Suits aimed at vindicating constitutional rights, for example, litigation against the police, prison wardens, schools, local governments, and federal actors, are sometimes called "constitutional tort" or "Section 1983" actions. This course will examine the law that has been developed by the Supreme Court and other federal courts to govern such cases. It will deal with such critical questions as: Who is a proper defendant in a civil rights suit under the Constitution? What qualifies as a constitutional injury, and how are the theories of liability different from ordinary tort law? When are government actors immune from suit? And (dear to the heart of almost every lawyer) under what circumstances may attorney's fees be recovered? This material has been the subject of intense political and judicial controversy over the last few decades because it determines what constitutional guarantees actually mean in practice. Although this is not a course on the substance of the Bill of Rights or the Fourteenth Amendment, we will look at cases that illustrate, for example, how courts apply the Eight Amendment to prisoner claims and the Due Process Clause to lawsuits against prosecutors. It covers some of the same material, but is designed to complement, Federal Courts. The course should be of interest to students who are planning to do plaintiffs' civil rights work (including pro bono cases at law firms), to those who plan to represent government defendants, and to those who are generally interested in constitutional law. The instructor has briefed and argued several constitutional tort cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and federal circuit courts.
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