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Section (1983)

Elements Of A Section 1983 Claim

To prevail in a claim under section 1983, the plaintiff must prove two critical points: a person subjected the plaintiff to conduct that occurred under color of state law, and this conduct deprived the plaintiff of rights, privileges, or immunities guaranteed under federal law or the U.S. Constitution.

A state is not a "person" under section 1983, but a city is a person under the law (Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 109 S. Ct. 2304, 105 L. Ed. 2d 45 [1989]). Similarly, state officials sued in their official capacities are not deemed persons under section 1983, but if sued in their personal capacities, they are considered to be persons. Thus if a plaintiff wants to bring a section 1983 claim against a state official, she or he must name the defendants in their personal capacity and not in their professional capacity. Like a state, a territory, such as the territory of Guam, is not considered to be a person for the purposes of section 1983.

The Supreme Court has broadly construed the provision "under color of any statute" to include virtually any STATE ACTION including the exercise of power of one "possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law" (United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 61 S. Ct. 1031, 85 L. Ed. 1368 [1941]). Thus, the wrongdoer's employment by the government may indicate state action, although it does not conclusively prove it. Even if the wrongdoer did not act pursuant to a state statute, the plaintiff may still show that the defendant acted pursuant to a "custom or usage" that had the force of law in the state. In Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 90 S. Ct. 1598, 26 L. Ed. 2d 142 (1970), the plaintiff was able to prove that she was refused service in a restaurant due to her race because of a state-enforced custom of racial SEGREGATION, even though no state statute promoted racial segregation in restaurants.

A successful section 1983 claim also requires a showing of the deprivation of a constitutional or federal statutory "right." This showing is required because section 1983 creates a REMEDY when rights are violated but does not create any rights itself. It is not enough to show a violation of a federal law because all federal laws do not necessarily create federal rights. A violation of the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable SEARCHES AND SEIZURES or a violation of the COMMERCE CLAUSE are examples of federal constitutional rights that may be deprived. Deprivation of federal statutory rights is also actionable when it can be shown that the statute creates a federal right. To show that a federal statute creates a federal right, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the federal law was designed and clearly intended to benefit the plaintiff, resulting in the creation of a federal right. For example, the Supreme Court held that a person's entitlement to WELFARE benefits under the federal SOCIAL SECURITY ACT is a federal right stemming from a federal statute that can be protected by section 1983 (Maine v. Thiboutot, 448 U.S. 1, 100 S. Ct. 2502, 65 L. Ed. 2d 555 [1980]). However, the Court made clear in Blessing v. Freestone (520 U.S. 329, 117 S. Ct. 1353, 137 L. Ed. 2d 569 [1997]) that individuals cannot sue state and local agencies to force overall compliance with federal regulations.

If the plaintiff can demonstrate that a federal law granted her a federal right that was then violated, the defendant can defeat the plaintiff's claim by demonstrating that Congress specifically foreclosed a remedy under section 1983 for the type of injury that the plaintiff is PLEADING. The Supreme Court has held that the defendant must prove that a section 1983 action would be inconsistent with the cautious and precise scheme of remedies provided by Congress. For example, if a federal law specifically provides for a means to privately enforce that law, or if the statute does not create "rights" within the meaning of section 1983, the defendant may prevail in showing that Congress did not intend a section 1983 remedy to apply in that circumstance. It is the defendant's burden to demonstrate congressional intent to prevent a remedy under section 1983.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Secretary to SHAsSection (1983) - Jurisdiction, Elements Of A Section 1983 Claim, Absolute And Qualified Immunities, Remedies, Bars To Relief