Civil Rights

Civil Rights Actions

Lawsuits under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 are commonly known as “1983 case” are one of the most common types of lawsuits filed in federal court. Section 1983 authorizes a court to grant relief when a party’s federally protected rights have been violated by a state or local official who acted under color of state law. The statute states that “Every person who, under color of any statute…of any State or Territory… subjects or causes to be subjected any citizen of the United States…to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party…” 42 U.S.C. §1983. The statute acts as the means for enforcing federal constitutional rights against the state and local governments and their officials. It also is a means for enforcing rights secured by the laws of the United States. In a 1983 action the plaintiff or party bringing the lawsuit must show the contested governmental conduct violates the federal constitution or the congressional intent of the United States law in question.

Burden of Proof

Plaintiff must prove 1) a person subjected the plaintiff to conduct that occurred under color of state law; and 2) this conduct deprived the plaintiff of rights, privileges, or immunities guaranteed under federal law or the constitution.

Federal courts in Miami and around the state of Florida see a wide variety of federal constitutional and statutory claims under section 1983. A few of the general areas of other claims have included discrimination in public employment on the basis of race or the exercise of First Amendment rights, discharge or demotion without procedural due process, deliberate indifference to the medical needs of prisoners.

A large percentage of these 1983 claims in Florida allege police misconduct such as a false arrest or excessive force, which a violation of the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable seizures. An excessive-force claim against a police officer during an arrest arises under the Fourth Amendments. To determine whether the officer’s conduct in fact violated the Fourth Amendment, the court assesses whether the officer’s actions were objectively reasonable when considered in the context of the facts and circumstances during the arrest. In making this inquiry, the court must disregard the officer’s underlying intent or motivation. Moreover, the court must analyze the objective reasonableness of the officer’s actions based on the facts confronting the officer at the scene.

Qualified Immunity

The defense to a civil rights lawsuit for police misconduct is qualified immunity. Whether a specific use of force is unlawful will turn on the following factors: 1) the severity of the crime, 2) the immediate threat posed by the suspect, and 3) the possibility of the suspect resisting or fleeing. Generally speaking, qualified immunity applies unless an analysis of the facts would inevitably lead to the finding that a reasonable officer in the defendant’s position to conclude the force was unlawful.

Liability of the Municipality

In 1978 the Supreme Court has ruled in Monell v. Dept. of Social Services of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 701 (1978) that Municipal entities can be liable where their “policies and practices” proximately cause constitutional injuries. The liability may be that an express policy exits or a claim may stated that a “widespread practice that, although not authorized by written law or express municipal policy, is so permanent and well settled as to constitute custom or usage with the force of law.” In cases involving excessive force by police officers under this theory, courts have recognized “practice” claims for the failure to discipline and /or punish officers for excessive force such that city itself implicitly encourages said abuses, i.e. turning a blind eye.

Municipalities can also be held liable under a civil rights action for failure to train employees. A municipality can be held liable for the deliberate indifference to the rights of individuals its officers come in contact with the failure to train employees to handle recurring situations that present obvious potential for constitutional violation and such failure to train results in a constitutional violation. Additionally, the municipality can be liable where it has failed to provide further training after learning of a pattern of constitutional violations by its officers.

A successful 1983 plaintiff is entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees. There is no limit on actual proved damages. The Swartz Law Firm is experienced in handling Civil Rights claims and lawsuits. If you believe you have such a potential claim, contact our office for your free consultation to find out if you have a Civil Rights case.

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