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What is the purpose of Section 1983?

Section 1983 refers to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Under this statute, you as a New York resident may file a lawsuit when government officials violate your civil rights. In order to qualify as a Section 1983 violation, a government official must have denied you a right guaranteed by federal or Constitutional law.

“Color of law”

If you wish to pursue a legal action under Section 1983, the person or entity violating your civil rights must operate “under color of law.” This refers to any party who commits an offense against you using their official government status.

Examples of people whose job descriptions place them under color of law include:

  • State and local agencies
  • Federal government employees
  • Police officers
  • County sheriffs and deputies
  • Prison wardens and guards

In some cases, people who do not work for the government may violate your rights under Section 1983. A business owner working with a corrupt judge to reduce or eliminate competition may operate under color of law.


In addition to individual people responsible for violating your civil rights, Section 1983 allows you to file a lawsuit against municipalities. In order for you to file a legal action against a municipality, their policies must have caused your civil rights violation.

You may seek lawsuits against these municipalities and related departments:

  • Towns
  • Cities
  • Villages
  • Counties
  • School boards
  • Public transit companies

Types of compensation

A Section 1983 lawsuit may involve multiple types of compensation. Compensatory damage allows you to receive compensation for pain and suffering and medical bills. Punitive damages punish the defendant’s wrongful actions through financial compensation that must be awarded to you.

Complexities of Section 1983

Although Section 1983 allows you several avenues to defend your civil rights, it also provides exceptions and limitations to the parties you may seek legal action against. The statute of limitations also only allows you three years to file a lawsuit.