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Can I Sue a Government Agency for Violating My Constitutional Rights?

Posted on in Civil Litigation

Bronx civil rights lawyerIf you have suffered a constitutional rights violation at the hands of the police or any other branch of city or county government in New York, you may be eligible to file a claim for damages in federal court. The U.S. Constitution guarantees certain rights to each person, including:

  • The First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • The Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
  • The Fourteenth Amendment protections that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law ” nor “deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Filing a Section 1983 Claim Against a Local Government Entity 

Federal law 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides that both a municipal government employee and the employing government body can be held liable for damages when said employee violates your constitutional rights while acting “under color of law” and in keeping with the “custom, practice, or policy” of the employer. You can make a claim for:

  • Compensatory damages to compensate you for actual financial losses incurred.  
  • Punitive damages to punish egregious wrongdoing and deter similar wrongful acts in the future.
  • Injunctive relief, which requires the defendant to take or refrain from certain actions.
  • Payment of attorney fees if you win your case.

If you believe your rights have been violated, it is critical to speak with an attorney very quickly. Although you will be filing a lawsuit in federal court, the statute of limitations for Section 1983 claims is set by each state. In New York, the statute of limitations is three years from the date of the incident in which your rights were violated. However, if you plan to bring a claim against any city agency, you must notify the city of your claim within 90 days of the incident.

Examples of Constitutional Rights Violated by Local Government

One of the most common examples of a Section 1983 claim involves the use of excessive force by police or corrections officers. Such claims were once hard to prove, but doing so has become much easier since cell phones, internet-connected video surveillance systems, and police dashboard and body cameras have become more widely available.

Other examples of Section 1983 claims that could be made against a local government agency include:

  • Termination or demotion of a government employee in retaliation for the employee expressing an opinion on a matter of public concern which constitutes protected speech under the First Amendment. 
  • False arrest, which violates the Fourth Amendment.
  • Violation of your due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by a county-level child protective services department related to the removal of a child from your care.
  • Selective enforcement of laws by city police officers based upon an individual’s race and/or national origin (a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment) coupled with the city’s failure to properly supervise and discipline its police officers to prevent such violations.

This is just a small sampling of situations that could support a Section 1983 claim for damages in a federal lawsuit. 

Contact Our Manhattan Constitutional Rights Lawyers 

If your constitutional rights have been violated by a city or county employee or government body, consult an aggressive New York City constitutional rights attorney. Call Watford Jackson, PLLC at 855-WAT-JACK or 855-928-5225. 

Sources:

https://billofrightsinstitute.org/founding-documents/bill-of-rights/

https://www.sog.unc.edu/sites/www.sog.unc.edu/files/course_materials/01.%20Allen%20-%20DSS%20Directors%20Liability.pdf

http://www.federalpracticemanual.org/chapter5/section1a

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