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How do You sue for Civil Rights Violation in Massachusetts?

Cases that can be brought under Section 1983

A violation of your civil rights can be filed as a federal lawsuit under a Statute referred to as a Section 1983 claim. A Section 1983 claim is one where the offender is acting under the "color of law," i.e., individuals who are empowered to act pursuant to their duties as governmental employees. These are cases where governmental employees, most likely police officers, are the ones violating your Constitutional rights. Most Section 1983 claims will involve a Fourth Amendment claim that you were subjected to unreasonable search and seizure and that the officer violated your Fourth Amendment rights. One of the most common cases brought under Section 1983 is racial profiling and police brutality. In these cases, the officer does not care about the traffic violation or other minor infraction but wants to use it as a chance to search the car, hoping to find guns or drugs. When no evidence is revealed, the defendants are forcefully removed from the car pushed into the ground and beaten. This is the type of excessive force, unwarranted under the law that can give rise to a civil rights violation under federal law. Gutierrez-Rodriguez v. Cartagena, (1st Cir. 1989); Bastien v. Goddard, 279 F.3d 10 (1st Cir. 2002); Alexis v. McDonald's Rests. of Mass. Inc., 67 F.3d 341 (1st. Cir. 1995).

Other examples of claims that can be brought under Section 1983 are unlawful search or seizure of property without probable cause to believe it is evidence of a crime. Ocasio v. City of Lawrence, 788 F. Supp. 99 (D. Mass. 1992). A "warrantless search or seizure is 'per se unreasonable unless the police can show that it falls within one of a carefully defined set of exceptions based on the presence of 'exigent circumstances.'" Belsito Communications, Inc. v. Decker, 845 F.3d 13, 24 (1st Cir. 2016).

What is Malicious Prosecution?

Claims of "malicious prosecution," can also be brought under Section 1983. Hernandez-Cuevas v. Taylor, 723 F.3d 91 (1st Cir. 2013) (There is Fourth Amendment protection against seizure, except upon probable cause, even after a person is held pursuant to legal process). And finally, strip search without reasonable suspicion. Swain v. Spinney, 117 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 1997).

Damages under Section 1983

When Section 1983 plaintiffs seek damages for violations of constitutional rights, the level of damages depends on the extent of your injuries.

Compensatory damages may include not only lost earning capacity, medical bills, out-of-pocket loss, and other monetary harms, but also such injuries as "impairment of reputation... personal humiliation, and mental anguish and suffering."

A person who brings a Section 1983 claim can recover for emotional injuries, including mental distress.

Federal law also allows the recovery of punitive damages for conduct that results from evil motives or intent, or "reckless or callous indifference" to federally protected rights. Iacobucci v. Boulter, 193 F.3d 14 (1st Cir. 1999). Additionally, contrary to the typical rule, in Section 1983 cases attorney's fees are available for the prevailing party. 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Finally, under 1983 qualified immunity does not apply to defendant police officers. Hernandez-Cuevas v. Taylor, 723 F.3d 91, 99-100 (1st Cir. 2013).

Difference between State and Federal action

The Massachusetts Civil Rights Act is state court remedy for civil rights violations. The MCRA was modeled after Section 1983 and interpretations of terms and ambiguities in the federal law should be applied to the MCRA. In Duarte v. Healy, the Supreme Judicial Court advanced the view that Section 1983 case law should apply to the MCRA. Duarte v. Healy, 405 Mass. 43 (1989).

However, federal civil rights claims under Section 1983 have some differences compared to claims under MCRA. Under Section 1983, the defendant must have acted "under color of the law," whereas under the MCRA, there is no color of law requirement. Batchelder v. Allied Stores Corp., 393 Mass. 819, 821 (1985). A second difference is that Section 1983 provides a remedy for a direct violation of civil rights, whereas under Section 11I, there must be an interference with civil rights by threats, intimidation, or coercion. Sena v. Commonwealth, 417 Mass. 250, 262 (1994). Finally, Section 1983 allows punitive damages, whereas Section 11I does not. Gardner v. Governor Apartments Assocs., 396 Mass. 661, 663 n.2 (1986). These are three main reasons why a civil rights violation is usually better brought under Section 1983 as opposed to the state's counterpart.

At DelSignore Law, you can call or text us at 781-686-5924 any time to discuss your Civil Rights claim or why you believe that you were treated unfairly by law enforcement. We are here to help you; it is never too early or late to call us; you can reach us weekends or holidays.

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