Section 1983 Claims

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Often known as 1983 claims, these claims are based on Title 42, Section 1983 of the United States Code. This section, written in 1871 during post-Civil War reconstruction, has come to provide a method for citizens deprived of their civil rights by officials of state government to bring these officials to court under federal law. These officials can be police officers, prison guards, or anyone working under the authority of the state government.

A deprivation of civil rights can come in many forms. Often Section 1983 is used as a method for citizens who have experienced discrimination, abuse, or police brutality to seek a legal remedy. If, for example, it were discovered that a police officer used excessive force when dealing with a civilian, or that a state official responsible for granting permits or licenses were racially discriminating, both of these civil rights abuses would be grounds for 1983 claims.  The entirety of Section 1983 reads:

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 statute of the District of Columbia.

There are two elements to a 1983 claim. The first is that the action must have occurred “under color of law.” The second is that the action must deny a constitutional right or right granted by federal law.

Under Color of Law

The meaning phrase “under color of law” has been further clarified by the courts since its original use in 1983. In some senses its meaning has been expanded since then. “Under color of law” has come to mean that any person acting under the authority of the law is acting “under color of law.” If a police officer uses his or her given authority to commit an act that violates state law, this act is still “under color of law” despite it being contrary to the law. A state official can also be found to be acting “under color of law” even if he or she is not acting in his or her official capacity. For example, an off-duty, plain-clothed police officer could still be acting “under color of law” if she identifies herself as a police officer.

Though the courts still have the power to determine in any given instance if a state official is acting “under color of law,” courts have expanded the definition of this phrase so as to cover many cases in which an official used his or her power to commit an act that violated an individual’s constitutional or federal right.

Constitutional or Federal Right

The second required element to a 1983 claim is that it must be proven that the state official acting “under color of law” had deprived someone of a constitutional right or right granted by federal law. This is often fairly simple.

Examples of Section 1983 Lawsuits

The following are broad examples of instances where a civil right has been violated forming the basis for a 1983 claim:

  • Police brutality

  • Excessive police force

  • Police discrimination

  • Discrimination by state officials

  • Denial of due process

  • Making False Arrests

  • Surveillance Abuse

  • Assault

  • Abuse of Power

Contact a Locks Law Firm Section 1983 Lawyer

Attorneys at the Locks Law Firm have proven experience litigating Section 1983 claims on behalf of individual plaintiffs who have been wrongly denied their civil rights by police and other state officials.  If you or a loved one has been deprived of your Constitutional or Federal rights, you may be entitled to financial recovery. Contact an experienced Section 1983 Attorney in the Pennsylvania, New Jersey or New York Offices of the Locks Law Firm today to schedule a free, confidential consultation and case evaluation.

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