Civil Rights

Various state and federal laws are used to protect our constitutional rights, whether because of police misconduct or municipal liability or something else. This area of the law, unlike most others, is developed in an ongoing manner and is the subject of wide-ranging decisions from the United State Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeals. At the Law Offices of Timothy P. O’Brien, we are intimately familiar with this complex and sophisticated area of the law. We commonly file lawsuits in state and federal courts on behalf of individuals seeking to vindicate a violation of their constitutional right(s).

Lawsuits vindicating constitutional deprivations are most often accomplished through a vehicle known as Section 1983. Section 1983 refers to Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 is arguably the most important statute in American law, in that it authorizes the assertion of a claim for relief against a person who, acting under color of state law, violated another’s federally protected constitutional right(s).

Other times, our civil rights are protected under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Our civil rights are also protected in fair housing.

The information provided within is only a brief outline of matters involving constitutional rights that we take to trial. For more information regarding a specific question in this area or a constitutional deprivation you have suffered, please call, e-mail or submit an inquiry to us today for a free consultation.

To establish municipal liability under Section 1983 a plaintiff must prove that the deprivation of his/her federal right was attributable to the enforcement of a policy, custom or practice of the government agency.

To establish liability for the use of excessive force by a police officer (or similar state actor), a plaintiff must prove that the use of such force was unreasonable.  In other words, a law enforcement official may only use the amount of force necessary under the circumstances to make an arrest.

Police officers witnessing the use of excessive force may also be held liable if they recognized the use of excessive force and failed to intervene.

Unreasonable searches and seizures vary with the nature and scope of the seizure.  In general, a law enforcement official must have “reasonable suspicion” or “probable” cause to search individuals and property.  A determination of reasonable suspicion or probable cause will be the events which occurred leading up to the stop or search, and then the decision whether these historical facts, viewed from the standpoint of an objectively reasonable police officer, amount to reasonable suspicion or to probable cause.

Absent consent or exigency, a warrantless search of the home is presumptively unconstitutional.

To establish a claim for false arrest, a plaintiff must prove that he or she was “seized” (i.e., arrested), the seizure was unreasonable, that the defendant in question should be held liable for the violation.  A plaintiff must prove a lack of probable cause for the arrest.

To establish a claim for false imprisonment, a plaintiff must prove an unlawful detention without legal process.  A plaintiff must prove a lack of probable cause for the detention.

To establish a claim for malicious prosecution, a plaintiff must prove (i) legal process was initiated by the defendant, (ii) the proceedings were terminated in favor of the plaintiff, (iii) there was an absence or probable cause, and (iv) there was malice or a primary purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to justice.

Prisoners do not lose their constitutional rights at the jailhouse door. Instead, their rights are afforded protection under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We routinely file claims on behalf on prisoners, seeking to vindicate the rights of those incarcerated individuals. These types of claims include the denial of adequate medical care (including mental health care), the failure to protect from suicidal action, the failure to protect from attack and excessive force. We also fight against matters such as prolonged exposure to solitary confinement.

To establish a claim in a case of prison suicide, a plaintiff (i.e., the plaintiff’s estate) must establish that (i) the detainee had a particular vulnerability to suicide, (ii) the custodial officer or officers knew or should have known of that vulnerability, and (iii) those officers acted with reckless indifference to the detainee’s particular vulnerability.

The Equal Protection Clause is part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Under the Equal Protection Clause, no state is permitted to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. The constitutional guarantee under this Clause is that no person or class of persons shall be denied the same protection of the laws that is enjoyed by other persons or other classes in like circumstances in their lives, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. If you believe you have been denied the equal protection of the laws from those similarly situated to you, you may have a case under the Equal Protection Clause.

We represent individuals in fair housing under various state and federal laws. Under those laws, individuals are protected from discrimination in renting, buying or securing financing for any non-exempt housing. Discrimination in these instances specifically includes discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and the presence of children (familial status). It is thus impermissible to take any of the following actions in housing, to name a few, based upon race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and the presence of children (familial status): (1) refuse to rent or sell housing; (2) refuse to negotiate for housing; (3) make housing unavailable; (4) deny a dwelling; (5) set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling; (6) provide different housing services or facilities; (7) falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale or rental; (8) racially steer an individual to housing; (9) deny access to or membership in a facility or service related to the sale or rental of housing; and, (10) exclude a protected class in zoning.

To establish a claim for state-created danger, a plaintiff must prove that (i) the harm to the plaintiff was a foreseeable and fairly direct result of defendant’s conduct, (ii) the defendant acted with conscious disregard of a great risk of serious harm, (iii) there was some type of relationship between the defendant and the plaintiff that distinguished the plaintiff from the public at large, and (iv) the Defendant’s action made the plaintiff more vulnerable to the harm.