Suing the Federal Government for Constitutional Violations: Explained
The doctrine of sovereign immunity doesn’t allow one to sue a government entity without its consent. Thus, it is more complicated to file a lawsuit against a federal government agency for damages than suing a private individual or business entity.
Nonetheless, suing the federal government for constitutional violations is still possible. In this article, we will explore legal grounds for suing the local and federal government, the procedures for suing, and how DoNotPay simplifies the process.
When Can You Sue the Federal Government?
When your constitutional rights have been violated by employees who work for federal and state offices, you may file a Section 1983 lawsuit or Bivens Claims against them. Here are the common legal grounds for filing a lawsuit against constitutional violations:
|Fourth Amendment Rights||Police brutality. Law enforcement officers shoot unarmed citizens.|
|False arrests and malicious prosecutions without probable cause or evidence.|
|Policemen search or seize property without a valid warrant.|
|Eighth Amendment Rights||Guards physically abuse an inmate or reject their request for medical assistance.|
|First Amendment Rights||Government employers or school administrators punish staff or students for exercising free speech or the right to religion.|
|Fifth Amendment Rights||US Congressman terminates an employee as retaliation for filing a sexual harassment complaint.|
Suing the Local Government: The Section 1983 Lawsuit
Individuals whose constitutional rights are violated by the state government are legally entitled to file a civil action to recover damages. This can be done because of Section 1983, an abridged term for 18 U.S.C. Section 1983, which provides US citizens the right to sue government officials and employees. To establish a claim under Section 1983, it requires two elements:
- Specifically, citing the constitutional right that was violated, and
- The defendant was acting for or on behalf of a government office during the violation of rights.
Therefore, some examples of scenarios where Section 1983 can be a cause of action are:
- A local government official abusing his position or authority
- A county sheriff violating your constitutional rights
- State officials implementing an unconstitutional law
The above scenarios involve suing the local government where one of its personnel committed the violation. However, there is also another way of suing the local government itself — it’s when a policy caused the violation of rights. In this case, “policy” is defined in legal terms as inclusive of official rules, policy makers’ decisions, and common practices that are informal policies.
Suing the Federal Government: The Bivens Claims
The Bivens claims are named after the case Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents. They are similar to Section 1983 except that they are aimed at the federal government and its employees. However, they differ from Section 1983 where:
- Bivens action may not be used against any federal government office, but it can be used as a premise for a lawsuit against federal employees
- Bivens claim is restricted to constitutional violations only and does not apply for statute violations
Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA)
Citizens may sue the federal government for damages in a personal injury claim using the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). It is a law that lets you file a lawsuit against a federal agency and its personnel. The downside is, it can be restricted at times as plaintiffs need to follow certain rules. Filing FTCA proceeds as follows:
- Find out if FTCA applies to your case. For example, if a janitor at the post office negligently left the floor wet and you slipped on it hurting yourself, you may follow the FTCA. However if the janitor was employed as an independent contractor, then you may not be able to use FTCA action.
- File an administrative claim with the specific federal agency. The claim must include facts and monetary damages and should be filed within six months to one year from the incident.
- Wait for the agency to respond within six months. If the federal agency agrees with your claim, then you may receive financial compensation.
- If the agency rejects your claim or fails to respond to your claim after six months, then you may proceed to file a lawsuit at the United States District Court where you reside or where the incident happened.
Other Ways to Sue the Government
Aside from Section 1893, Bivens claim, and the FTCA, you may also join a larger class-action lawsuit that has already been filed. This is especially common where plaintiffs challenge a law that violates constitutional rights. An example is a law that bans same-sex marriage which can be deemed unconstitutional. Same-sex couples who were refused the right to get married could join the lawsuit.
How to Sue the Federal Government with DoNotPay
In practice, filing a civil rights lawsuit against the federal government can be complex and most often requires specific procedures prescribed by the law. Not only that, but it is sometimes confusing for an ordinary citizen to figure out where to start when suing the federal government. Let DoNotPay do the work for you! DoNotPay helps streamline the suing process so you can file a lawsuit in just a few clicks. All you have to do is:
- Log in to DoNotPay and select the Sue Now Product
- Enter the dollar amount you are owed
- Select whether you want a demand letter or court filing forms
- Describe the reason for the lawsuit and submit any applicable details, including photo proof
That’s it! DoNotPay will then generate a demand letter or court filing forms for you. The robot lawyer will also mail a copy of your demand letter to the Federal Government on your behalf!
What is DoNotPay and What Do We Do?
DoNotPay is the world’s first robot lawyer. We help users sue anyone in small claims court without the need for a lawyer, saving them hundreds of dollars in lawyer fees. Our track record of successfully suing companies include big names such as: