Former Clinic Student Argues Case Before 8th Circuit

The Appellate Clinic recently argued a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit regarding Fourth Amendment standards for visual body cavity searches of civilly committed patients.

The case, Serna v. Goodno, was argued by Katherine H. Purdy, who was a member of the Appellate Clinic last spring and is now an associate at Husch Blackwell Sanders. Purdy and other clinic students briefed the case in spring 2008, under the supervision of Professor D. Bruce La Pierre and K. Lee Marshall, a partner at Bryan Cave.

On appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, the case was brought by Luis A. Serna, a patient in civil custody in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP). According to the brief, in October 2003, the MSOP indiscriminately subjected as many as 150 patients, including Serna, to visual body cavity searches due to a general suspicion that there was a cell phone somewhere in the facility. The clinic students argued that “under Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 (1979), visual body cavity searches of all persons in government custody—except limited categories of prisoners—must be justified by individual suspicion.”

Their brief further states that: “The district court’s decision granting summary judgment to the MSOP raises an important question whether visual body cavity searches of civilly committed patients must be grounded in a reasonable suspicion that the individual patient targeted for the search possesses contraband.”

In her oral argument, Purdy maintained that the search was highly intrusive and unconstitutional because the MSOP officials did not have any reasonable suspicion that her client possessed a cell phone or any other contraband.

 [View the brief]