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Engeseth v. County of Isanti: US District Court :1983 - fact Questions regarding county jail strip searches bar summary judgment; class certified

1
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA
Gregory Adam Engeseth, individually
and on behalf of all others similarly situated,
Plaintiff,
v. MEMORANDUM OPINION
AND ORDER
Civil No. 06-2410
The County of Isanti, Minnesota
and Sheriff Michael Ammend, individually
and in his capacity as Sheriff of Isanti
County,
Defendants.
______________________________________________________________
Vincent J. Moccio, Laura M. Provinzino and Katherine S. Wiik, Robins,
Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P. for and on behalf of Plaintiff.
Jon K. Iverson and Pam J.F. Whitmore, Iverson Reuvers for and on behalf
of Defendants.
______________________________________________________________
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs Motions for Class Certification
and for Summary Judgment, and Defendants Motion for Summary Judgment.
______________________________________________________________
FACTUAL BACKGROUND
1. Plaintiffs Arrest
On or about the evening of September 19, 2002, Plaintiff was pulled over
2
while driving south on Highway 65 in Isanti County. Plaintiff Dep. p. 11. He
was given a field sobriety test, arrested on the charge of gross misdemeanor
driving under the influence, and placed in the back of a squad car. Id. Plaintiff
testified that he was scared to go to jail, so while he was sitting in the back of
the squad car, he offered to the officer information regarding wanted people or
some drug dealers. Id. p. 14. The officer told Plaintiff that someone would talk
to him about his information when they got to the jail. Id.
At the Isanti County Jail, Plaintiff was asked some general background
questions, and asked to empty his pockets. Id. p. 17. He was then put into a jail
cell. Id. A short time later, an officer entered Plaintiffs cell holding jail clothes,
and told Plaintiff to remove his clothes. Id. The officer then looked into
Plaintiffs mouth, behind his ears and made Plaintiff lift his genitals so the officer
could look underneath. Id. p. 19. Plaintiff was then asked to bend over and
spread his buttocks and cough. Id. After the strip search, Plaintiff was told to
put on the jail clothes. Id.
A short while later, Plaintiff was brought to a room to speak with an
investigator. Id. p. 21. During this interview, Plaintiff told the investigator that
he knew people who did drug deals. The investigator asked Plaintiff if would
participate in a controlled buy, and the Plaintiff responded that he didnt know.
Id. p. 23.
3
2. Isanti County Jail Intake Policies and Procedures - Pre 2003
The Isanti County Jail Intake Policies and Procedures (the Policy
Manual) in place at the time of Plaintiffs arrest included Booking Procedure
Steps I and II. Moccio Aff., Ex. A. Pursuant to Step II (6):
If it is unknown that a prisoner will be spending more than six hours in
jail, or is moved from holding cell to the general population of the facility,
he shall be bathed, searched, and given jail clothing.
Id. p. 4.
The next section of the Policy Manual is entitled Searches. This section
provides for the manner in which searches of inmates during the booking
process will be conducted. Id. p. 5. Pursuant to section (2), Prisoners charged
with a gross misdemeanor or Felony and all sentenced prisoners will be given a
strip search during booking. Id. Section (3) provides that prisoners charged
with petty misdemeanor, misdemeanor or ordered to jail because of civil
detention will be given a modified strip search - only outer clothing is to be
removed. Id. The Policy Manual further provides that:
any prisoner, regardless of the charge, may be given a full strip search if
the arresting officer or jailor has a suspicion that the individual prisoner is
concealing an item of contraband. If a prisoner who would normally
receive a modified strip search is given a full strip search, the reason for
the deviation from normal procedures will be documented and placed in
the prisoners file.
Id. p. 6.
4
In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was subjected to a strip search
pursuant to Isanti County policy, custom or practice to strip search any gross
misdemeanor arrestees, without probable cause, reasonable belief or
individualized reason to believe or suspect Plaintiff was in possession of
contraband or weaponry. Complaint 21. As such, the strip search violated the
Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibition against unreasonable searches.
Id. Plaintiff further alleges that Isanti County failed to properly train the jailers
regarding the constitutional parameters concerning strip searches, and failed to
intercede or alter the strip search policy concerning gross misdemeanor
arrestees. Id. 24. Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983.
STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Summary judgment is appropriate if, viewing all facts in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue as to any material
fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R.
Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The party
seeking summary judgment bears the burden of showing that there is no
disputed issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Summary judgment is
only appropriate when there is no dispute of fact and where there exists only
one conclusion. Crawford v. Runyon, 37 F.3d 1338, 1341 (8th Cir. 1994)
(citation omitted). The party opposing summary judgment may not rest upon
5
mere allegations or denials, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is
a genuine issue for trial. Krenik v. County of Le Sueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th
Cir.1995).
ANALYSIS
Before the Court are cross motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff
moves for summary judgment on three grounds: 1) that Plaintiff was strip
searched as a matter of law; 2) that Isanti Countys strip search of Plaintiff was
unconstitutional; and 3) that Isanti Countys blanket policy and practice of strip
searching all persons arrested on gross misdemeanor charges regardless of
whether the offense involved weapons or contraband and Isanti Countys blanket
policy of strip searching all persons who might be held at the jail for more than
six hours are unconstitutional.
Defendants move for summary judgment on the following grounds: 1)
Plaintiff failed to provide proper notice under Minn. Stat. 466.05(1); (2)
Plaintiff was not subject to an unreasonable search; (3) no proof of failure to
train; and (4) no proof of damages.
As an initial matter, Plaintiff concedes that the claims asserted against
Sheriff Ammend, in his individual capacity, must be dismissed as he did not
become sheriff until 2003. Accordingly, Plaintiffs claims against Sheriff Michael
Ammend in his individual capacity will be dismissed with prejudice.
6
1. Notice
Defendants argue that summary judgment is appropriate as Plaintiff did
not follow the procedure mandated by Minnesota Statute of providing notice to
the Defendants of his claim for damages. Minn. Stat. 466.05 provides that any
person claiming damages against a municipality must provide notice within 180
days after the alleged injury of the time, place and circumstances thereof. No
such notice was given in this case.
Minn. Stat. 466.05 is not applicable to actions brought under 1983 or
the Fourth Amendment. Rather, the notice requirement applies only to state
law claims sounding in tort. Nadeau v. Ramsey County, 310 Minn. 549, 245
N.W.2d 254, 256 (1976). See also, Montgomery v. I.S.D. No. 709, 109 F.
Supp.2d 1081, 1100 (D. Minn. 2000) (finding the notice requirements in Minn.
Stat. 466.05 do not apply to statutory claims of discrimination).
2. Reasonableness of Search
Plaintiff requests that the Court find, as a matter of law, that Plaintiff was
strip searched in this case. In support, Plaintiff has submitted a jail photo of
Plaintiff, dated September 19, 2002, in which he appears to be wearing jail
clothes. For purposes of this motion, Defendants concede that a search took
place.
7
What is disputed is whether the search was reasonable. The essential
purpose of the proscriptions of the Fourth Amendment is to impose a standard of
reasonableness upon the exercise of discretion by government officials.
Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 653-54 (1979). The Constitution does not
prohibit searches on gross misdemeanants per se, only unreasonable searches.
Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 558 (1979).
The test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is not capable of
precise definition or mechanical application. In each case it requires a
balancing of the need for the particular search against the invasion of
personal rights that the search entails. Courts must consider the scope of
the particular intrusion, the manner in which it is conducted, the
justification for initiating it, and the place in which it is conducted.
Id. at 559 (citations omitted). In the Eighth Circuit, a reasonable suspicion
standard has been applied with respect to strip searches of temporary detainees
charged with minor offenses. See eg., Jones v. Edwards, 770 F.2d 739 (8th Cir.
1985) (strip search of individual arrested for failing to sign a summons and
complaint arising from a leash law violation was unconstitutional); John Does
1-100, 612 F. Supp. 1069, 1070 (D. Minn. 1985) (finding suspicion must be
individualized or directed to the person who is targeted for a strip search). See
also, Hunter v. Auger, 672 F.2d 668, 674 (8th Cir. 1982) (finding strip searches of
a jail visitor are constitutionally permissible if based on a reasonable suspicion
that the visitor will attempt to smuggle in drugs or contraband).
8
Plaintiff argues that the jailers did not have a reasonable suspicion to
conduct a strip search of him. The nature of the offense for which he was
arrested, driving under the influence of alcohol, or his criminal history, no
previous drugs or weapons convictions, did not provide a reasonable suspicion to
justify a strip search. Plaintiff further asserts there is no evidence that the
Plaintiffs demeanor warranted a strip search. In fact, the officer observation
sheet completed on the night of his arrest shows Plaintiff was cooperative.
Moccio Aff., Ex. P. Further, a search of Plaintiffs car and his pockets did not
provide a reasonable suspicion that Plaintiff was in the possession of drugs or
contraband.
Defendants argue that based on the record, the strip search of Plaintiff on
September 19, 2002 was not unreasonable. Plaintiff admitted in his deposition
that after his arrest, he offered information to law enforcement concerning
wanted people or drug dealers. In addition, Plaintiffs passenger the night he
was arrested had an outstanding warrant for possession of a controlled
substance. Iverson Aff., Ex. G; Olson Aff., Ex. A. The arresting officer, Deputy
Lance Olson, asserts he does not have a specific recollection of Plaintiff, or the
arrest. Deputy Olson did state, however, that as a matter of course, he would
have informed the jailers of Plaintiffs comments concerning his knowledge of
drug dealers, and the fact that the passenger had an outstanding drug warrant.
9
Olson Aff., 5 and 6. Isanti County jailer Grace Mattson testified that
detainees would only be strip searched if such a search was requested by the
arresting officer. Mattson Dep. p. 18-19, 25. Other jailers testified that
detainees would be strip searched if there was a concern such detainee had
drugs or contraband. Ryden Dep. p. 33-34. Hall Dep. p. 75-76. The jailers also
testified that strip searches are conducted for security reasons, to prevent
harmful items from entering the jail or the general population. Hall Aff. 7-10;
Christensen Dep. p. 37
Based on this record, the Court finds there are genuine issues of material
fact as to whether the arresting officer and the jailers had a reasonable suspicion
that the Plaintiff was in possession of drugs or other contraband, and that the
jailers conducted the strip search as a result of such reasonable suspicion.
Accordingly, to the extent that the parties moved for summary judgment on the
issue of whether the strip search was reasonable, such motions are denied.
The Court also finds there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether Isanti
County had a policy, practice or custom of conducting strip searches on
detainees brought in on a gross misdemeanor charge, or those thought to be
held for six hours or more, without a reasonable suspicion that such detainee
possessed drugs, weapons or contraband. The written policy provided that all
individuals brought in on a gross misdemeanor should be strip searched during
10
booking or held for more than six hours. Thus, on its face, the written policy
appears to permit a search without a reasonable suspicion the detainee possesses
drugs, contraband or weapons. Corrections Officer Ryden admitted that he
followed the pre-2003 policy and conducted strip searches on individuals
charged with gross misdemeanor charges. Ryden Dep. p. 50-52.
However, other jailers provided testimony that strip searches were done
only at the request of the arresting officer or the sergeant, Mattson Dep. p. 18-
20, 25, or if the charge involved drugs, contraband or weapons or the detainee
would be moved into the general population. Christensen Dep. p. 28 and 34;
Ryden Dep. p. 26; Hall Dep. 57, 73-76, 79-82, 120. Accordingly, Plaintiff is not
entitled to summary judgment on his claim that Isanti County had a blanket
policy and practice of strip searching all persons arrested on gross misdemeanor
charges regardless of whether the offense involved weapons or contraband or
that Isanti County had a blanket policy of strip searching all persons who might
be held at the jail for more than six hours.
3. Failure to Train
In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Isanti County failed to properly
train its deputy sheriffs regarding the constitutional parameters of strip searches
and failed to intercede or alter the strip search policy, custom and/or practice of
unconstitutionally strip searching all gross misdemeanor arrestees. Complaint
11
24.
To recover on a failure to train claim, Plaintiff must demonstrate that the
failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of the persons
whom the jailers came in contact with. City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S.
378, 392 (1989); Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344 (1986)(negligence by prison
officials does not trigger the due process clause of Fourteenth Amendment). A
plaintiff must establish that the [defendant] had notice that its procedures were
inadequate and likely to result in a violation of constitutional rights. Thelma D
v. Board of Educ. of City of St. Louis, 934 F.2d 929, 934 (8th Cir. 1984) (citations
omitted). Notice can be established in one of two ways: where the need to train
is patently obvious or if there is a pattern of constitutional violations. Id.
In this case, there can be no dispute that in general, jailers must be
trained with respect to the constitutional parameters of strip searches.
Defendants argue they are entitled to summary judgment on this claim as Isanti
County had such a training program in place prior to 2003, in which a new jailer
would shadow a veteran jailer for a certain amount of time. Mattson Dep. p. 7-
12; Christensen Dep. p. 52-56; Ryden Dep. p. 11. If changes occurred in any
policy, the change was to be communicated to jail supervisors, who would then
communicate such changes to jail staff. Hall Dep. p. 99, 102; Mattson Dep. p.
12; Christensen Dep. p. 42.
12
Defendants further argue that a failure to train claim should go to a jury
only where there is proof of persistent, widespread, flagrantly unconstitutional
practices. Harris v. Pagedale, 821 F.2d 499 (8th Cir. 1987). Defendants assert
that Plaintiff has not submitted any evidence that such a persistent, widespread,
flagrantly unconstitutional practice existed at the Isanti County jail.
Plaintiff responds that there are genuine issues of material fact as to
whether Isanti County failed to properly train its jailers with respect to strip
searches. In support, Plaintiff cites to the deposition testimony of Correction
Officer Deloris Beehler, in which she stated that she did not remember what
training she received when she began working for Isanti County in 1996.
Beehler Dep. p. 7. Correction Officer Ryden acknowledged that people brought
into the jail have certain legal rights, but could not remember who instructed
him as to constitutional rights, what was written in the policy and whether there
were any updates after his training in 1999. Ryden Dep. p. 24-25. Plaintiff also
points out that Correction Officer Linda Nelson, who provided training to new
jailers, could not identify any laws or regulations concerning constitutional
standards involving strip searches. Nelson Dep. p. 33.
The Court agrees that genuine issues of material fact preclude summary
judgment with respect to the failure to train claim. While Defendants have
presented evidence that it had a training policy in place, there is no evidence
13
currently before the Court as to the substance of such training.
4. No Proof of Damages
Finally, Defendants assert they are entitled to summary judgment as the
Plaintiff has suffered no damages or injuries as a result of the strip search. The
Court disagrees.
Assuming liability is found under section 1983, the jury may assess
compensatory damages based upon, inter alia, the physical harm suffered
(including pain and discomfort), the emotional harm suffered (including fear,
humiliation and mental anguish) even though no actual damages are proven,
and the violation of plaintiffs' substantive right to liberty. Bauer v. Norris, 713
F.2d 408, 413 (8th Cir. 1983) (citations omitted). Plaintiff has alleged that he
has suffered actual damages as a result of the strip search. He testified that he
lost respect for authority, and that he suffered emotional distress and
humiliation. Plaintiff Dep. p. 62-64. At the very least, Plaintiff may be entitled
to nominal damages. Hunter, 672 F.2d at 677.
STANDARD FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION
Plaintiff moves for class certification, and proposes the following class
definitions:
All persons arrested for gross misdemeanor offenses unrelated to weapons
or illegal drugs who, when brought to the Isanti County Jail in
conjunction with their arrest, were, pursuant to Isanti County policy and
practice, required by officers of the Isanti County Jail to remove their
14
clothing for visual inspection of their genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or, in
the case of females, breasts, in the absence of any individualized suspicion
that they possessed contraband or weaponry, at anytime from May 19,
2000, until the countys policies and practices changed on or about
January 1, 2003.
All persons arrested for misdemeanor offenses unrelated to weapons or
illegal drugs who, because they spent more than six hours at the Isanti
County Jail in conjunction with their arrest, were, pursuant to Isanti
County policy and practice, required by officers of the Isanti County Jail to
remove their clothing for visual inspection of their genitals, pubic area,
buttocks, or, in the case of females, breasts, in the absence of any
individualized suspicion that they possessed contraband or weaponry, at
anytime from May 19, 2000, until the countys policies and practices
changed on or about January 1, 2003.
STANDARD FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION
The class action serves to conserve the resources of the court and the
parties by permitting an issue that may affect every class member to be litigated
in an economical fashion. Jenkins v. Raymark Industries, Inc., 782 F.2d 468, 471
(5th Cir. 1986)(quoting General Telephone Co. of Southwest v. Falcon, 457 U.S.
147, 155 (1979)). Whether an action should be certified as a class action is
governed by Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
A. Rule 23(a) Prerequisites
Pursuant to Rule 23(a), there are four threshold requirements to class
certification:
1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable; 2)
there are questions of law or fact common to the class; 3) the claims or
defense of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses
of the class; and 4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately
15
protect the interests of the class.
A district court should not certify a class until it has been determined,
through rigorous analysis, that all the prerequisites of Rule 23(a) have been
satisfied. General Telephone Co., 457 U.S. at 161. If these prerequisites are
met, the Court must then determine if the putative class is maintainable under
Rule 23 (b)(1), (2) or (3). Plaintiffs bear the burden of proof regarding the Rule
23 requirements. In re Worker's Compensation, 130 F.R.D. 99 (D. Minn. 1990).
District courts have broad discretion in determining whether or not to certify a
class. Gilbert v. City of Little Rock, Ark., 722 F.2d 1390, 1399 (8th Cir. 1983).
1) Numerosity
With respect to the numerosity prerequisite, Plaintiff asserts the proposed
class likely contains hundreds of individuals, based on discovery to date.
Defendants have admitted that in 2002 alone, 1,066 individuals were booked
into the Isanti County Jail. It thus appears the numerosity requirement has been
established.
2) Commonality
This prerequisite focuses on questions of law and fact common to the
class. It is not necessary that all questions of law and fact are common to the
class, rather the commonality requirement is met where, for example, the
question of law linking the class members is substantially related to the
16
resolution of the litigation, even though the individuals are not identically
situated. Paxton v. Union Natl Bank, 688 F.2d 552, 561 (8th Cir. 1982)(quoting
American Finance Sys., Inc. V. Harlow, 65 F.R.D. 94, 107 (D. Md. 1974)). This
prerequisite may also be met when members of the proposed class claim to have
been harmed by a general policy of the defendant, and the litigation is focused
on said policy. Mathers v. Northshore Mining Co., 217 F.R.D. 474, 485 (D.
Minn. 2003). In this case, the focus of the litigation is the strip search policies of
Isanti County prior to 2003 concerning detainees arrested for gross
misdemeanor offenses, or held for more than six hours, without an
individualized suspicion that such detainee possesses drugs or weapons. The
Court thus finds that this prerequisite is met.
3. Typicality
Rule 23(a)(3) requires that the claims or defenses of the representative
parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class. This requirement
focuses on the similarity of the legal and remedial theories behind the claims.
Jenkins, 782 F.2d at 472. In other words, in determining typicality, the court
must consider whether the representative's interests will be aligned with those of
the represented group, and in pursuing his own claims, the named plaintiff will
also advance the interests of the class members. In re: American Medical
Systems, Inc., 75 F.3d 1069, 1082 (6th Cir. 1996). Although factual differences
1There is no challenge to the adequacy of class counsel.
17
may exist amongst the claims, such differences will not preclude class
certification when the claims arise from the same course of conduct and gives
rise to the same legal or remedial theories. Alpern v. UtiliCorp United, Inc., 84
F.3d 1525, 1540 (8th Cir. 1996).
Plaintiff asserts the typicality requirement is met here as well. Like every
class member, Plaintiff raises the same legal theories under the Fourth
Amendment and 1983, and alleges he was subjected to the same
unconstitutional strip search policies.
Defendants assert the typicality prerequisite is not met because with
respect to Plaintiff, the jailers had a reasonable suspicion justifying the search.
This factor must be viewed, however, with reference to the Defendants actions,
not with respect to particularized defenses. Blihovde v. St. Croix County, 219
F.R.D. 607 (W.D. Wis. 2003) (citation omitted). And, as indicated above, there
are fact questions as to whether the Plaintiff was searched because of a
reasonable suspicion he possessed drugs or contraband. The Court thus finds
that the typicality prerequisite is also met.
4) Adequacy of Representation
The final prerequisite requires the Court to make a determination that the
named class representatives and counsel1 will adequately represent the class
18
members. In making this determination, the Court must ascertain whether the
named representatives interests are sufficiently similar to those of the class to
the extent that is unlikely that their goals and viewpoints will diverge. Parkhill
v. Minnesota Mutual Life Ins. Co., 188 F.R.D. 332, 339 (D. Minn. 1999) affd 286
F.3d 1051 (8th Cir. 2002).
The Court is satisfied that the class representative named in this case will
adequately represent the class. His claims fall within both class definitions, and
there is no reason to believe his interests are antagonistic to the interests of
fellow class members. The Court is also satisfied that class counsel will more
than adequately represent the class.
B. 23(b)(3) Requisites
A class may be certified under Rule 23(b)(3) when questions of law or
fact common to the members of the class predominate over any questions
affecting only individual members and that a class action is superior to other
available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy.
In this case, the Court is satisfied that the requirements of Rule 23(b)(3)
are met as well. Common questions do predominate, as the issue of central
importance is shared by the class members, namely the constitutionality of
certain aspects of Isanti Countys pre-2003 strip search policy. Given the asserted
claims, a class action would also be superior, as it will allow for the avoidance of
19
duplicative actions, and expeditiously resolving common issues is in the best
interests of the system and the parties. In addition, the likely individual recovery
is comparatively small, thus a class action provides a forum for class members
who would otherwise go without litigating at all due to transaction costs.
In light of the foregoing, the Court will conditionally certify this action as
a class action.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:
1) Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 27] is GRANTED to
the extent that Plaintiff was subjected to a strip search and DENIED in all other
respects;
2) Plaintiffs Motion for Class Certification [Doc. No. 24] is conditionally
GRANTED;
3) The class is conditionally certified as follows:
All persons arrested for gross misdemeanor offenses unrelated to weapons
or illegal drugs who, when brought to the Isanti County Jail in
conjunction with their arrest, were, pursuant to Isanti County policy and
practice, required by officers of the Isanti County Jail to remove their
clothing for visual inspection of their genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or, in
the case of females, breasts, in the absence of any individualized suspicion
that they possessed contraband or weaponry, at anytime from May 19,
2000, until the countys policies and practices changed on or about
January 1, 2003.
All persons arrested for misdemeanor offenses unrelated to weapons or
20
illegal drugs who, because they spent more than six hours at the Isanti
County Jail in conjunction with their arrest, were, pursuant to Isanti
County policy and practice, required by officers of the Isanti County Jail to
remove their clothing for visual inspection of their genitals, pubic area,
buttocks, or, in the case of females, breasts, in the absence of any
individualized suspicion that they possessed contraband or weaponry, at
anytime from May 19, 2000, until the countys policies and practices
changed on or about January 1, 2003.
4) Defendants Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 15] is GRANTED
as to all claims against Sheriff Michael Ammend in his individual capacity, and
DENIED in all other respects.
Date: October 23, 2007
s / Michael J. Davis
Michael J. Davis
United States District Court
 

 
 
 

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