Section 1983 Litigation
38 Pages Posted: 22 May 2014
Date Written: 1998
Section 1983 is a vital part of American Law. This is the statute that authorizes individuals to go into court to seek redress for violations of their federally protected rights by state and local officials. It is utilized in a very broad range of situations, perhaps most prominently in police misconduct cases. There are certain important questions that are raised in the context of Section 1983 litigation. First, what types of federal rights are enforceable under Section 1983? Second, when is a municipality liable for constitutional wrongdoing? Third, when is an official who has been sued for damages in a personal capacity protected from liability by the defense of qualified immunity? Fourth, what is the relationship between the federal Section 1983 remedy and state remedies?
Significantly, the United States Supreme Court rendered decisions in the 1996-1997 Term dealing with each of these significant issues, and these cases are analyzed within this Article. If one looks at the array of these decisions, they are a mixed bag in the sense that some of the decisions were pro-plaintiff and some were pro-defendant. This mixture is typical of the decisions rendered in any term of the Supreme Court over the last fifteen years or so prior to the publication of this Article. However, in the author’s opinion, the most important Section 1983 rulings from the Supreme Court in the 1996-1997 Term were pro-defendant. These rulings were in favor of state and local government, which raises the question of whether the present Court is perhaps embarked on cutting back on the Section 1983 remedy. Thus, the author predicted that this was an issue to watch during the next several years.
Keywords: Section 1983 litigation, U.S. Supreme Court, enforcement of federal rights, limits of Section 1983, municipality liability, government officials' personal liability, qualified immunity
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