Why Will Won’t Destroy Section 1983 Damages Actions
Criminal Law Bulletin, Vol. 27, p. 59, 1991
8 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2009
Date Written: 1991
In a recent article in the Criminal Law Bulletin, David L. and Lynne W. Abney concluded that the United States Supreme Court’s recent holding in Will v. Michigan Department of State Police was 'deceptively direct.' State officials are not liable in damages actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for acts that those state officials have committed within the scope of their official duties.” Moreover, the Abney’s suggested that a Section 1983 plaintiff could not 'avoid the effect of Will by simply designating the action as a suit against the state official in his or her individual capacity.' This broad and far-reaching interpretation has some apparent support in a portion of one sentence of the Court’s opinion. This article argues, however, that when one considers that sentence in the factual and legal context in which Will was decided, both the holding and the implications of Will become much narrower. The article suggests that the holding is limited to the viability of Section 1983 damages against states or state officials who are sued in their official capacities, and holds no implications for Section 1983 actions against state officials in their personal capacities.
Keywords: Section 1983, civil rights, official capacity
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