Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Understanding Who You Can Sue Under Section 1983

Written by: John Barto McEntire IV

Federal Crime Lawyer


State and Local Officials

State and local officials can be sued in their personal capacities, even though the claim for relief arose out of the official's formal responsibilities. These officials cannot be sued in their official capacities, except when a person is suing for prospective relief.

Municipalities and Municipal Entities

Municipalities (e.g., Spokane County), can be sued under Section 1983.

States and State Agencies

Section 1983 does not allow for suits against states and state agencies.

Municipal Officials

Section 1983 allows suits against municipal officials in their official capacities. That said, a claim against a municipal official (e.g., the Mayor) in his or her official capacity is tantamount to a suit against the municipal entity itself. Thus, when a plaintiff sues both, courts often dismiss the suit against the official as redundant.

Municipal Departments, Offices, and Commissioners

Municipal departments, offices, and commissioners are normally not considered suable entities. This is purely stylistic. In other words, instead of naming the Spokane County Sheriff's Department as a defendant in a Section 1983 action, the plaintiff should simply name the governing municipality (i.e., city, town, or village) of which the department is a part.

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