Section 1983 Lawsuits

The Constitution provides you with certain inalienable rights and protections. When police are performing their job duties, they are required to respect your rights. There are certain times when your rights can be lawfully infringed. However, police must have verifiable justification for those actions. When police illegally violate your rights or engage in acts of misconduct, you have the right to hold them accountable. Section 1983 of the US Code provides you with the authority to file a civil lawsuit against an officer for abuses of power. If you are in the Los Angeles, CA area and need assistance, contact Citywide Law Group today to discuss your case. Sherwin Arzani is a personal injury attorney with over 15 years experience in handling police abuse cases.

Police Officers Are Generally Immune From Civil Lawsuits

Without Section 1983, victims of police misconduct may have no way to hold officers accountable for their actions. Why? Police officers (and other government actors) are generally immune from civil lawsuits. Immunity exists to protect police officers from actions conducted in an official capacity.

There are two types of immunity that can protect officers: qualified immunity and sovereign immunity.

Qualified Immunity: Qualified immunity protects officers from civil action for performing their discretionary job duties in good faith.

Sovereign Immunity: Sovereign immunity protects officers from civil action for actions performed in an official capacity.

In most situations, you can only sue the government (including individual officers) if the government decides to allow the legal action. However, thanks to Section 1983, there is another way for victims of abuse to circumvent the issues presented by immunity. Section 1983 essentially voids any blanket immunity from civil action that may otherwise exist. The law provides victims of police misconduct and abuse to hold those officers personally responsible for their actions. There is no need to get the government’s permission to file the civil claim.

Your Section 1983 case will be most successful if an officer:

  • Did not act in good faith while performing his or her essential job duties
  • Deliberately interfered with your rights and freedoms, or
  • Intentionally or consciously disregarded your rights.

Overcoming Immunity By Filing a Section 1983 Lawsuit

Section 1983 creates the right to sue a police officer (or other person acting in an official capacity) for abuses of power.

You may have a valid Section 1983 lawsuit if:

  • Your Constitutional rights have been violated
  • By a person acting under the color of state law, and
  • The violation caused you to suffer an injury.

What Kind of Violations Can Support a Section 1983 Case?

Police officers are prohibited from infringing, violating, or depriving your fundamental rights. Most Section 1983 claims involve violations of the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

Fourth Amendment: The Fourth Amendment provides you with the right to be free from unwarranted searches and seizures. Violations of the Fourth Amendment may include:

  • Excessive Force (excessive force resulted in an illegal seizure of a suspect)
  • Illegal Arrest (arrest without probable cause)
  • Unreasonable and unwarranted searches of a home, or
  • Unreasonable searches of cars and passengers.

Fifth Amendment: The Fifth Amendment protects you from saying or doing anything that would incriminate yourself. Violations of the Fifth Amendment may include:

  • Forcing a suspect to unlock his or her personal cell phone
  • Coercing an involuntary confession
  • Failing to deliver a Miranda warning, or
  • Engaging in abusive conduct to elicit a confession.

Eighth Amendment: The Eighth Amendment protects you from cruel and unusual punishment. Eighth Amendment violations are typically brought by individuals who are detained prior to trial or serving time in jail or prison. Violations of the Eighth Amendment may include:

  • Intentionally depriving an inmate of necessary medical care
  • Permitting an inmate to be assaulted by officers, inmates, or personnel, or
  • Excessive force used by prison guards or personnel.

Fourteenth Amendment: The Fourteenth Amendment provides you with equal protection under the law. Violations of the Fourteenth Amendment may include:

  • Police brutality
  • Excessive force, or
  • Negligent loss or destruction of a detainee’s property.

Violation By a Person Acting Under Color of State Law

Section 1983 creates the right to sue a person for violations of your rights if they were acting under color of state law. The Supreme Court has held that a person can include individuals, municipalities, and local governmental bodies. State and federal government agencies are specifically excluded from the definition of “person.”

For the purposes of Section 1983, a “person” can include:

  • Police officers
  • Sheriff’s departments
  • School districts
  • Prison guards and/or wardens
  • Prison facilities
  • City employees and agencies
  • County employees and agencies
  • Non-governmental agents, and
  • Government employees.

However, for a person to be liable under Section 1983 the violation must have occurred because they were acting “under color of state law.” This simply means that they were empowered with certain authority because of a state law or custom.

What Injuries Can Support a Section 1983 Case?

The violation or deprivation of your rights must cause you to suffer an injury. The injury can be physical, psychological, emotional, social, or even financial. The most important thing to establish is that the police officer’s misconduct caused your injury.

You can ask to recover monetary damages for your injuries. Damages can include compensation for:

  • Medical bills
  • Therapy
  • Lost wages
  • Disability
  • Injury to reputation
  • Embarrassment
  • Emotional distress
  • Legal fees, and more.

You may also be able to recover punitive damages if the officer’s conduct was intentional, malicious, or fraudulent. Punitive damages are intended to punish the officer for his or her illegal actions. Any punitive damages will be awarded in addition to other financial awards.

Have you been the victim of police misconduct? Has a person acting under color of state law violated your rights in some way? Section 1983 gives you the right to hold the officer who hurt you personally responsible. Contact our personal injury attorneys to learn more about filing a Section 1983 claim. We are dedicated to helping you recover the compensation you deserve. Call us today to schedule a free consultation.

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