Adjunct Law Prof Blog

Editor: Mitchell H. Rubinstein
New York Law School

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Supremes Hold No 1983 Liability Unless Municipal Custom or Policy Involved

Supreme Court

 Los Angeles County, Calif. v. Humphries, 562 U.S. ___(Nov. 30, 2010) was just decided by the Supremes. In a short decision, the Court held that a municipality is not liable for civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. §1983 regardless of whether the relief sought by the plaintiffs is prospective or for monetary damages unless the plaintiffs can show that their injury was caused by a municipal policy or custom. The case involved two plaintiffs who continued to be listed on a California registry of persons investigated for child abuse even though the plaintiffs were exonerated some time after the initial accusations of child abuse. They challenged the state law, which requires listing persons in the registry who have been reported as child abusers and for whom the relevant state agency finds the allegations "not unfounded" even if the allegations are "inconclusive or unsubstantiated." The Ninth Circuit held the state law deprived the plaintiffs of constitutional rights by failing to include a procedural mechanism through which the plaintiffs could contest inclusion in the registry. Los Angeles County, who was sued along with the state attorney general and other local officials, argued it should not be liable for damages under § 1983 because it was state policy, not county policy, that deprived the plaintiffs of their rights. Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing for a unanimous court, applied Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), and ruled that Monell's dictate that a municipality only be liable under §1983 where an injury is caused by a municipal "policy or custom" applies even when the plaintiffs are seeking prospective relief such as an injunction or a declaratory judgment. 

Mitchell H. Rubinstein

Discrimination Law, Public Sector Labor Law | Permalink


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