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Supreme Court hears school strip search, timely appeal cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; briefs] in two cases. In Safford United School District No. 1 v. Redding [oral arguments transcript; JURIST report], the Court will consider whether the Fourth Amendment prohibits public school officials from conducting a strip search of a student suspected of possessing and distributing a prescription drug on campus in violation of school policy. The school district appealed a May 2008 decision [opinion, PDF] by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit finding that the student's Fourth Amendment rights were violated when school officials conducted a search of her undergarments based on the suspicion that she was carrying prescription-strength ibuprofen for recreational use. Relying on the Court's decision in New Jersey v. T.L.O [opinion], the Ninth Circuit found that the search was neither "justified at its inception" nor "reasonably related in scope to the circumstances," and that since the school officials were not entitled to qualified immunity because these principles were were clearly established at the time of the search. The school district, and the US as amicus curiae, argued that:

The search of Savana Redding in this case was constitutional because Mr. Wilson had reason to suspect that she possessed contraband which posed a health and safety risk. Therefore, searching any place where she might be reasonably hiding that contraband was constitutionally permissible
Counsel for the respondent argued that an intrusive search requires a particularized suspicion and that the search was unconstitutional because "there was no suspicion that these objects were going to be found inside Savana's undergarments."

In U.S. ex rel. Eisenstein v. City of New York [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the Court was asked to determine the time limit for filing an appeal in a case where the plaintiff sues on behalf of the US, but the government declines to intervene. Eisenstein and four other New York City employees sued the city in a qui tam action, alleging that the city violated the False Claims Act [text] by imposing a fee on non-resident city employees. Eisenstein filed an appeal with the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit 54 days after a district court dismissed the case for failure to state a claim. Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(1) [text] allows 30 days for parties in a civil suit to appeal generally, but extends the time limit to 60 days when the US is a party. The Second Circuit found [opinion, PDF] that the US was not a "party" in a qui tam case within the meaning of the rule when it chose not to intervene, and therefore the appeal was untimely. Eisenstein argued that "the government is a party in qui tam actions because it is named, served, and bound and a real party in interest, all without ever intervening or actively participating" and that the Court should reject any "participation-based test" when assessing the government's party status. The city argued that the US is clearly not a party to the suit until it intervenes, because it must file a motion to intervene after 60 days and intervention "is the method by which a person who is not a party becomes a party."

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