Who Pays for Police Misconduct in Bankrupt Cities?

40 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2016 Last revised: 4 Apr 2018

See all articles by Melissa B. Jacoby

Melissa B. Jacoby

University of North Carolina School of Law

Mary Ellen Goode


Date Written: September 20, 2016


When a financially distressed city files for bankruptcy, recovery for civil rights violations is at risk. This article examines the impact of bankruptcy on civil rights claims, with an emphasis on allegations of police misconduct resulting in lawsuits under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We walk through how a bankruptcy filing affects civil rights plaintiffs, starting with the immediate injunction against litigation and debt collection activity, and ending with the legal release of debt and a restructuring plan. Using primary source materials, we offer three brief case studies: Detroit, Vallejo, and San Bernardino. We conclude with suggestions on future steps in research and advocacy.

The September 20, 2016 revision of this working paper incorporates the Ninth Circuit decision in Deocampo v. Potts. That decision has important implications for a plaintiff's ability to enforce a judgment against a police officer of a formerly-bankrupt city as well as the officer's ability to seek indemnification from that city.

Keywords: Municipal Bankruptcy, Civil Rights, Police Misconduct, Police Brutality, 1983, Chapter 9, Detroit, San Bernardino, Vallejo, Indemnity, Ferguson, Chicago, Baltimore

Suggested Citation

Jacoby, Melissa B. and Goode, Mary Ellen, Who Pays for Police Misconduct in Bankrupt Cities? (September 20, 2016). UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2796582, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2796582 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2796582

Melissa B. Jacoby (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States

Mary Ellen Goode

Independent ( email )

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