Constitutional Law, Including § 1983 Claims

We bring claims against government officials to recover for constitutional rights violations. We will not charge you unless we recover money for you.

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constitution21 Constitutional Law, Including § 1983 Claims

Have your Constitutional rights been violated by a government official?

 

          We bring claims against government officials to recover for constitutional rights violations. We will not charge you unless we recover money for you. No recovery, no fee.

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What is a 1983 claim?

       Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983, commonly referred to simply as “1983,” is a Federal Statute that was enacted on April 20, 1871, as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. Section 1983 permits liability to attach when a government official acts outside the scope of the authority granted to him or her by law.

Section 1983 provides:

“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.”

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Who Can Be Sued Under a 1983 Claim?

       Only “persons” are subject to liability under a 1983 claim. For example, New York State and the United States Government are not persons subject to suit under a 1983 claim. Confusingly enough, section 1983 recognizes municipalities and local governments as persons subject to suit for both damages and prospective relief. In addition, individual employees of federal, state and local government, including state officers may be sued in their individual capacities for damages, declaratory or injunctive relief.

 

How Do I Know If I Have a 1983 Claim?

       A plaintiff may only prevail in a section 1983 lawsuit upon a demonstration that he or she was deprived of rights secured by the United States Constitution or federal statutes, and was somehow harmed because of that deprivation.

       The most common depravation of civil rights involve depravation of Due Process (where a person was deprived of life, liberty or property without notice or an opportunity of a hearing appropriate to the nature of the case, or where the defendant engaged in conduct that was arbitrary, or shocking to one’s conscience).

       In addition to the violation, there must be some sort of actual harm caused, and the harm must be the result of the person implementing or executing a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by a municipality or local government, or the result of the entity’s custom. Further, the entity’s policy or custom must have been the “moving force” behind the alleged deprivation.

       For example, a local government is said to have an unconstitutional policy when it fails to train its employees with regard to law and procedure, and the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to an obvious need for such training, and the failure to train will likely result in the employee making a wrong decision.

     Absent a showing of causation and actual injury, a plaintiff is entitled only to nominal damages.

 

What Kind of Recovery is Available Under a 1983 Claim?

            Actual Damages

    An award of actual damages, also called compensatory damages, serves as compensation for your loss or injury. A court generally awards the sum that would restore the injured party to the economic position they were in before they suffered harm from the defendant, as well as money for physical or emotional pain and suffering (emotional distress), loss of companionship, loss of consortium, loss of reputation, loss or impairment of mental or physical capacity, loss of enjoyment of life, and more.

    The basic purpose of a section 1983 actual damages award is to compensate the victims of official misconduct. There is no limit on the amount of actual damages you can recover, as long as they can be proven (where damages are not proved, only nominal damages of $1.00 may be awarded).

          Punitive Damages

    Punitive damages are moneys the defendants must pay for purposes of deterring them from engaging in similar conduct to others in the future. The money is paid to you as the plaintiff in addition to your actual damages. The amount recoverable as punitive damages typically relates to how egregious the defendant’s conduct was. You cannot recover punitive damages against a municipality or government agency, but you can recover punitive damages against individuals working in their professional capacity upon a showing of ill will, malice, or when they show a reckless or callous indifference to the federally protected rights of others.

     In order to qualify for punitive damages, you must be able to demonstrate a positive element of conscious wrongdoing. The defendant must have known that his or her conduct was wrong, and engaged in the conduct anyway. If they had good intentions when engaging in their conduct, you will most likely not qualify for punitive damages.

          Injunctive Relief

      Injunctive relief is also permitted. An injunction is an equitable remedy in the form of a court order that requires a party to do, or refrain from doing, something specific in the future. For example, if your property was seized without due process, you could seek a court order requiring the defendant to return your property to you, in addition to the other monetary damages available to you.

          Attorneys’ Fees

     The Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Awards Act of 1976 provides that prevailing plaintiffs are entitled to recover attorneys’ fees unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust.

 

How Much Will It Cost Me To Sue?

    If you choose MURTHA & MURTHA, PLLC, we will take your section 1983 case on a contingency basis. This means that we will not make any money unless we recover money for you.

 

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