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Section (1983)

Jurisdiction, Elements Of A Section 1983 Claim, Absolute And Qualified Immunities, Remedies, Bars To Relief

Section 1983 of Title 42 of the U.S. Code is part of the CIVIL RIGHTS ACT of 1871. This provision was formerly enacted as part of the KU KLUX KLAN ACT of 1871 and was originally designed to combat post-CIVIL WAR racial violence in the Southern states. Reenacted as part of the Civil Rights Act, section 1983 is as of the early 2000s the primary means of enforcing all constitutional rights.

Section 1983 provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

On March 23, 1871, President ULYSSES S. GRANT sent an urgent message to Congress calling for national legislation that could combat the alarming increase in racial unrest and violence in the South. Congress reacted swiftly to this request, proposing a bill just five days later. The primary objective of the bill was to provide a means for individuals and states to enforce, in the federal or state courts, the provisions of the FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT. The proposed bill created heated debate lasting several weeks but was eventually passed on April 20, 1871.

During the first 90 years of the act, few causes of action were brought due to the narrow and restrictive way that the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the act. For example, the phrase "person … [acting] under color of any statute" was not interpreted to include those wrongdoers who happened to be state or municipal officials acting within the scope of their employment but not in accordance with the state or municipal laws. Those officials were successfully able to argue that they were not acting under color of statute and therefore their actions did not fall under the mandates of section 1983. In addition, courts narrowly construed the definition of "rights, privileges, or immunities."

But the Supreme Court decisions in Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 81 S. Ct. 473, 5 L. Ed. 2d 492 (1961), and Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S. Ct. 2018, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611 (1978), finally recognized the full scope of Congress's ORIGINAL INTENT in enacting section 1983. The Supreme Court began accepting an expansive definition of rights, privileges, or immunities and held that the act does cover the actions of state and municipal officials, even if they had no authority under state statute to act as they did in violating someone's federal rights.


Civil Rights; Remedy.

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