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Practice Areas

Civil Suits for Deprivations of Civil Rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

The Civil Action for Deprivation of Rights Act or as it is commonly known as Section 1983, is part of The Civil Rights Act intended to provide a private remedy for violations of federal law.
42 U.S.C. § 1983, commonly referred to as “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. 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.

Elements of a Section 1983 Claim:

(i) “Every person . . .” Only “persons” may be liable. A state is not considered a person under section 1983; however, a state officer can be sued in his official capacity. Municipalities and local governments are considered “persons” as such are subject to suit. Under section 1983, the United States Government is not considered a “person,” yet individual employees of federal, state and local government may be sued in their individual capacities.
(ii) “. . . who under color of [state law] . . .” Liability will only attach to persons must acting under the color of state law even if the person abuses its power and exceeds legal authority.
(iii) “. . . subjects or causes to be subjected . . .” Section 1983 requires a causal connection between the defendant’s actions and the harm suffered by the Plaintiff. As such, the harm must be the result a policy, ordinance, regulation, or decision customarily followed, and this policy must form the basis of the alleged misconduct.
(iv) “. . . [any person to] the deprivation of rights . . .” Under section 1983, a plaintiff may prevail only with proof that a deprivation of rights secured by the United States Constitution or federal statutes occurred.
(v) ” . . . shall be liable . . . in an action at law, Suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . ” There is no requirement that the plaintiff file suit in federal court as state courts have concurrent jurisdiction with the federal court system.

Damages and Attorney’s Fees:

Damages available under section 1983 exist to compensate the victims of official misconduct. Based on this reasoning, the Supreme Court has held that there is no limit on damages that can be proven by the plaintiff. Punitive damages are also available, but not against a municipality. The Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Awards Act of 1976 provides that a prevailing plaintiff in a section 1983 action is entitled to recover attorneys’ fees.

When is the Best Time to Act?:

Section 1983 does not specify a statute of limitations. Based on this silence the time in which to file suit is dictated by state law. It is important to seek legal counsel on to determine to what extent the statute of limitations on your case applies.

New York Civil Rights Actions:

Based on concurrent jurisdiction a section 1983 case may be filed in state court with other state law claims related to the underlying facts of the case.