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Civil Rights Actions under Section 1983: Brief Overview

“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, 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 in an action at law….”  42 U.S.C. § 1983.

“In determining whether a Section 1983 action has been stated the inquiry must focus on whether the two essential elements of the action are present: (1) whether the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) whether this conduct deprived a person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”  Frazier v. City of Philadelphia, 756 A.2d 80, 83 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2000) (citing Costa v. Frye, 588 A.2d 97, 99 (Pa.Cmwlth. 1991)).  “[T]o be under color of state law, the actor must have exercised power possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law.”  Frazier, supra.

Additionally, a local municipality is a “person” who may be directly liable under Section 1983.  Id.  See also Costa, supra (citing Monell v. Department of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018 (1978)). Generally, “[s]ection 1983 imposes liability on a municipality when an official policy of the municipality causes an employee, acting under the color of law, to violate another’s constitutional rights.” Frazier, supra.

If you think you might have an action under Section 1983, please contact the experienced lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green in Philadelphia, who are licensed to practice law in all courts in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.