You can read the civil rights law at 42 U.S.C. 1983. It says, basically, that you can sue the government for depriving you of your civil rights. To determine whether you have a viable case is a much more complex issue than most people realize. Start out by asking these three questions:
- Did a person deprive you of either (a) your life; (b) your freedom; or (c) your property/money?
- Did that person work for the government?
- Did that person fail to follow the proper procedure to take your life, freedom or property?
- Did that person know what they were doing?
If the answer to all three of these questions is “yes,” then you may have a claim, but even then, be aware that a typical civil rights claim costs about $10,000 in expenses and 2-5 years of time. It’s not impossible to fight City Hall, but it is just plain hard to sue the government.
Examples of cases that people have asked us to help them with that are NOT civil rights cases:
- Getting stopped and accused of shoplifting at Walmart. (Why not? Because a Walmart employee is not the government.)
- Getting a speeding ticket when you weren’t actually speeding. (Why not? Because the police officer probably followed the proper procedure to write a ticket.)
- The temperature being too cold at the jail. (Why not? Because it’s too hard to prove that keeping the temperature at that level is on purpose - i.e that the jail person knew what they were doing.)
- Getting stopped and having your driver’s license checked at a checkpoint and then getting arrested for DUI. (Why not? Because you weren’t deprived of life, liberty or property because of the stop.)
We represented a tow truck driver. The County Sheriff we sued imposed different requirements for him to get calls than it did for his competitors for no good reason. As a result, he lost money. We were able to get him money to compensate him for the business he lost and forced the County to apply the rules the same to him as to his competitors. This was a good case because the Sheriff intentionally did not apply the rules the same to everyone, which violated our client’s right to Equal Protection under the Law.
We represented a student who was not Christian. She was harassed and beat up at school when she admitted that she was not Christian and didn’t go to a tent revival that the school bused the students to. We were able to get her money for being injured, and we stopped the school from busing kids to the tent revival. This was a good case because the school system, as an agency of the government, intentionally violated our client’s right to the free exercise of her religion (freedom of religion is protected by the Constitution) by sponsoring a school field trip to an event sponsored by another religion.
We turn away 99% of the civil rights cases we are asked to take, not because we believe that the government has acted exactly correctly, but because these cases are often difficult and expensive to prove. But if you’d like us to take a look at yours, give us a call at 865-685-4780.