(CN) – The 6th Circuit ruled for a second time that a group of Ohio nursing students can sue the teachers who strip-searched them in a hunt for allegedly stolen cash and credit cards.
On remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Cincinnati-based appellate panel found that the high court’s 2009 decision in Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding does not alter a previous ruling that denied the teachers immunity.
Eleven nursing students sued the teachers and Pike County Joint Vocational School District after they were forced to lower their pants and unhook their bras. Some students were not wearing underwear, or were wearing thongs or “booty shorts” that exposed their buttocks, according to the ruling.
The students argued that the searches violated their Fourth Amendment rights because they were intrusive and lacked “individualized suspicion.”
The district court sided with the students, ruling that the teachers did not qualify for immunity because “the severity of the school system’s needs was slight” in that the teachers were looking for allegedly stolen money and credit cards, not drugs or weapons or other items that threatened school safety.
The three-judge appellate panel upheld the district court’s ruling, but the high court remanded the case “for further consideration in light of Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding.”
In that case, the Supreme Court, while “invalidating” the strip search of a female student in Arizona suspected of holding ibuprofen tablets, found that the officials were protected by qualified immunity because there was no “clearly established law finding unconstitutional the strip searching of students under materially similar circumstances from the Supreme Court.”
The 6th circuit, however, has had a “clearly established law” regarding student strip searches since 2005 in Beard v. Whitmore Lake School District, Judge Boyce Martin wrote.
“This circuit’s law on student strip searches was clearly established as early as 2005, when we published our opinion in Beard. We read Redding to affirm our constitutional holding in Beard,” Martin wrote. “Our circuit’s clearly established case law on this issue put the school and its employees on notice that this search was unconstitutional, so defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity protection.”