Handbook of Section 1983 Litigation, 2021 Edition
Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was designed to provide redress for violations of federally protected rights committed by persons acting under color of law. In the last few decades, there has been unprecedented growth in the volume and type of cases filed under § 1983, which has generated a comprehensive, intricate, and complex body of law. Handbook of Section 1983 Litigation provides quick and concise answers to issues that frequently arise in § 1983 cases, from police misconduct to affirmative action to gender and race discrimination.
The 2021 Edition includes many recent developments in the area of § 1983, and adds significant new and revised material, including the following:
- In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, the Supreme Court held that courts must take care to avoid resolving underlying controversies over religious doctrine. The Court noted that simply giving an employee the title of “minister” is not enough to justify the ministerial exception, which is grounded in the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses, to laws that govern the employment relationship between a religious institution and certain key employees. (See § 6.09[G].)
- In Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue, the Supreme Court noted that the Establishment Clause is not offended when religious observers and organizations benefit from neutral government programs. The Court held that a Montana scholarship program for students attending private schools was permissible under the Establishment Clause. This was particularly so given that state government support made its way to religious schools only as a result of Montanans independently choosing to spend their scholarships at such schools. (See § 6.09[G].)
- In Lomax v. Ortiz-Marquez, the Supreme Court held that 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g)’s three-strikes provision refers to any dismissal for failure to state a claim, whether with prejudice or without. The Court stated that regardless of whether the dismissal is with or without prejudice, the dismissal of a prisoner’s civil lawsuit for failure to state a claim counts as a strike under the Prison Litigation Reform Act’s three-strikes rule for in forma pauperis status for civil actions and 10086717-7777 civil appeals brought by prisoners; a strike-call under the rule hinges exclusively on the basis for the dismissal, regardless of the decision’s prejudicial effect, and the rule’s broad language covers all dismissals for failure to state a claim. (See § 4.01[B].)
- In New Hope Family Services, Inc. v. Poole, the Second Circuit noted that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment guarantees all Americans the right to believe and profess whatever religious doctrine they desire, even doctrines out of favor with the majority of fellow citizens. The court also stated that this Clause does not permit the government to ban acts or abstentions only when they are engaged in for religious reasons, or only because of the religious belief that they display, at least not without showing that the ban is justified by compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to advance that interest. (See § 6.09[G].)
- In Jones v. Governor of Florida, the Eleventh Circuit held that the felons’ claim that a Florida law, requiring payment of all legal financial obligations imposed as part of their sentences before their voting rights could be restored, discriminated against them on the basis of wealth was subject to heightened, rather than rational basis, scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause. The court noted that Florida’s re-enfranchisement scheme punished the class of felons based only on their wealth, and punishment implicated their access to franchise. (See § 2.12.)
- In Estate of Jones by Jones v. City of Martinsburg, the Fourth Circuit held that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether a suspect was secured before he was shot by police officers which precluded summary judgment in the suspect’s estate’s § 1983 action. It was alleged that the officers violated the suspect’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. The court also held that, for qualified immunity purposes, it was clearly established in 2013 that suspects could be secured without handcuffs when they were pinned to the ground, and that the Fourth Amendment protected such suspects from being subjected to further force. (See §§ 2.04[A], 3.01[A] and 7.03[C][b].)
- In Ray v. Roane, the Fourth Circuit held that a privately owned dog is an “effect” under the Fourth Amendment, and the shooting and killing of such a dog constitutes a seizure. The court held that a dog owner sufficiently alleged that her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures was violated when a police officer shot and killed her dog. The court held that an officer who shot and killed the owner’s dog while he was on her property to assist with an arrest warrant that was being served on her for domestic abuse was not entitled to qualified immunity from the owner’s Fourth Amendment unreasonable seizure claim, since a reasonable officer would have known that the dog, which was tethered in the owner’s yard and incapable of reaching the officer, posed no objective threat of harm to himself or others. (See §§ 2.05[A] and 7.03[B].)
- In Wright v. City of Euclid, relating to a suspect’s § 1983 Fourth Amendment excessive force claim, the Sixth Circuit held that a police officer was not entitled to qualified immunity for his alleged use of pepper spray when the suspect was not resisting the officer’s commands or resisting arrest. The court noted that the suspect’s right to be free from being pepper sprayed under such circumstances was clearly established at time of the incident. (See §§ 2.02[H] and 7.03[C][a].)
- In Dyer v. Houston, the Fifth Circuit held that genuine issues of material fact existed concerning whether a pretrial detainee’s injuries from repeatedly bashing his head against the interior of a patrol car while being transported to jail were so severe, and their cause so plainly evident, that summary judgment was precluded. This issue as to summary judgment was also relevant to whether the officers acted with deliberate indifference to the detainee’s serious medical needs by failing to seek medical attention, failing to inform jail personnel about the detainee’s injuries, and by informing jail personnel only that the detainee had been medically cleared before arriving at the jail. (See § 4.01[L].)
- In King v. Hendricks County Commissioners, the Seventh Circuit held that a subject’s mental illness is a factor that a police officer must take into account in determining what degree of force, if any, is appropriate, for purposes of a § 1983 excessive force claim. The court held that the officer’s use of deadly force, shooting and killing a resident who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. This precluded the resident estate’s § 1983 claim. (See §§ 2.04[B] and 7.03[C][a].)
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