How Do You Know If Your Civil Rights Have Been Violated?

Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts

Civil rights make up a vast area of constitutionally protected rights. Attorney Andrew Shubin can give you key pointers to understand when your civil rights are violated. However, the information here should encourage you to talk to an attorney about your specific circumstances. This issue can be one of the most complicated aspects of a constitutional law practice, since not all injuries are the same or even tangible.

Keep in mind that civil rights are essentially human rights. Some may say civil rights are violated whenever human dignity, the right to defend ourselves, to protect our lives, to be free, and other valued societal principles contained in the Bill of Rights are disrespected or ignored. If you have questions, contact us at (814) 826-3586.

Common Types of Civil Rights Violations

While many objectionable acts appear to be civil rights violations, not all unfairness violates the Constitution. For a civil rights violation to exist, the victim must suffer an injury or loss and the acts must involve the state enforcing of an existing law.

According to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, individuals can file a civil suit “for the deprivation of rights.” The concept of “deprivation of rights” relates to the actual wrong experienced. This wrong doesn’t have to be financial. However, a nominal value can be assigned to the loss—even if it’s $1. The U.S. Supreme Court prohibits civil lawsuits seeking compensation for the abstract value or importance of constitutional rights. Some of the most common injuries are:

  • Physical harm suffered by police misconduct or unconstitutional police brutality
  • Loss of property due to an unconstitutional search or seizure
  • Employment termination for exercising a constitutionally protected right
  • Malicious infliction of pain on prisoners
  • Welfare benefits withheld in violation of federal laws
  • A student is suspended for an extended period or expelled in violation of due process
  • Harmful, unequal, or discriminatory treatment against an individual or organization by race, color, gender, age, sexual orientation, or disability status

If you have an action you can pursue in a court of law, you should be able to demonstrate the injury is serious enough to meet the “standing” requirement. Standing is the legal term used to refer to a problem or injury that is imminent. Some examples:

  • A lawsuit against a domestic surveillance program lacked standing when the alleged injury stemmed from a “subjective chill,” as opposed to a “claim of specific present objective harm or a threat of specific future harm.” Laird v. Tatum, 408 U.S. 1 (1972)
  • The injury-in-fact requirement relates to a concrete injury that “actually exists” or a “risk of real harm,” such that a mere procedural violation of a federal statute cannot satisfy. Also, the risk of a future injury must be of sufficient likelihood; the past injury is insufficient to create standing to seek relief. Spokeo Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540 (2016).

Civil Rights Violation Claims Against Government or Authority Figures

According to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, civil rights violations typically involve someone acting “under color of law” or in a position of governmental authority enforcing a law. While this appears self-explanatory in that the wrongdoer must be a government official, it’s often not that simple.

The legal doctrine of sovereign immunity can complicate these cases when officials are immune from liability. Municipalities cannot claim immunity. However, other government officials typically raise immunity unless there is an exception to the rule. Our attorneys can explain this is greater detail. Moreover, state actions must relate to state law or the activity could violate civil rights. Typically, determining whether a violation exists is a fact-specific inquiry.

Employees acting under color of state law can be independent contractors as well as government officials during their time “off duty.” Under certain circumstances, the conduct of private individuals, entities or organization will be treated as “state action” if the state caused or promoted the action. There are times when there is joint participation between state officials and private citizens.  The most common situation involves private entities undertaking a function that is traditionally a state initiative. Examples include private citizens who:

  • Administer general and primary elections
  • Operate and maintain municipal services
  • Run a volunteer fire department
  • Provide animal control services
  • Provide private security but exercise the authority of traditional police officers

There are instances when a “symbiotic relationship” exists. As a matter of constitutional law, a symbiotic relationship exists when private citizens or entities collaborate or benefit jointly from using or leasing a space. Also, there are situations when there is a “close nexus” or close connection between the government and a private actor’s conduct.

For example, if a state law implicitly or explicitly gives a private entity a license or authorization to discriminate illegally, it may qualify as a violation of civil rights. Another typical example occurs if the government delegates authority to a private entity. Anyone who has a contract with the government has to obey the U. S. Constitution.

Moreover, there are situations when there is “entwinement” between the private and public entities. Such interweaving of actors typically occurs when private entities manage government functions. However, there is no entwinement when a private organization and the government work closely together.

Call Civil Rights Violations Attorney Andrew Shubin Today

Sometimes what appears to be a civil rights violation is not one because there is no recognizable injury or because it’s purely the action of a private citizen or entity. If you or someone you know have experienced what appears to be a civil rights violation, you should talk to an experienced attorney who can help you discern whether you have been the victim of a civil rights violation.

All the examples above involve complicated questions of law and policy and are best explained by an attorney. Contact the law offices of Andrew Shubin at (814) 826-3586 for further assistance.


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