessarily exposed her breast and pelvic area to some degree.

Again, no pills were found.

Savana's mother alleged that Savana have been subjected to a strip search in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights and filed suit against the school district and various officials including the assistant principal, named Kerry Wilson.

The Ninth Circuit sitting en banc hold that the strip search was unjustified under the Fourth Amendment test for searches of children by school officials set out by this Court in New Jersey against T.L.O.

The en banc court also found that Savana's right was clearly established at the time of the search and therefore denied Assistant Principal Wilson any qualified immunity.

We now affirm in part, reverse in part and remand.

In T.L.O. we applied the standard of reasonable suspicion to determine the legality of the school administrated search of a student and held that a school search and these were our words, will be permissible in its scope when the measures adopted are reasonably related to the objectives of the search and are not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction.

In this case, the record demonstrates that Wilson had sufficient suspicion that Savana was giving out contraband pills to justify a search of her backpack and outer clothing, but given both subjective and reasonable societal expectations of personal privacy, the further search of Savana's body fairly described as a strip search must be treated as categorically distinct from a search of belongings or outer clothing it therefore requires distinct elements of justification on the part of school authorities.

Here, Wilson had no indication of danger to the students from the power of the drugs or their quantity or any reason to suppose that Savana was carrying these pills in her underwear.

Given these deficiencies we conclude that the search was unreasonable.

T.L.O. directed school officials to limit the intrusiveness of a search in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction.

It is clear to me that under the T.L.O. test the intrusiveness of the strip search here cannot be seen as justifiably related to the circumstances.

But judges of various District Courts and Courts of Appeals have reached divergent conclusions about how the T.L.O. standard applies to such searches as this one.

These differences of opinion are numerous and well-reasoned enough to counsel doubt that we were sufficiently clear in the prior statement of law.

We therefore conclude that qualified immunity is warranted for the school officials in this case.

Our conclusions do not resolve the question of the liability of the school district and we remanded to the Ninth Circuit to address that issue.

Justice Stevens has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part in which Justice Ginsburg has joined.

Justice Ginsburg has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

And Justice Thomas has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part.