You might have grounds for a Section 1983 lawsuit against a law enforcement officer who violates your civil rights. However, you must prove that the officer overstepped his or her authority or deprived you of your civil rights.
Civil rights violations covered under the Section 1983 statute include false arrest or false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, failure to intervene, or excessive use of force. You can file these claims against state and local government officials who violate your civil rights while acting under the color of law.
Common Claims Under Section 1983
You have constitutionally-backed rights that protect you from police misconduct and abuse. Despite that, law enforcement officers and other government officials may violate these rights. You have a right to pursue a claim under the Section 1983 statute against the liable party if you are a victim of a civil rights violation. You must, however, provide sufficient and compelling evidence to show that the liable party violated your rights while acting in the color of law for your claim to hold up.
Police misconduct cases are the basis for most constitutional rights violation lawsuits in Chicago, Illinois. Often, these cases involve the police code of silence, under which other officers refuse to speak up about their colleagues’ crimes or misconduct. You can pursue the following claims after determining that you have legal grounds for a Section 1983 lawsuit:
False Arrest or Imprisonment
Law enforcement officers must have probable cause before arresting anyone. So, you may file a false arrest claim against an officer who arrests you without probable cause. The Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable and unlawful searches and seizures. The amendment also covers unwarranted arrests. As such, a Fourth Amendment rights violation may form the basis of a Section 1983 lawsuit.
If you served a prison sentence for a crime you did not commit, you might have a case against the government officials that oversaw the prosecution and sentencing. You can bring a Section 1983 lawsuit against them for violating your right to a fair trial.
A malicious prosecution claim is usually based on Fourth Amendment rights violations. In particular, it helps hold the prosecution team liable for violating your right to liberty. You must show that the entirety of the criminal proceedings were driven by malicious intent to prove this claim. You must also show that the prosecution team lacked probable cause to prosecute you.
Failure to Intervene or Excessive Use of Force
The law only allows law enforcement officers to use force when it can help make a lawful arrest or calm down a situation. So, you may have a valid claim for a violation of your civil rights if police officers use excessive force when handling you.
The law also requires police officers to intervene in situations that involve public safety. As such, they need to act promptly to stop use of force on a civilian. You can hold officers legally responsible if they fail to intervene when someone uses force on you.
What Are the Requirements for a Successful Section 1983 Lawsuit?
Courts use Section 1983 as a procedural device rooted in a federal statute when hearing lawsuits involving violations of constitutional rights. As such, the statute offers them a basis for hearing civil rights suits.
The statute creates liability for federal law violations. It also focuses on violations of the First, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The statute covers violations of the Social Security Act too.
Over the years, Section 1983 has evolved to allow individuals to sue local and state government officials for violations of their constitutional rights. But, a successful claim should prove that the perpetrator’s actions were under color of law. The plaintiffs must also show that the perpetrator’s actions deprived them of a constitution-guaranteed right.
The defendant or perpetrator may act under color of state law when he or she purports to act or act as per the official duties covered under a regulation, ordinance, or a municipality, county, or state law. A court can rule in favor of the plaintiff if the plaintiff proves all the elements in Section 1983.
The court will require you to prove that the perpetrator’s actions caused your injury. A personal injury lawyer can help present evidence and arguments to prove the elements of your claim.
What Is ‘Under Color of Law’?
A violation of your civil rights must have been committed under color of law for you to have a valid Section 1983 claim. The phrase ‘under color of law’ implies that the person acted or purported to act with local or state authority. It applies to the day-to-day job duties of government officials, such as law enforcement officers.
In the case of police officers responding to criminal acts without their official uniforms, you can file a Section 1983 lawsuit against them if they violate your constitutional rights. However, it must be clear that the officers were acting within their legal duties.
The officers should have shown you a law enforcement badge, claimed to be police officers, and brandished a gun, or otherwise established that they were officers.
Some state government officials are not liable for civil rights violations under Section 1983, as their job duties exempt them from acting under color of law. For instance, you cannot sue a public defender for violating your constitutional rights. The defender’s job is to argue a case on your behalf in court.
Statute of Limitations for a Section 1983 Lawsuit
A specific statute of limitations applies to Section 1983 lawsuits. As such, you have to file your lawsuit within a given timeline. The filing deadline for the lawsuit will vary based on the constitutional or civil rights violation. Generally, however, the Section 1983 statute of limitations is two years.
Who Can Be Held Liable in a Section 1983 Lawsuit?
The lawsuit can target several defendants, depending on their involvement in the civil rights violation and their state and federal law-mandated authority. Section 1983 allows plaintiffs to pursue a lawsuit against local and state officials, law enforcement officers included.
An individual must have acted directly under color of law to qualify as a defendant in the claim. The individual must have also acted in violation of your constitutional rights.
So, you can file a Chicago police lawsuit against officers who violate your equal protection or due process rights, or participate in illegal searches/seizures. The officers are also liable for the violation if they use excessive force on you. Besides police officers, you may name elected officials, probation officers, and prison officials in your lawsuit.
Can You Sue Private Individuals, Federal Officials, and Municipalities?
Federal officials are exempted from Section 1983 lawsuits. As such, you cannot hold them liable for your constitutional rights violation.
Federal officials can only be liable for this violation if they participate in it with local or state officials. You can also bring a Bivens action against them if they acted on their own.
The Section 1983 suit may list private individuals as defendants if there is proof that they conspired with state officials to violate your constitutional rights. This way, the statute considers their actions under color of law.
Municipalities, such as towns, cities, counties, and villages, can be liable for your constitutional rights violation. The same applies to departments, such as public transit services or school boards. However, the violation must have stemmed from a policy or custom of the municipality.
Damages That You Can Recover from a Section 1983 Lawsuit
Filing a Section 1983 lawsuit can help you recover compensatory damages for any injury or harm caused by a government official. Examples of compensatory damages are lost wages, medical expenses, emotional distress, and pain and suffering.
Besides compensatory damages, you may recover punitive damages for the misconduct of a government official. Punitive damages help punish misconduct and deter future occurrences of the misconduct. You can only recover punitive damages in a Section 1983 lawsuit if the liable law enforcement officer or government officer engaged in an intolerable or dreadful conduct.
Injunctive Relief and Immunity
You can seek prospective relief as a plaintiff in a Section 1983 lawsuit. The relief takes the form of a court order or an injunction. With an injunctive relief, you will request the court to make changes that can help deter a similar or another civil rights violation from ever happening again.
While you can seek monetary damages from the suit, they will not be awarded if they involve certain state officials. Some officials have immunity from monetary damages in cases involving civil rights violations. These officials include state lawmakers, judges, and prosecutors.
The qualified immunity defense can help some state officials challenge your lawsuit. They will argue that they acted in good faith on the alleged civil rights violation. The court may accept a qualified immunity defense as long as the officials did not violate your rights knowingly. The law, however, prevents municipalities from using this type of defense to avoid liability. As such, you can sue a municipality even when it is not aware of the civil rights violation.