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Court Reverses Ruling In Invasive Ultrasound Case At Valencia

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of three former Valencia College students who alleged their constitutional rights were violated in a training program that included students performing invasive ultrasound procedures on each other.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appealson Tuesday overturned a lower-court judge's decision to dismiss the case. The panel's ruling sent the case back to the lower court, with the dispute focused on whether the former students' First Amendment rights were violated and whether two of them were subjected to unconstitutional searches.

The plaintiffs, Melissa Milward, Elyse Ugalde and Ashley Rose, quit the Orlando state college's sonography program because instructors had students perform what are known as "transvaginal ultrasounds" on each other. The former students also allege they faced retaliation after objecting to the practice.

A transvaginal ultrasound involves inserting a probe into a woman's vagina, allowing the sonographer to see the woman's cervix and other reproductive organs, Tuesday's ruling said.

The lawsuit, which seeks compensatory and punitive damages, was filed in May 2015 against the college's Board of Trustees and program employees Barbara Ball, Linda Shaheen, Maureen Bugnacki and Suda Amodt. The appeals court ruling said the Board of Trustees is no longer a party in the case.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell last October dismissed the case, ruling in part that students were not subject to unconstitutional searches under the Fourth Amendment. Presnell wrote that the program employees "did not have the intent to elicit a benefit for the government in its investigatory or administrative capacity."

But the appeals court rejected Presnell's position, saying that while "the employees did not conduct the transvaginal ultrasounds to discover violations of the law, the word 'search' in the Fourth Amendment does not contain a purpose requirement." Milward and Ugalde, who submitted to the ultrasounds, raised the unconstitutional-search arguments. Rose refused to submit to an ultrasound.