Municipal Government and Civil Rights
The Federal Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. section 1983, only applies to those individuals who are acting under the so-called “color of law,” i.e., individuals who are empowered to act pursuant to their duties as governmental employees. This statute is often used by plaintiffs to bring a variety of claims against towns, their officials, and employees.
Many of these claims involve accusations that police officers conducted searches, arrested without sufficient probable cause, or used excessive force. Another theory often used under the civil rights umbrella is a lack of adequate due process. These claims are often used in challenging regulatory decisions made by municipal boards. Finally, the third most prevalent use of the Civil Rights Act is an allegation of a violation of equal protection. When using this theory, plaintiffs allege that they were treated differently from others they claim were “similarly situated” to them when municipal officials made decisions about them.
Civil rights lawsuits create the most financial risk for municipal defendants for three reasons. First, there is no cap on damages. Second, if a plaintiff prevails at trial, he or she will be awarded attorneys’ fees on top of their damages. Finally, if the jury finds that a public official maliciously and knowingly violated a plaintiff’s civil rights, the public official could be personally liable for punitive damages.
BHPK attorneys have a wealth of experience in handling civil rights cases. Since our founding, our firm has conducted as many or more civil rights trials in Federal Court than any other firm in Massachusetts. Our track record in resolving these cases favorably for our clients is second to none.