Fundamentals of Section 1983

Fundamentals of Section 1983 - Fundamentals of Section 1983...

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Unformatted text preview: Fundamentals of Section 1983 Fundamentals CRJU E491P, Police Liability Spring 2011, Mr. Smith The Background The In the wake of Reconstruction, after the end of the Civil War, President Ulysses S. Grant sent an urgent message to Congress, on March 23, 1871, calling for national legislation that could combat the alarming increase in racial unrest and violence in the South. Congress reacted swiftly to the request, proposing a bill just five days later. The primary objective of the bill was to provide a means for individuals and states to enforce, in the federal or state courts, the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment. The proposed bill created heated debate lasting several weeks but was eventually passed on April 20, 1871. The Origins The The bill which was passed by Congress ultimately became codified as section 1983 of title 42 of the United States Code, commonly cited as 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The section was originally enacted as section 1 of the Ku Klux Act of 1871 because it was specifically designed to combat post­Civil War racial violence in the southern states. It later was incorporated as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 and is today the primary means of enforcing federal constitutional rights. The Pertinent Language The “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…” The History of Section 1983 The During the first ninety years of the act, few causes of action were brought due to the narrow and restrictive way that the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the act. For example, the phrase "person … [acting] under color of any statute" was not interpreted to include those wrongdoers who happened to be state or municipal officials acting within the scope of their employment but not in accordance with the state or municipal laws. Thus, officials were successfully able to argue that they were not acting under color of statute and therefore their actions did not fall under the mandates of section 1983. In addition, courts narrowly construed the definition of "rights, privileges, or immunities." Basic Requirements Basic There are two basic requirements that must be satisfied before a section 1983 suit can proceed: 1) the action which produces the injury must be based upon an action taken by a person acting under the apparent authority of state law; and 2) the injury itself must represent a deprivation of federal constitutional or statutory right. Two other concepts to remember about section 1983: a) It has no application to activities of persons acting under federal authority; only state authority; and b) Section 1983 creates no rights itself as the right violated must exist independently. Monroe v. Pape (1961) Monroe James Monroe alleged that 13 Chicago police officers broke into his home in the early morning hours, rousted his family from bed, made them all stand naked in their living room, and then ransacked every room, emptying drawers and ripping mattress covers. Mr. Monroe was then taken to the police station and detained on “open” charges for 10 hours,while he was interrogated about a two­day­old murder. He was never taken before a magistrate, although one was available, was not permitted to call his family or attorney but was subsequently released without criminal charges being filed against him. The officers had no search warrant and no arrest warrant to support their actions. The Supreme Court held that municipal corporations, such as Chicago, were not “persons” within the meaning of section 1983 and, as such, were not subject to suit under section 1983. The individual police officers argued that the “under color of” state law requirement of section 1983 excluded their acts for which they could show no authority. The Supreme Court held, however, that the actions of the individual officers in conducting the allegedly illegal search and seizure were acts performed “under color of” state law within the meaning of section 1983 and, as such, they were to be considered “persons” under the statute. “Misuse of power, possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law, is action taken ‘under color of’ state law.” U.S. v. Classic (1941) Common Law Torts and Respondeat Superior Respondeat Employers are liable, under the common law doctrine of respondeat superior, for the negligent acts or omissions of their employees in the course of employment. For an act to be considered within the course of employment it must either be authorized or be so connected with an authorized act that it can be considered as ancillary to performing the authorized act. An employer is generally not held liable for the intentional torts of its employees, such as assault and battery, unless the action giving rise to the intentional tort (e.g. use of force) was a required aspect of employment. The Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized, however, that respondeat superior has no application in the context of section 1983. Monell v. Department of Social Services Monell (1978) (1978) In Monell, female employees of the Department of Social Services and the Board of Education of the City of New York brought an action under section 1983 challenging the policies of those bodies in requiring pregnant employees to take unpaid leaves of absence before those leaves were required for medical reasons. The Supreme Court, reexamining the history of section 1983, concluded that Congress, in 1871, intended to include local governments among the “persons” to which section 1983 applies and overruled Monroe v. Pape to the extent that it held that local governments were immune from suit under section 1983. “Local governing bodies and local officials sued in their official capacities can, therefore, be sued directly under section 1983 for monetary, declaratory, and injunctive relief in those situations where, as here, the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted or promulgated by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy.” “On the other hand, the language and legislative history of section 1983 compel the conclusion that Congress did not intend a local government to be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor ­­ in other words, a local government cannot be held liable under section 1983 on a respondeat superior theory.” Immunity of States and State Officials Immunity A state cannot be sued under section 1983 in federal court because the Eleventh Amendment specifically prohibits such an action. The Eleventh Amendment does not apply, however, in state court actions. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court, in Will v. Michigan Department of State Police (1989), held that a state is not a “person” within the meaning of section 1983 and, thus, also cannot be sued in state court. The Court also noted that a section 1983 action for damages filed against a state official in official­capacity is, in reality, a suit against the official's office and is precluded in both state and federal court. Official and Personal Capacities Official The State itself has no personal­capacity and, obviously, the State in its own name is always immune from suit under section 1983. The capacity in which a state official is sued, however, will make a difference with respect to whether a section 1983 claim for damages can be successfully maintained. In Hafer v. Melo (1991), the Supreme Court held that while state officials sued in their official capacities for damages are not persons under section 1983, state officials sued in their personal capacities for damages are considered to be persons and may be sued. Personal­capacity suits seek to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions taken under color of state law. To establish personal liability in a section 1983 action, it is enough to show that the official, acting under color of state law, caused a deprivation of a federal right. Official­capacity suits represent another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent. More is required to establish an official­capacity action under section 1983 because a governmental entity is liable under section 1983 only when the entity itself is a moving force behind the deprivation of rights. In other words, in an official­capacity suit the entity's policy or custom must have played a part in the deprivation of rights. An official in a personal­capacity action may be able to assert personal immunity defenses, such as “qualified immunity,” an objectively reasonable reliance on existing law. In an official­capacity action, personal immunity defenses are not available. The only immunities that can be claimed in an official­capacity action are forms of sovereign immunity that the entity itself may possess, such as the Eleventh Amendment. Thus if a plaintiff wants to bring a section 1983 claim for damages against a state official, she or he must name the defendant in personal­capacity and not in official­ capacity. Although it is important to specify the capacity in which a state official is sued, there is no need to bring official­ capacity actions against local government officials, because local government units can be sued directly for damages and injunctive or declaratory relief. As such, for example, there would be no need to name a city police officer “in official­capacity” as the city itself could be sued directly without the “fiction” of naming the officer. Fundamentals of Section 1983 (Part 2) (Part CRJU E491P, Police Liability Spring 2011, Mr. Smith Prospective Relief Prospective The limitation on bringing actions under section 1983 against a state official in official­capacity does not apply in an action that seeks, not money damages, but, instead, only prospective relief (i.e. injunctive relief). A section 1983 action can be brought against a state official in official­capacity for prospective relief in state or federal court. The State itself, however, cannot be named in such a suit. Official­capacity actions for prospective relief under section 1983 are not treated as the equivalent of an action against the State. The Section 1983 Action The Both federal and state courts are authorized to hear cases brought under section 1983. State courts are required to hear section 1983 cases pursuant to the Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the Constitution. The Supremacy Clause mandates that states must provide hospitable forums for federal claims and the vindication of federal rights. The issue of a “federal” cause of action being brought in a state court setting was addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Howlett v. Rose (1990). “Federal law is enforceable in state courts not because Congress has determined that federal courts would otherwise be burdened or that state courts might provide a more convenient forum although both might well be true but because the Constitution and laws passed pursuant to it are as much laws in the States as laws passed by the state legislature. The Supremacy Clause makes those laws ‘the supreme Law of the Land,’ and charges state courts with a coordinate responsibility to enforce that law according to their regular modes of procedure. “ Section 1983 Attorneys’ Fees Section The Civil Rights Attorney's Fee Awards Act of 1976 (42 U.S.C. section 1988) allows for the award of reasonable attorneys' fees to the prevailing party in cases brought under the various federal civil rights laws, including section 1983. This provision applies whether or not compensatory damages were awarded. This provision also applies whether the plaintiff or the defendant prevails. In addition, section 1988 does not require that the attorneys' fees awarded be in proportion to the amount of damages recovered. Liability Under Section 1983 Liability Two basic types of individual officer liability can be established under section 1983: Direct and Indirect. Direct liability generally comes about where a law enforcement defendant has engaged in a practice, the direct result of which is the plaintiff's injury. Direct liability may attach either to an individual officer or to a municipal employer such as a city, where its policy is the “moving force” behind the injury. Indirect liability generally comes about where the law enforcement defendant was not directly involved in the practice which caused the plaintiff's injury but otherwise failed to take steps which could likely have prevented the wrongdoer from inflicting injury. Officer Direct Liability Officer Direct liability of the individual officer generally posits that the defendant officer "did something" which caused injury to the plaintiff. The classic case of direct liability occurs where an officer uses excessive force to apprehend a suspect. Liability is said to be direct because the officer’s actions “directly” caused the injury. In a section 1983 claim, direct liability of the individual officer will be dependent upon the type of constitutional violation which is alleged. Constitutional violations will either involve a general allegation of violation of "due process" rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or will involve an allegation of violation of a specific constitutional protection such as the Fourth Amendment protection against "unreasonable searches and seizures." Officer Indirect Liability Officer Indirect liability of the individual officer is typically illustrated by the liability which may attach to a supervisory official for failing to provide appropriate training, supervision or control of subordinates. The liability runs against the individual officer based on his or her personal responsibility for the constitutional violation of a subordinate. The supervisory officer may be held liable even where not directly involved in the constitutional violation if the conduct of the subordinate can be "affirmatively linked" to the action or inaction of the supervisor. To attach supervisory liability to an officer does not require proof of any official policy or custom as the “moving force” behind the supervisor’s conduct, as would be required were municipal liability being alleged. However, the supervisor cannot be held liable solely on the basis of being a supervisor because liability based on respondeat superior is not permitted in section 1983 claims. A three­prong test, developed in Shaw v. Stroud, a 1994 Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals case, can be applied to determine a supervisor’s liability. To prevail, the plaintiff must establish: (1) that the supervisor had actual or constructive knowledge that the subordinate was engaged in conduct that posed “a pervasive and unreasonable risk” of constitutional injury to citizens like the plaintiff; (2) that the supervisor’s response to that knowledge was so inadequate as to show “deliberate indifference to or tacit authorization of the alleged offensive practices”; and (3) that there was an “affirmative causal link” between the supervisor’s inaction and the particular constitutional injury suffered by the plaintiff. Municipal Liability Municipal Monell brought the issue of municipal liability into focus: “Local governing bodies therefore, can be sued directly under section 1983 for monetary, declaratory, or injunctive relief where, as here, the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers.” “[L]ocal governments, like every other section 1983 ‘person,’ by the very terms of the statute, may be sued for constitutional deprivations visited pursuant to governmental ‘custom’ even though such a custom has not received formal approval through the body's official decisionmaking channels.” From the standpoint of so­called “deep pockets” liability, municipalities are greatly at risk. In a section 1983 action, however, a municipal entity is not liable for the acts of its officers merely because it employs them as there is no respondeat superior liability under section 1983. For liability to attach to the municipality, a law enforcement officer's infliction of constitutional injury must have been in furtherance of the "policy,” "custom," or “practice” of the municipality before the municipal treasury is responsible for damages. The officer’s actions must reflect that it is, in actuality, the municipality that directed, or was the “moving force” behind, the injury inflicted. Defining Municipal Policy Defining “Policy” may be deemed to exist by a court in a number of ways. Certainly, written policies and directives may be indicative of the municipality's “causation” of a plaintiff's injury through its law enforcement officers, but often the injury suffered cannot be directly attributed to anything in writing although it is well known that "it's always been done that way.“ “Policy” may also, under certain circumstances, be deemed to exist based solely on the advice of a policymaker or upon a single act committed by an actual policymaker. The “official policy” requirement was intended to distinguish acts of the municipality from acts of employees of the municipality, and thereby make clear that municipal liability is limited to action for which the municipality is actually responsible. Monell reasoned that recovery from a municipality is limited to acts that are, properly speaking, acts “of the municipality” that is, acts which the municipality has officially sanctioned or ordered .... With this understanding, it is plain that municipal liability may be imposed for a single decision by municipal policymakers under appropriate circumstances .... Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati (1986) City of Canton v. Harris (1989) City The Supreme Court's clarification that “policy” can be determined to exist from the advice of policymakers and patterns of conduct was brought to full force in the 1989 decision in City of Canton v. Harris. In Canton, the Court held that a plaintiff seeking to establish municipal liability on the theory that a facially lawful municipal action (establishing a training program which was alleged to be inadequate) has led an employee to violate a plaintiff's rights must demonstrate that the municipal action was not simply negligent, but was taken with “deliberate indifference” as to its known or obvious consequences. The inadequacy of police training may serve as the basis for 1983 liability only where the failure to train in a relevant respect amounts to deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of persons with whom the police come into contact .... A city is not liable under section 1983 unless a municipal “policy” or “custom” is the moving force behind the constitutional violation. Only where a failure to train reflects a “deliberate” or “conscious” choice by the municipality can the failure be properly thought of as an actionable city “policy.”' Monell will not be satisfied by a mere allegation that a training program represents a policy for which the city is responsible. Rather, the focus must be on whether the program is adequate to the tasks the particular employees must perform, and if it is not, on whether such inadequate training can justifiably be said to represent “city policy.” Famous Footnote 10 Famous For example, city policy makers know to a moral certainty that their police officers will be required to arrest fleeing felons. The city has armed its officers with firearms, in part to allow them to accomplish this task. Thus, the need to train officers in the constitutional limitations on the use of deadly force, see Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985), can be said to be “so obvious,” that failure to do so could properly be characterized as “deliberate indifference” to constitutional rights. It could also be that the police, in exercising their discretion, so often violate constitutional rights that the need for further training must have been plainly obvious to the city policy makers, who, nevertheless, are “deliberately indifferent” to the need. ...
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