Section 1983 is the Civil Rights Act, a federal statute introduced in 1871. It allows citizens to sue the government for the violation of their civil rights (Bersani & Condon, 2016). It applies when an individual act following local or state-level law, being “under color of” it, and violates another person’s rights established by federal statutes or the Constitution of the United States. In general, the court identifies the term “under color of” as the representation of the state by a wrongdoer. In other words, it refers to people who violate others’ civil rights by misusing the authority given by law.
There are two main elements of a 1983 court action. Thus, the plaintiff should prove that the violation of his civil rights occurred and civil rights were violated by a defendant under the color of state law (Bersani & Condon, 2016). At the same time, to avoid incompleteness, Section 1983 introduced four main elements. According to them, a defendant should initially allege the violation of his federally protected civil rights. Subsequently, he should allege causation based on the proximate cause requirement identified by the section (Bersani & Condon, 2016). In addition, a plaintiff should prove that civil rights were violated by a person. Finally, he should allege that this person represented authorities acting under the color of state law.
According to the Supreme Court, a plaintiff under Section 1983 receives nominal damage unless he will be able to can prove actual damage. As constitutional rights do not have a monetary value, a plaintiff is responsible for presenting evidence related to damage, including medical expenses, emotional distress, lost wages, and damage to reputation (“Section (1983),” n.d.). At the same time, a plaintiff is also responsible for the mitigation of any damage – otherwise, the award may be reduced if it is proved that he intentionally failed to improve his condition.
Section 1983 presupposes three basic remedies, including punitive damages, compensatory damages, and attorney’s fees. Punitive damages are awarded when the court finds that a person under color of state law acted intentionally indifferent to a plaintiff’s civil rights “motivated by an evil intent” (“Section (1983),” n.d., para. 3). In addition, punitive damage is awarded even when a plaintiff cannot present actual damages, however, they are obvious. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish an offender, and the jury is responsible for assessing the amount.
In turn, compensatory damages, traditionally in the form of a particular sum of money, are awarded by the court to indemnify a plaintiff for his injury, loss, or detriment caused by the violation of his civil rights. In this case, a plaintiff should prove legally recognizable harm that may be compensated by a monetary amount. Compensatory damages do not have the purpose to punish an offender. In addition, Section 1983 presupposes the possibility of reasonable attorneys’ fees awarded under the Civil Rights Attorney’s Fee Awards Act of 1976 (“Section (1983),” n.d.). However, the main difference of this remedy is that it is applied to a prevailing party whether it is a plaintiff or a defendant. Thus, a defendant may be awarded attorney’s fees if the lawsuit was “vexatious, frivolous, or brought to harass or embarrass the defendant” (“Section (1983),” n.d., para. 5). In turn, a plaintiff may receive attorney’s fees along with compensatory damages.
Bersani, M. D., & Condon, M. W. (2016). Fundamentals of Section 1983 litigation: Common claims, defenses and immunities. Hervas, Condon & Bersani, P.C.
Section (1983). (n.d.). Web.