Civil Cases

"Under color of law" refers to the following federal statute:

United States Code

Section 1983. Civil action for deprivation of rights

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress...

Click on the case titles to link to the full case decision.

Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167 (1961)- A police officer is considered acting "under color of law" even when it is contrary to local ordinances and state statutes, so long as he is engaged in activities related to the performance of his duties.

Brady v. Maryland, 373 U. S. 83 (1963)-Suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused who has requested it violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution. This case is important to law enforcement and police conduct. If a police officer makes a false police report, lies on the stand, or has a history of inappropriate or criminal behavior are issues of credibility and the prosecution needs to reveal this to the defense before allowing you to testify in a case. If a police officer has a history of lying, he has no credibility. Therefore, his career as an officer is all but over.

Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 US 388 (1971)-People can file suit for civil rights violations at the state level as a 1983 action. This case allows for similar suits at the federal level.

Downs v. US, 522 F.2d 990 (6th Cir. 1975)-Officers involved in hostage negotiations are better served civilly when force is not immediately necessary, to wait out the hostage takers. The Court stated: Where did exist, from foresight, "a better-suited alternative to protecting the hostages' well-being." That choice was not to intervene forcibly but to continue the " waiting game."

Miga v. City of Holyoke, 398 Mass. 343 (1986)-In order to recover under 42 U.S.C. §1983, the challenged conduct must be committed "under color of law." This means that the defendant must have acted in an official, government capacity, clothed with the authority of the state, in order to be held liable.

Brower v. inyo County, 489 U.S. 593 (1989)-The police set up a roadblock on a curve using an 18-wheeler. The police did so to stop Brower who was eluding police in a stolen vehicle. Brower crashed into the roadblock and died. The USSC ruled that the family can sue under Section 1983. The court ruled that it was reasonable to believe that the roadblock was an excessive use of force to accomplish the seizure.

United States v. Tarpley, 945 F.2d 806 (5th Cir. 1991)-An off-duty deputy sheriff was acting "under color of law" when he identified himself as a police officer and assaulted his wife's former lover. The deputy further added that he could get away with the assault because he was a cop.

Soldal v. Cook County, 506 U.S. 56 (1992)-The Fourth Amendment not only protects a person's interest in his privacy but also in his property. When a police officer makes a determination in a property dispute and takes property or assists in moving property from a place against the wishes of an interested party, the officer is in effect seizing the property for Fourth Amendment purposes. if the officer is acting outside his authority, it is a violation of the person's civil rights.  The person can seek redress because the officer was acting under color of law. This case applies to situations like repossessions, landlord tenant disputes, domestic property disputes, etc..

County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833 (1998)-A police officer, that does not intentionally misuse his vehicle,  does not violate a person's rights to due process if the person dies in a wreck while attempting to elude him. 

US v. $43,646.00 (Forty-three Thousand six hundred forty-six) Dollars in U.S. Currency (Verners), 97-5241 (10th Cir. 06/04/1999)-Although asset forfeiture is a civil action, the government must have probable cause, not the lesser standard of preponderance of the evidence, before a seizure can occur. The standard for establishing probable cause for asset forfeiture, in this case drug money, is similar to the standard applied to arrests, searches and seizures. Once the government establishes probable cause to seize the assets, the burden shifts to the claimant to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the property is not subject to forfeiture or that a defense to forfeiture exists. If the claimant fails to rebut the showing of probable cause, the government's showing of probable cause is sufficient to support a judgment of forfeiture.

Cruz v. City of Laramie, 239 F.3d 1183 (10th Cir 2001)-The case involves the use of hog-tie restraints which is the restraining of a person’s hands and feet together behind the back. Held: We do not reach the question whether all hog-tie restraints constitute a constitutional violation per se, but hold that officers may not apply this technique when an individual's diminished capacity is apparent. This diminished capacity might result from severe intoxication, the influence of controlled substances, a discernible mental condition, or any other condition, apparent to the officers at the time, which would make the application of a hog-tie restraint likely to result in any significant risk to the individual's health or well-being. In such situations, an individual's condition mandates the use of less restrictive means for physical restraint.

Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001)-The Court held that there is a two-step process in determining if an officer is entitled to qualified immunity. The process must occur in sequence. If the answer to either of the following questions is, "no" then the officer is entitled to qualified immunity.

  1. Was a Constitutional right violated on the facts? If yes, then;
  2. Was the right clearly established at the time of the incident?

Roska v. Peterson, No. 014057v2 (10th Cir. 2003)-The warrantless entry of a home to search for and remove a child believed to be abused (but not in imminent danger) is a violation of the Parent's Fourth Amendment rights of protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, and is actionable under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The parents were entitled to notice and a hearing prior to the removal.

Anderson v. City of LaVergne, 02-6094/6248 (6th Cir. 2004)-The LaVergne Police Department policy preventing officers of different ranks from dating was not unconstitutional. The department had a legitimate government interest in preventing these associations for many reasons. The employer should reasonably be concerned with preventing sexual harassment suits, favoritism, conflicts of interest, and effects on the morale of co-workers.

Groh v. Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551 (2004)-A police officer is required to read a search warrant and make sure that it is not obviously defective before executing it. A police officer does not have qualified immunity when executing an obviously defective search warrant. In this case the application for the warrant contained in detail the objects of the search and the items to be seized. The warrant did not.

San Diego v. Roe, 543 U.S. 77 (2004)-A police officer was making and selling explicit sex tapes showing him in uniform. He was fired. He filed suit claiming the termination violated his First Amendment free speech rights. The USSC ruled that the speech in question was "detrimental to the mission and functions of the employer." The speech, also did not address a public concern. The court upheld the termination.

Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005)-The petitioner brought a 1983 action claiming that the police failed to enforce a restraining order, which ultimately resulted in the murder of the petitioner's children. The court ruled that the petitioner was not entitled to enforcement of the state statute governing restraining orders.

Muehler v. Mena, 544 U.S. 93 (2005)-Mena brought a 1983 suit because she was kept in handcuffs for 2 to 3 hours while a search warrant was executed at her residence. The court stated the following: "The use of force in the form of handcuffs to detain Mena was reasonable because the governmental interest in minimizing the risk of harm to both officers and occupants, at its maximum when a warrant authorizes a search for weapons and a wanted gang member resides on the premises, outweighs the marginal intrusion."

Scott v. Harris, 000 US 05–1631 (2007)-Deputy Timothy Scott, petitioner here, terminated a high-speed pursuit of respondent’s car by applying his push bumper to the rear of the vehicle, causing it to leave the road and crash. Respondent was rendered quadriplegic. He filed suit under 42 U. S. C. §1983 alleging, inter alia the use of excessive force resulting in an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

Held: A police officer’s attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death.

Points of the court's reasoning:

*It should be noted that the dash video was very important in establishing the facts on behalf of Deputy Timothy Scott.

Shepard v. Davis, 07-11307 (11 Cir. 2008)-We reaffirm that the warrantless arrest of a person in his home, with neither consent nor exigent circumstances, violates the Fourth Amendment. We repeat what we held in Edmondson, that is, a person does not consent to a warrantless arrest in his home merely by opening the door in response to the demands of law enforcement officers. Construing the facts, as we must, in the light most favorable to Shepard, Officer Budnick violated Shepard’s Fourth Amendment rights by entering his home without a warrant, pushing Shepard six feet further into his living room, and arresting him on his couch without a warrant. A reasonable officer would have had fair and clear notice that such actions were objectively unreasonable on August 5, 2002. For these reasons, we conclude that the district court erred in granting Officer Budnick’s motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity from Shepard’s § 1983 suite.

Filarsky v. Delia, ___ US 10-1018, (2012)-Held: A private individual temporarily retained by the government to carry out its work is entitled to seek qualified immunity from suit under §1983.

Hensley v. Gassman, 11-1071 (6th Cir 2012)-Police officers in this case got involved in the repossession of vehicle outside of a court order. The court held:

  1. “A police officer’s presence during a repossession solely to keep the peace, i.e., to prevent a violent confrontation between the debtor and the creditor, is alone insufficient to convert the repossession into state action.”
  2. “An officer’s presence at a repossession may constitute state action if ‘accompanied by affirmative intervention, aid, intimidation, or other use of power which converts him from a neutral third party to, in effect, an assistant of the repossessing party.’”
  3. It is a violation of the Fourth Amendment if police take an active role in a civil repossession when there is no legal basis to do so.

Maresca v. Fuentes, No. 14-2163 (10th Cir 2015)-Fuentes, a new officer, ran the Marescas' vehicle tag on her in-car computer. She entered the tag number incorrectly. The tag she ran checked to a stolen vehicle that had a different description than the Marescas' vehicle. She did not check the vehicle description before conducting a high-risk felony traffic stop on the vehicle with other officers arriving to assist. The Marescas sued for false arrest and excessive force. Fuentes claimed that they were not arrested, but placed in investigative detention.

The Court held: Ordering people out of a vehicle at gunpoint and proning them on the ground, then handcuffing and securing them in a patrol car without any factual reason to believe they were armed and dangerous is beyond a Terry type investigative detention and is an arrest. Further, Fuentes could not rely on an unreasonable mistake of facts to develop probable cause. She had exculpatory evidence on her computer in the vehicle description which she failed to read. The arrest was unlawful and Fuentes was not entitled to qualified immunity.

Hansen v. Black, No. 16-4162 (8th Cir. 2017)-A trooper was sued for shooting and killing a dog that was running loose on a highway creating a hazard. He shot the dog once, but it crawled away. He shot it a second time killing it. The owner sued claiming the trooper violated her 4th Amendment Rights by killing the dog. The trooper tried to get the suit dismissed claiming qualified immunity. The lower court denied the trooper's claim holding that the trooper could have carried the dog off the highway after the first shot. The 8th Circuit reversed stating that the trooper's actions were objectively reasonable. The court granted the trooper qualified immunity.