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 Home > Did Strip Search Violate Student's Privacy Rights? Supreme Court to Hear Safford United School District v. Redding (08-479)

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Did Strip Search Violate Student's Privacy Rights?
Safford United School District v. Redding (08-479)

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In October 2003, school officials at Safford School District strip-searched a 13-year-old girl after they received an uncorroborated "tip" from another student that the girl possessed "prescription strength" ibuprofen (i.e. two 200 mg tablets).

The child was an honor student who had no prior history of drug use or discipline problems. She was strip searched. No drugs were found.

Savana Redding's mother filed suit on her behalf.

In 2007, a divided three judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a motion for summary judgment on behalf of school officials in Redding v. Safford Unified School District #1, while noting that:

"Savana did not freely agree to this search. She was 'embarrassed and scared, but felt [she] would be in more trouble if [she] did not do what they asked.' In her affidavit, Savana described the experience as the most humiliating experience' of her short life, and felt 'violated by the strip search.'"

Savana and her mother requested the full Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to hear their case.

In a 6-5 en banc decision, the full Court reversed the earlier panel and found:

"On the basis of an uncorroborated tip from the culpable eighth grader, public middle school officials searched futilely for prescription-strength ibuprofen by strip-searching thirteen year-old honor student Savana Redding. We conclude that the school officials violated Savana’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The strip search of Savana was neither 'justified at its inception,' New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 341 (1985), nor, as a grossly intrusive
search of a middle school girl to locate pills with the potency of two over-the-counter Advil capsules, 'reasonably related in scope to the circumstances' giving rise to its initiation. Id."

"Because these constitutional principles were clearly established at the time that middle school officials directed and conducted the search, the school official in charge is not entitled to qualified immunity from suit for the unconstitutional strip search of Savana."

Safford United School District appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the school district's appeal. Safford Unified School District argued that the Ninth Circuit created a new rule that requires public school officials to have more evidence of illegal possession of drugs or weapons at school than an unproven tip from another student.

Questions Presented:

1. Whether the Fourth Amendment prohibits public school officials from conducting a search of a student suspected of possessing and distributing a prescription drug on campus in violation of school policy.

2. Whether the Ninth Circuit departed from established principles of qualified immunity in holding that a public school administrator may be liable in a damages lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for conducting a search of a student suspected of possessing and distributing a prescription drug on campus.

In general, the Supreme Court has not been sympathetic to the privacy rights of public school students, but the facts in this case are so egregious, this may affect their decision.

Decision On June 25, 2009, the United States Supreme Court held that the strip search did violate the Constitution but it wasn?t clear that the violation was established at the time of this incident.

The opinion is available at http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/caselaw/ussupct.safford.redding.pdf


Redding v. Safford United School District #1

URL: http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/caselaw/07/9th.redding.safford.az.pdf

Redding v. Safford United School District #2 (en banc)

URL: http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/caselaw/08/9th.redding.safford.enbanc.pdf

Supreme Court Docket Sheet: http://origin.www.supremecourtus.gov/docket/08-479.htm

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Created: 02/03/09

Revised: 00/00/00

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