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Have you been victimized by the actions of a county or city official or had your Constitutional rights violated by a local ordinance or policy? Did you know that under federal law, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, known more commonly as “Section 1983,” you can sue for monetary damages for the violation of your Constitutional rights?

Our civil rights attorneys can evaluate your situation and advise you of all your options.  Call our office today at (702) 366-1888 or via our online form to schedule a free, no-risk consultation.


What Is A 1983 Action?

Federal law, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, is one of the premiere civil rights laws in the nation.  More commonly referred to as “Section 1983,” an action or lawsuit under this federal law allows a person to hold a state official or employee accountable for violating his or her constitutional rights. 

Specifically, the law provides that “Every person who under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage of any State . . . subjects . . . 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.”

The law was passed by Congress more than a century ago.  However, before it was known as Section 1983, it was called Section 1 of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.  At the time, Congress passed the law to help formerly enslaved persons bypass racist state courts and recover monetary damages when their Constitutional rights were infringed by the actions of local governments and their employees.  

Proving A 1983 Claim

In Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635 (1980), the United States Supreme Court held that only two elements must be plead to properly make a 1983 claim.  First, a plaintiff must specifically identity the constitutional right of which he or she has been deprived.  Second, the plaintiff must assert that the person who deprived him of that federal right acted under color of state or territorial law. 

In other words, the key is showing a constitutional right was violated and that the person that violated the right was acting under the law of a state (usually this means the person was a governmental employee or official of a county or municipality).  

It’s important to keep in mind that Section 1983 is not by itself a source of substantive rights but instead merely provides a gateway for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred – namely the constitution.  The law is deceptively straightforward but at the same time complex.  For this reason, it’s important to have a federal litigation attorney that understands the nuances of the law.      

Common Types Of 1983 Claims

There are many different types of contexts in which a 1983 claim can be made.  Some of the most common include the following:

●       Lawsuits by prisoners alleging deprivation of constitutional rights

●       Lawsuits against the police for violations of search and seizure provisions of the constitution, misconduct, and wrongful death

●       Lawsuits against government officials or county/city governments for violations of free speech

●       Lawsuits alleging malicious prosecution in a criminal case.

What Are “Color Of Law” Violations?

Law enforcement and other government officials have a responsibility to enforce laws and cultivate justice lawfully and within the parameters of the Constitution.  Individuals acting under the “color of law” include individuals who have the authority to detain, apprehend or arrest persons because that authority has been granted to them by federal, state, or local governments. 

Most “color of law” violations occur during the course of official duty.  In limited circumstances, off-duty conduct can be included if the government official asserts his or her status in some way.  Additionally, individuals who collude with government officials (but do not work with the government) can be liable for civil rights violation under Section 1983. 

Who Can Sue And Be Sued Under Section 1983?

Anyone who suffers a violation of Constitutional rights perpetrated by a state or local government official acting under the color of law can file and pursue a Section 1983 claim. 

Victims of civil rights violations perpetrated by state, local and municipal officials can sue the individuals who acted under the color of the law.  That includes, but is not limited to, the following persons:

●       Anyone who works for state of local government

●       People who conspire with government officials

●       Government entities

●       Individual officials (i.e., police officers, sheriff’s deputies, correction officers)

●       Municipal governments

It’s important to note that federal law enforcement (e.g., FBI agents) and government officials are not subject to liability under Section 1983.  However, individuals can sue those same federal officials via a Bivens claim (similar to Section 1983 but applicable only to the federal government).       

Who Has Immunity Under Section 1983?

There are certain categories of persons that have absolute immunity under Section 1983.  However, in order to remain immune, they must be acting within their official duties.  Individuals who have absolute immunity include judges, prosecutors and state politicians. 

Thus, suing a judge for a bad ruling under Section 1983 would be quickly dismissed by a court because judges enjoy absolute immunity under Section 1983 for their official actions.  However, a judge who gets drunk at a party and makes defamatory comments could be sued because he or she would likely not be deemed to be acting in an official capacity. 

There are other government officials who enjoy only qualified immunity so long as they acted in good faith and did not violate a person’s rights.  A good example of this would be police officers.  A police officer enjoys only qualified immunity under Section 1983.

What Damages Are Available For Section 1983 Violations?

A successful Section 1983 claim can result in the recovery of compensatory damages and injunctive relief.  Monetary damages are typically awarded to cover the costs of the victim’s expenses for healthcare costs (e.g., doctor’s bills), decreased or lost wages, pain and suffering and loss of freedom due to the violation of civil rights.

The exact amount of damages recovered depends on the situation, the caliber of attorney handling the case and many other factors.  It’s important to note, punitive damages can also be recovered in Section 1983 suits against individuals but not municipalities. 

Punitive damages, also known as “exemplary damages” are intended to punish a defendant for conduct and to serve as a deterrent to others engaging in similar conduct.  Punitive damages are hard to obtain and there must be a showing of egregious conduct before a court will allow these types of damages to be pursued.    

Statute Of Limitations For Section 1983 Claims

The statute of limitations for Section 1983 claims depends upon the state in which the claim is being pursued.  Why?  Because even though Section 1983 is a federal law, the statute is silent regarding a specific statute of limitations. 

In the face of this, the United States Supreme Court held in Owens v. Okure that trial courts are to “borrow and apply to all § 1983 claims the one most analogous state statute of limitations.” 

Applying this standard to cases in Nevada, a person will generally have 2-years to bring a Section 1983 case.    

Possible Defenses To Section 1983 Claims

If you’re contemplating a Section 1983 lawsuit, you need to be aware that there are many credible defenses to such a lawsuit.  Due to the complexity of the law in this area, there are very few attorneys that handle these types of cases.  For this reason, having an attorney that understands the intricacies of Section 1983 and Constitutional rights is not just important, its essential. 

A few of the most common defenses to a Section 1983 lawsuit are the following:

          ●       Absolute immunity

          ●       Qualified immunity

          ●       Defendant did not cause the injury at issue

Both absolute and qualified immunity are considered affirmative defenses to a Section 1983 claim.  Developing a strategy to combat potential Section 1983 defenses is an essential element of a successful Section 1983 claim. 

Can A Section 1983 Claim Be Brought In State Court?

The short answer is “yes.”  Under the Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the Constitution states are required to provide a hospitable environment for federal claims and the vindication of federal rights.  However, a defendant can remove a Section 1983 claim to federal court on the basis of “federal question” jurisdiction.  For this reason, very few Section 1983 claims are brought in state courts. 

Defendants generally perceive federal courts to be a favorable forum and for this reason, most defendants will immediately remove a Section 1983 case to federal court.  A good plaintiff’s attorney will recognize this potential and not seek to waste time pursuing a case in state court. 

Additionally, federal courts have stronger and longer reaching subpoena power which provides a benefit to a party seeking to prove a case.  For all of these reasons, it is better to simply bring a Section 1983 case in federal court in the first instance.    

What Is The Difference Between A Bivens Claim And Section 1983?

Section 1983 is a federal law that is explicitly aimed at state and local officials who violate Constitutional rights under the color of law.  Section 1983 does not permit lawsuits against federal officials. 

A Bivens action is a cause of action that was created by the federal courts to allow people to sue federal employees for money damages based upon violations of Constitutional rights.  A Bivens action cannot be brought against a federal agency, only an individual federal employee acting under color of federal law. 

Do I Really Need An Attorney To Pursue A Section 1983 Case?

Do you need a barber or stylist to cut your hair?  Do you need a physician to medically treat you?  There might be things you can do yourself but it’s smarter to put the matter in the hands of a professional. 

While anyone can file a lawsuit without the need to be represented by an attorney, it’s generally a good idea to have a competent and knowledgeable attorney by your side.  Section 1983 claims are notoriously difficult and complex.  The law is constantly changing and developing. 

Plus, Section 1983 cases involve the interplay between federal, state, and Constitutional laws.  Thus, in order to achieve maximum compensation, it’s important to have a skilled advocate in your corner.    

Civil Rights In The Workplace

Section 1983 is not the only type of federal civil rights statute.  Another very important civil rights statute, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits discrimination in the workplace. 

Under this important law, an employee can’t be discriminated against based upon sex, gender, racial background, national origin, sexual orientation, and other grounds.  Paul Padda Law can help you understand your rights if you’re facing workplace discrimination.   


At Paul Padda Law, we can help you explore your civil rights.  Our team of lawyers has extensive experience litigating Section 1983 cases. 

These are not easy cases to litigate and require the involvement of experienced legal counsel that understand the intricacies of the law and how best to advance a legal claim.

Call our office today at (702) 366-1888 or via our online form to schedule a consultation. 

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