Has the government violates your Constitutional rights in some way? Maybe you’ve been the victim of police brutality, or perhaps police destroyed your property during an illegal search. You may have the right to file a civil lawsuit against the government. At The Rodriguez Law Group, our Los Angeles attorneys can help you hold the police accountable for their illegal actions. Call us today to schedule a free consultation. We will review your case and determine the best way to handle the violation of your rights.
What is Section 1983?
Section 1983 of the United States Code gives you the right to sue government officials for violating your Constitutional rights. Specifically, Section 1983 states that:
“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.”
Simply put, police and government officials can be held personally responsible for harm they cause by violating your protected rights.
History of Section 1983
Section 1983 has been around for nearly 150 years. The law was passed back in 1871 after the Civil War in an effort to help combat race-based discrimination. Under the law, former slaves could sue police, prison officials, and other government agents for violating their constitutional rights. However, Section 1983 was not widely used until the 1960s.
Monroe v. Pape
In 1961, the Supreme Court inserted new life into Section 1983 of the US Code. The court was faced with a challenging case: Monroe v. Pape. The case involved a dispute between Chicago police and an African-American man. Police broke into Pape’s home without a warrant, tore through his property, and abused him in front of his family. After the invasion, police arrested him on suspicion of murder. The man was never formally charged with a crime. However, he and his family suffered significant physical and emotional injuries because of the Chicago police officers’ conduct. The man sued the individual police officers for their abusive conduct.
In deciding Monroe v. Pape, the Supreme Court agreed that Section 1983 gave Pape the right to sue police officers for the violations of his rights. The court explained that the officers could be sued as acting under the color of state law even though their department or municipality prohibited those kinds of actions. The fact that the officers were acting in an official capacity was enough.
Do I Have a Section 1983 Case?
Section 1983 only applies when:
- Your constitutional rights have been violated
- By a person
- Acting under color of law.
You must also suffer an injury as a result of this violation.
Section 1983 does not establish any new rights. Instead, it offers protection in the event that an established Constitutional right is violated by someone acting in an official government capacity. In criminal cases, you may have a Section 1983 case if any of the following rights have been violated:
- Fourth Amendment right to privacy
- Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination
- Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
- Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection.
Who counts as a “person” acting under color of law? Is the definition of person limited to a specific individual, or can it be more inclusive? According to the Supreme Court, a person can include individuals, municipalities, and local government units ((e.g., school districts, local police departments).
As a result, you may have a valid Section 1983 claim if your rights have been violated by a:
- Police officer
- Police chief
- Police department
- Prison guard
- Prison warden
- Prison facility
- Sheriff’s deputy
- County sheriff
- School district officials
- City or town employee or agency, or
- County employee or agency.
However, states and state agencies (e.g., California, California State Police) are not considered “persons” for the purposes of Section 1983.
These individuals tend to have immunity from civil lawsuits for actions performed in the line of duty. However, this immunity does not exist if there is a “deliberate interference” with your rights.
Under Color of Law
You have the right to file a lawsuit against a person who, acting under color of state law, violates your rights. What does “under color of state law” mean? The Supreme Court has explained that under color of law means any acting in accord with any power “possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law.”
Put another way, it is acting under some power granted by state law or custom. This power can extend to government employees, non-government employees, or non-government entities. All that is required is the use of power granted by the state to deny or violate someone’s rights.
You have to suffer some sort of injury to file a Section 1983 lawsuit. An injury can be physical, emotional, or financial. The violation of your rights must be the cause of your injury. In other words, you would not have been injured if the person acting under color of law had not violated your rights.
When you file a Section 1983 lawsuit, you may be able to collect compensation for:
- Medical bills
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional trauma
- Lost wages
- Damage to your reputation
- Legal fees (including attorney’s fees and witness fees), and
- Punitive damages.
You may also be able to secure equitable remedies. These are typically court orders that preventing or requiring a person to act in a specific way.
How Will a Person Defend Section 1983 Cases?
When you file a Section 1983 lawsuit, you will have to prove:
- Your Constitutional rights were violated in some way
- The violation was done by a person acting under color of state law, and
- You suffered an injury as a result of that person’s actions.
Sovereign Immunity: The person will argue that they are immune from civil lawsuits because they were acting in an official capacity. We will argue that there is no blanket immunity for government officials. The person cannot be immune from liability if they acted with conscious or intentional disregard of your rights.
Qualified Immunity: The person will argue that they are immune from liability because they performed their discretionary job duties in good faith. We will gather evidence to show that the officer’s conduct was not in good faith nor was it reasonable.
Have your rights have been violated by a person acting under color of state law? You may have the right to file a lawsuit for damages. Section 1983 helps to protect you from things like unreasonable searches and police brutality. At the Rodriguez Law Group, our Los Angeles attorneys can help you file a Section 1983 lawsuit. Your lawsuit can hold the person who caused you harm accountable and let you recover compensation. Call us today to schedule a free consultation.