Unformatted text preview: Section 1983:
Protections under Federal Statutes CRJU E491P, Police Liability
Spring 2011 Mr. Smith The Issue: 42 USC 1983
“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any state or territory, 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...” Federal Statutory Protections
Federal In addition to recourse for violations of the provisions of the Bill of Rights, section 1983, based on its “and laws” language, affords a remedy for the deprivation of federal statutory rights which, by their specific language, are intended to provide an individual right to recourse.
The major difficulty is in determining whether a particular federal statute creates the type of right that is enforceable under section 1983. Section 1983 provides recourse for the violation of a federal right, not merely the violation of a federal law. It is not enough for a plaintiff to simply allege that a person acting “under color of state law” violated a federal statute.
When seeking relief using the “and laws” provision of section 1983, the plaintiff must be able to establish that the statute upon which reliance is placed created some “right, privilege or immunity” to which the plaintiff was entitled and that the “right, privilege or immunity” was violated. Maine v. Thiboutot (1980)
(1980) Lionel and Joline Thiboutot, were married and had eight children, three of whom were Lionel's by a previous marriage. The Maine Department of Human Services (DHS) notified Lionel that, in computing the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits to which he was entitled for the three children exclusively his, it would no longer make allowance for the money he spent to support the other five children in his family unit, although he was legally obligated to support them. The Thiboutots sought judicial review of the DHS administrative action in a Maine state Superior Court and also filed for relief under section 1983. The Superior Court enjoined DHS from enforcing the challenged denial of benefits and ordered it to adopt new regulations and to pay the correct amounts retroactively and prospectively to the Thiboutots. The Supreme Court held that the language of section 1983 which addresses rights, privileges, or immunities “secured by the Constitution and laws” encompassed claims based on violations of federal statutory law, such as the Thiboutots’ claim that DHS had deprived them of welfare benefits to which they were entitled under the federal Social Security Act. “Given that Congress attached no modifiers to the phrase ‘and laws,’ the plain language of ... the section 1983 remedy broadly encompasses violations of federal statutory as well as constitutional law.” The Approach Since Thiboutot
The Since Thiboutot, the Supreme Court has looked at three factors to determine whether a particular statutory provision gives rise to a federal right: Whether Congress intended that the statute benefit the individual plaintiff;
Whether the right said to be protected by the statute is so “vague and amorphous” that its enforcement would strain judicial competence; and
Whether the statute unambiguously imposes a binding obligation on the States. Even if a plaintiff satisfies the three factors and demonstrates that a federal statute creates an individual right, however, there is only a rebuttable presumption that the right can be enforced under section 1983. A court must also look to whether, in creating the statute, Congress specifically foreclosed an individual remedy under section 1983, such as by enacting a “comprehensive statutory scheme” that was not intended to create any specific individual benefit. In other words, was the law in question designed to provide a benefit to an individual or to a class of people generally? Blessing v. Freestone (1997)
Blessing The case involved a section 1983 action, brought by five Arizona mothers, some of whom were receiving AFDC benefits, against the director of Arizona's state child support agency, which was operated pursuant to the requirements of Title IVD of the federal Social Security Act.
The plaintiffs claimed that they properly applied for child support services; that, despite their good faith efforts to cooperate, the agency never took adequate steps to obtain child support payments for them; that these omissions were largely attributable to staff shortages and other structural defects in the state's program; and that these systemic failures violated their individual rights under Title IVD to have all mandated services delivered in substantial compliance with the title. They sought (1) a declaratory judgment that Arizona's Title IVD program violated Federal law that created rights that were enforceable under section 1983, and (2) injunctive relief requiring the director to achieve substantial compliance with Title IVD. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the mothers had enforceable individual rights to have the State's program achieve “substantial compliance” with the requirements of Title IVD. The Supreme Court reversed, in a unanimous opinion, and held that Title IVD did not give the mothers an individualized Federal right, enforceable in an action under section 1983, to force the State agency to substantially comply with Title IVD.
The Supreme Court refused to foreclose the possibility that some provisions of Title IVD could give rise to individual rights. and, in fact, suggested that a custodial parent might have an enforceable right to receive a portion of the money collected on her behalf by the State. Pennhurst State School & Hospital v.
Halderman In this case, the Supreme Court was presented with the question of whether the “bill of rights” provision of the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, created enforceable rights in favor of the developmentally disabled.
The Court concluded that the Act did not create substantive rights in favor of the mentally disabled to “appropriate treatment” in the “least restrictive” environment, and thus was not enforceable through section 1983 because Congress intended to encourage, rather than mandate, better services for the developmentally disabled. Wilder v. Virginia Hospital Association (1990)
Wilder In this case, however, the Supreme Court found an enforceable right in an amendment to the federal Medicaid Act which required states to reimburse health care providers at “reasonable rates.”
In 1986, a group of hospitals brought suit under section 1983 against the commonwealth of Virginia, arguing that its Medicaid reimbursement rates (which had been approved in 1982 and again in 1986) were not "reasonable and adequate." Virginia argued that the Medicaid laws had not been intended to create an enforceable right, but simply to provide guidelines for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to follow, and that the hospitals therefore could not bring suit under 1983. The Supreme Court concluded that health care providers were clearly intended beneficiaries of the Medicaid amendment, that the language of the amendment was mandatory, that it imposed a “binding obligation” on the states to adopt reasonable rates of reimbursement for health care providers and that the obligation was enforceable under section 1983.
The Court noted that the requirement of reasonable rates was clearly intended to benefit the hospitals, and as such, it amounted to a right for purposes of section 1983. It further noted that, without explicit language preventing private suits under section 1983, or an alternative remedial scheme that would make such suits unnecessary, it was not reasonable to conclude that Congress had intended to prevent private suits to enforce the right it had created. Law Enforcement Issues
Law While many law enforcement claims center around denied constitutional rights, it may sometimes prove difficult for a plaintiff to bring a section 1983 claim for denial of a statutory right if the statute provides a remedy for violation of the right “virtually identical” to the claim that would be raised in the section 1983 action. In other words, if a federal statute creates an enforceable right, but also provides for an administrative means of challenging violation of the right, the administrative remedy will likely be deemed as the injured party’s sole remedy. This result is due, in great part, to the Supreme Court’s 1984 holding in Smith v. Robinson. Smith v. Robinson (1984)
Smith Tommy Smith, an eight year old, suffered from cerebral palsy. The Cumberland, Rhode Island school district originally agreed to subsidize Tommy’s education by placing him in a program for special needs children, but later decided to remove Tommy from the program and send him to the Rhode Island Division of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals, which was severely understaffed and under funded. This transfer would have constructively terminated Tommy’s public education.
Tommy’s parents administratively appealed the school district’s decision through the process prescribed by the federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA), the predecessor to the 1990 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Once the administrative process was exhausted, and the Smiths were not successful, they sought judicial review pursuant to section 1983, and other statutes. The Supreme Court held that the administrative process created by EHA was the exclusive remedy for handicapped students asserting their right to equal access to education. The Court held that where the EHA was available to a handicapped child asserting a right to a free appropriate public education, it is the exclusive avenue through which the child and his parents or guardian can pursue their claim. Other Federal Civil Rights Statutes
Other Some federal “civil rights” statutes, however, such as Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), may be available as a basis for recovery against a law enforcementofficer or agency where a section 1983 claim is precluded.
The ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability, perceived disability, or association with a person with a disability. Americans with Disabilities Act Claims
Americans Title II of the ADA requires government agencies to modify their programs and facilities to accommodate people with disabilities.
Title II violations may be enforced through a private cause of action for injunctive, declaratory and monetary relief, as well as attorneys’ fees, costs, and litigation expenses against the state or local government entity. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections v.
Yeskey In this case, the Supreme Court was confronted with a situation where Yeskey, sentenced to 18 to 36 months, was recommended for placement in a Motivational Boot Camp which would have allowed him parole in only six months. Yeskey was refused admission, however, because of a medical history of hypertension.
Prison officials argued that that Yeskey was not protected by the ADA because its requirement that a public entity not deprive a disabled person of the “benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity,” had no application to state prisons, as they do not provide prisoners with “benefits” of “programs, services, or activities” as those terms are commonly understood. The Supreme Court rejected the prison officials’ argument and held that a state prison falls squarely within the ADA’s definition of “public entity,” which includes “any department, agency, special purpose district, or other instrumentality of a State or States or local government.”
The Court then held that state prisons are required to afford accommodation to their disabled prisoners under Title II of the ADA. Police Activities and Misconduct
Police In a 1998 case, Gorman v. Bartch, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a ruling in favor of the Kansas City (Missouri) Police Department on a claim by Jeffrey Gorman, a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair, that the police had denied him proper handling and transportation during and after his arrest by failing to modify their arrest and transportation policies to accommodate individuals with spinal cord injuries and to insure proper training for officers on handling such arrestees.
Gorman had become involved in an altercation in a bar and was evicted. He approached police officers to complain and seek their assistance in gaining reentry but soon began to argue with them and was arrested for “trespassing.” When a police van arrived to transport Gorman to jail, it did not have a wheelchair lift, so the officers lifted Gorman from his wheelchair, placed him on a bench in the van and used his belt to secure him to a mesh wall in the van. On the trip to the jail, Gorman fell to the floor of the van, injuring his shoulders and back severely enough to require surgery and also breaking his urine bag, leaving him soaked in his own urine. Relying on the Supreme Court’s opinion in Yeskey, the Eighth Circuit held that “[a] local police department falls ‘squarely within the statutory definition of 'public entity,' just like a state prison. ” The Court then noted that “[t]he stated purpose of the ADA also demonstrates its applicability to transportation of arrestees. In the statement of findings and purpose at the beginning of the statute, Congress noted that "discrimination against individuals with disabilities persists in such critical areas as... transportation... institutionalization...and access to public services.” In a 1997 Indiana Federal District Court case, Lewis v. Truitt, police officers arrested a deaf man, but refused to acknowledge he could not hear. They entered his home without a warrant, and without cause, physically assaulted him, handcuffed him, verbally abused him, kicked and hit him causing several injuries, and charged him with resisting law enforcement. The officers sought summary judgment on the man's ADA claims, but lost the motion. The district court noted the importance of training for law enforcement in situations involving persons with disabilities. In Pyle v. Victoria County, Texas, a 2002 case, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a $230,000 disability discrimination award, under the ADA, to a severely hearingimpaired arrestee for a county's failure to take his disability into account during the process of arresting him for driving while intoxicated.
Pyle, who was severely hearingimpaired, was involved in a car accident when he rearended another vehicle traveling on the shoulder of a highway. Two deputies arrived at the scene of the accident in response to a report of an "incoherent subject" at the location. Shortly after they arrived, Pyle informed them of his hearing disability. Despite knowledge of Pyle’s disability, one of the deputies proceeded to administer three sobriety tests without asking Pyle which form of communication would be effective for him. During the process of providing instructions for Pyle on how to perform the tests, the deputy also turned his back to Pyle while he continued verbalizing the instructions.
At the police station, a deputy read Pyle his rights again, and wrote the Miranda warnings on a blackboard. Despite knowledge that Pyle was hearingimpaired and might not have understood his verbal communications, the deputy "nonetheless interrogated him without any accommodations to ensure that" he understood the circumstances of his arrest. The deputy then asked Pyle six times to take a blood test before he consented to do so. After passing the blood test, Pyle was released. In a 2003 Pennsylvania federal District Court case, Schorr v. Borough of Lemoyne, a young man was involuntarily admitted to the hospital because he was exhibiting signs of mental illness. While waiting to be evaluated, he escaped from the hospital. Later, when his whereabouts were discovered, two police officers were dispatched to take him back to the hospital. When they entered his house, a confrontation ensued, and the man was shot and killed by one of the officers. The court found that training officers to handle interactions with mentally ill individuals peacefully and modifying police practices to accommodate mentally ill individuals would be included as a “program, service, or activity” of a public entity” under Title II of the ADA and denied the motion to dismiss. ...
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This note was uploaded on 06/06/2011 for the course CRJU E491P taught by Professor Smith during the Spring '11 term at South Carolina.
- Spring '11