Civil Rights Litigation under 42 U.S.C. 1983: Prosecuting the Powerful on Behalf of the Powerless Pt. 3
This is the third and final installment of our 3 week discussion on Civil Rights Litigation under 42 U.S.C. 1983.
Governmental Immunities and Limitations to Liability
1.¬†¬†¬† Qualified immunity:¬† Even if your plaintiff‚Äôs constitutional rights were violated, a state actor may be entitled to ‚Äúqualified immunity‚ÄĚ if his actions did not violate a ‚Äúclearly established‚ÄĚ constitutional right.
a.¬†¬†¬†Example:¬† Husband, wife, son, and two dogs are travelling down the highway in the family station wagon.¬† They stop for gas, and Husband leaves his wallet on top of the car when he drives off.¬† Motorist calls police to report a car going very fast with cash flying all over the place.¬† Police stop car, make everyone exit at gunpoint, cuff everyone, and shoot one of the dogs when it jumps out of the window.¬† Result:¬† qualified immunity because officers‚Äô actions were reasonable, for the most part.¬† But officers left the family cuffed for several minutes after realizing no criminal conduct had occurred.¬† That was unreasonable, so no qualified immunity on that part of the claim.¬† Smoak v. Hall, 460 F.3d 768 (6th Cir. 2008).
b.¬†¬†¬† Qualified immunity is immunity not just from liability, but from the burden of litigation.¬† When a court denies a motion to dismiss (or for summary judgment) that raises qualified immunity, a defendant may immediately appeal.
i.¬†¬†¬† The defendant must concede the facts as articulated by the plaintiff on interlocutory appeal.¬† Meals v. City of Memphis, 493 F.3d 720 (6th Cir. 2007).
ii.¬†¬†¬† The Ohio Supreme Court recently recognized the right of defendants to an interlocutory appeal on qualified immunity when 1983 claims are brought in state courts.¬† Summerville v. Forest Park, — N.E.2d —, 2010-Ohio-6280.
2.¬†¬†¬† Absolute immunity
b.¬†¬†¬† Generally, prosecutors
c.¬†¬†¬† States, under the 11th Amendment.¬† Naming a state employee in his ‚Äúofficial capacity‚ÄĚ is the same as naming the state itself.¬† State employees must be sued in their ‚Äúindividual capacity.‚ÄĚ
E.¬† What Do I Win?
1.¬† For the client:¬† compensatory and punitive damages.
2.¬† For the attorney:¬† Attorney‚Äôs fees, under 42 U.S.C. 1988.¬† However, you must track your time contemporaneously.¬† A post-trial fee petition may result in its own mini-litigation, with the successful attorney being deposed to justify the reasonableness of the hours he claims.
This outline was adapted from a lecture given at the Lawyers Club of Cincinnati by Paul M. Laufman of Laufman & Napolitano. If you have any questions regarding Civil Rights litigation please check contact us today.