What Are Section 1983 Claims?
The government is generally charged with the protection of your legal rights. But what happens when the government is the one infringing on your rights? When you have had your rights violated by the government, you may be surprised to find out how limited your options are to recover damages for the violation. Often governments and their agencies have immunities from liability. One mechanism for recovery is to bring an action under Section 1983 of the U.S. Code. This statute allows individuals to bring claims against defendants who (1) act under color of state law (i.e. acting under authority provided by the state) and (2) violate rights under federal law. Often these claims are based on constitutional violations. For example, a plaintiff might bring a lawsuit under Section 1983 against a police officer based on excessive force, which could be a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Claims brought under Section 1983 are against the individual government actors and not the government itself. Importantly, though, the claimant can still receive awards of monetary damages through these claims. Section 1983 is not a magic wand that allows you to avoid the immunity hurdles generally present in a lawsuit involving the government, but it might give you a path to recovery. If you believe you have had your rights violated by a government official, you should consult an attorney to discuss your options.