Supreme Court § 1983 Decisions - October 2008 Term
45 Tulsa L. Rev. 231 (2009)
46 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2014
Date Written: 2009
Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code is a vital part of American law. This statute authorizes private parties to enforce their federal constitutional rights, and some federal statutory rights, against defendants who acted under color of state law. During the October 2008 term, the Supreme Court rendered several decisions resolving a broad range of important § 1983 issues. These decisions reflect a “mixed bag” of pro-plaintiff and pro-defendant rulings. However, in the author's view, on the whole § 1983 defendants fared decisively better on the most important issues. Plaintiffs obtained favorable rulings that Title IX does not preclude § 1983 constitutional claims; that a New York law that barred prisoner § 1983 damages claims in state court against correction officers violated the Supremacy Clause; and that school officials’ strip search of a middle school student violated the Fourteenth Amendment (although the defendant officials were found protected by qualified immunity because the Fourth Amendment law was not clearly established at the time of the search). On the other hand, the Court held that the “plausibility” pleading standard governs Bivens and § 1983 federal court complaints and dismissed Bivens claims for failure to satisfy that standard, rejected supervisory liability as an independent form of § 1983 and Bivens liability, held that convicted criminal defendants do not have a due process right to post-conviction DNA testing, and rejected a § 1983 wrongful conviction claim by extending absolute prosecutorial immunity to supervisory prosecutors who allegedly failed to train, supervise, and establish information systems concerning exculpatory impeachment material. The goal of the Article is to analyze these decisions that are relevant to § 1983 litigation, placing special emphasis upon their litigation significance.
Keywords: Section 1983, Bivens doctrine, federal constitutional rights, federal statutory rights, state officials, immunity defenses, qualified immunity
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