Mon. Jun 27th, 2022

Claims against state and municipal officials for violating your civil rights under the United States Constitution are known as Section 1983 suits. Any state or federal court may hear these cases. To put an end to the wrongdoing, victims have two options: they may seek monetary compensation or get an injunction.

1983 case law

Preventing further violations may be done through an injunction. Compensation and punishment are possible outcomes of damages. The qualified immunity defence must be overcome in order for victims to collect damages. However, a new regulation prohibits the use of this argument in certain situations.

Lawsuits brought under Section 1983 are referred to as

A civil rights lawsuit filed under Section 1983 is known as one. Someone whose civil rights have been infringed may bring a lawsuit against the government. If the perpetrator acted “under colour of law,” the victim may initiate a lawsuit.

Certain federal statutes and the United States Constitution both provide certain basic freedoms known as civil rights.

A violation of a person’s constitutional rights occurs when the following occurs:

  • wrongdoing by police, such as the overuse of force or the unjustified use of force (like the use of a taser during an arrest),
  • search a victim’s house and murder the victim’s pets for no reason
  • a judge sexually attacks women while doing their job
  • welfare beneficiaries are stripped of their benefits by state authorities.
  • Even after being warned of the risk, jail officers placed an ex-gang member in a cell alongside current gang members.
  • Suing under Section 1983 can’t be based on state-granted rights. The Act protects only federal rights.

For the most part, Section 1983 is nothing more than an application of federal law to the practise of law. It permits civil rights lawsuits to be heard by federal courts. Under Section 1983, no one may be held accountable. Instead, it increases accountability for breaching other federal statutes, which is a problem.

The following are some examples of alleged violations of other laws that are included in 1983 cases:

  • First Amendment rights
  • The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of (i.e. arrests without probable cause, unreasonable searches),
  • abolition of slavery
  • Social Security Act, as opposed to due process as defined by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Sovereign immunity precluded litigation against the state and its agents under common law prior to Section 1983. Originally, the purpose of Section 1983 was to safeguard former slaves after the American Civil War. African Americans were subjected to racial discrimination in the South. Atrocities against civilians by law enforcement agents have occurred across the South.

Legislators enacted the measure as part of the 1871 Civil Rights Act. This measure passed by Congress gave black victims the right to sue for damages and receive monetary compensation. As a federal case, it might be brought. Legislators hoped that this would keep victims out of state courts. There is a significant likelihood that the victim would have encountered prejudice in a state court.

What does it mean to be acting “under cover of law”?

A breach of civil rights cannot be perpetrated unless it is done so “in the course of official business.” When people act as if they had the power of the state, they are violating the letter and spirit of the law. In the course of their duties, police officers and prison guards are bound by state law.

State authorities are allowed to breach the law under the guise of the law. In order to preserve the illusion of state activity, they might defy official policy while doing so. They may be sued as long as they seem to be state actors.

Off-duty police officers may thus be considered to be acting in the course of their official duties. A notice indicating the officer was operating in his or her official role must be there, though. Factors such as:

  • displaying a badge from the local police department,
  • that they were officers of the law,
  • a gun in hand,
  • acting in a law enforcement-like manner, and
  • as though there were going to be an arrest.

However, working for the state does not always mean that a person acts under colour of law. Some people who technically work for the state cannot act under colour of law.

On the other hand, people who do not work for the government can still act under colour of law. This can happen if they conspire with government officials to deprive someone of their civil rights.

Under Section 1983, who am I allowed to sue?

Those who have suffered civil rights breaches may sue those who acted in the name of the state. The following are included in this list:

persons employed by the state, municipal governments, and the District of Columbia government, along with others who conspire with them, as well as certain government organisations.

State and municipal authorities, such as police officers, may be sued under Section 1983.

  • officers of the law,
  • deputies of the sheriff
  • security personnel for state or local prisons
  • Deputy police commissioners,
  • county sheriffs
  • officers in charge of prisons and
  • additional members of the public

Officials at the federal level are often unaware of Section 1983. 16 Section 1983 may only be used against federal officials who work with state or local counterparts. Bivens claims may be brought against government employees who are operating independently. (“Bivens v. 1983,” our essay on the case)

If a private person conspires with a government official, they may also be sued. In this way, they would be acting under the guise of the law.

Additionally, a municipality may face legal action when its own policies and practises infringe on the Constitution.

Among the 19 cities, there are:

  • towns,
  • villages,
  • cities,
  • geographically dispersed areas
  • Like a public school board or public transportation agency.
  • Section 1983 claims, on the other hand, cannot be used to sue states like California or Texas.

Can you sue in state court under the terms of Section 1983?

Courts in the lower courts of the states may bring Section 1983 actions on behalf of victims who have been deprived of any of their rights (district courts). Damages can still be recovered, but the amount that may be recovered is significantly decreased. For money damages, a state official cannot be held liable for official misconduct.

How much compensation can I expect to receive?

Section 1983 cases may result in two types of remedies:

  • monetary damages and/or punitive damages for civil rights violations
  • future remedy, also known as injunctive,
  • In addition to compensatory damages, the court may also impose punitive damages. The victim’s financial needs will be met by the compensation.
  • health care costs
  • paid time off,
  • diminished ability to make a living,
  • suffering and distress,
  • the civil rights infringement and the loss of liberty
  • maybe the cost of an attorney

There are punitive consequences in the event that someone violates a person’s rights. However, they cannot be reclaimed from a local government.

Some state officials are exempt from 1983 damages claims. Their official action is exempt from this exemption. Individuals in this list include

  • prosecutors,
  • judges, and
  • Legislators from many states are involved.

Demands for damages under Section 1983 are subject to the qualified immunity defence as well as claims under that section. Other state officials may use this argument to argue they acted in good faith. The defence can win as long as they didn’t commit any errors:

  • violate the civil rights of the victim
  • It was evident to a reasonable officer that their actions were in violation of those rights.
  • The qualified immunity argument is not available to municipalities.
  • Even if they were unaware that they were infringing the victim’s constitutional rights, they may still be held accountable.

Consider also the new California statute, Senate Bill 2, which prohibits police officers from claiming qualified immunity in civil rights cases filed in California. In the event that any government official threatened, intimidated, or coerced a person, the individual may launch a Bane Act claim.

Prison guards and their employers are likewise barred from claiming the qualified immunity argument in situations where they damaged or failed to give medical treatment to an inmate under Senate Bill 2.

Prospective remedies may be sought via Section 1983 actions as well. An injunction, which is a court order, is the most common way to have this done. It is necessary to make adjustments to the order in order to avoid a repeat of this kind of breach.

Is there a time restriction on bringing a lawsuit?

Section 1983 lawsuits must be filed within a certain period of time. Because of this, a certain time period has been set for filing the civil action (lawsuit). However, this period of time varies depending on the sort of constitutional infraction that was committed.

Courts must use the statute of limitations that most closely resembles the infraction in order to apply it to the case. This is often a three-year personal injury statute of limitations. There are exceptions to this rule, though.

Legal References:

  1. See e.g., Gonzaga University v. Doe, (2002) 536 U.S. 273; see 42 USC 1983: Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a stat. of the District of Columbia.
  2. Bryan v. MacPherson, (9th Cir. 2010) 630 F.3d 805.
  3. San Jose Charter of the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club v. City of San Jose, (9th Cir. Court of Appeals, 2005) 402 F.3d 963.
  4. U.S. v. Lanier, (1997) 520 U.S. 259.
  5. Maine v. Thiboutot, (1980) 448 U.S. 1, 100 S. Ct. 2502.
  6. Cortez v. County of Los Angeles, (9th Cir. 2002) 294 F.3d 1186.
  7. Maine v. Thiboutot, Supra. In addition, see Estate of Fritz ex rel. Fritz v. Hennigar, (8th Cir., 2021) 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 36124; Garrett v. Murphy, (3d Cir., 2021) U.S. App. LEXIS 32385. Savarese v. City of New York, (S.D.N.Y., 2021) U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124390. Gray v. White, (5th Cir., 2021) U.S. App. LEXIS 34119.
  8. Bryan v. MacPherson, Supra.
  9. Cortez v. County of Los Angeles, Supra.
  10. Maine v. Thiboutot, Supra.
  11. Screws v. United States, (1945) 325 U.S. 91; West v. Atkins, (1988) 487 U.S. 42, 49.
  12. Home Telephone & Telegraph Co. v. Los Angeles, (1913) 227 U.S. 278.
  13. See Monroe v. Pape, (1961) 365 U.S. 167.
  14. Polk County v. Dodson, (1981) 454 U.S. 312.
  15. Dennis v. Sparks, (1980) 449 U.S. 24.
  16. Wheeldin v. Wheeler, (1963) 373 U.S. 647.
  17. Tongol v. Usery, (9th Cir. 1979) 601 F.2d 1091.
  18. Dennis v. Sparks, Supra; Bivens claims (a.k.a. Bivens action) under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, (1971) 403 U.S. 388; see also Roberts v. City of Fairbanks, (9th Cir. 2020) 947 F.3d 1191.
  19. Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, (1978) 436 U.S. 658 (re. municipal liability.)
  20. The Eleventh Amendment prevents states from being sued in federal court. Will v. Michigan Dep’t of State Police 491 U.S. 58 (1989) decided that states are not considered a “person” that can be sued under Section 1983, blocking lawsuits in state court.
  21. Maine v. Thiboutot, Supra.
  22. Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, Supra.
  23. City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, (1981) 453 U.S. 247.
  24. Imbler v. Pachtman, (U.S. Supreme Court, 1976) 424 U.S. 409; 42 U.S. Code § 1983 (“In any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.”).
  25. Stump v. Sparkman, (1978) 435 U.S. 349.
  26. Tenney v. Brandhove, (1951) 341 U.S. 367.
  27. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, (1982) 457 U.S. 800.
  28. Owen v. City of Independence, (1980) 445 U.S. 622.
  29. Owens v. Okure, (1989) 488 U.S. 235.

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