Alabama high school student’s lawsuit over strip search can continue, federal court says

Published 10:12 pm Monday, February 7, 2022

A federal appeals court has revived a lawsuit brought by an Alabama student who said she was strip-searched at age 14 by school officials who suspected her of smoking marijuana.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday reversed the ruling of a district court that stated Lamar County school officials had qualified immunity. The latest ruling allows the civil lawsuit brought by the student and her mother to proceed against the school system and officials.

The lawsuit contends the then eighth-grade student at Sulligent High School was strip-searched twice in 2017 after a teacher smelled marijuana burning in the classroom, and administrators found marijuana stems, seeds and rolling paper in the girl’s backpack

No drugs were found on the student after the searches, and a teacher later found the remains of a marijuana cigarette under her desk the next day, according to the appellate court ruling. The student was identified as T.R. in court filings because of her age.

The appellate court said a district judge erred in granting judgment on favor of the school board. The ruling said school officials had no specific reason to think the student hid marijuana in her underwear and that they subjected her to the “categorically extreme intrusiveness of a search” of her body.

“Not only did they not have reasonable suspicion to strip search T.R. the first time, but the school officials also clearly had no basis to strip search T.R. a second time after the first search yielded nothing,” the appellate ruling stated.