California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

3000. Violation of Federal Civil Rights (42 U.S.C. § 1983) In General - Essential Factual Elements

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [name of defendant] violated [his/ her] civil rights. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

1. That [name of defendant] [intentionally/[other applicable state of mind]] [insert wrongful act];

2. That [name of defendant] was acting or purporting to act in the performance of [his/her] official duties;

3. That [name of defendant]'s conduct violated [name of plaintiff]'s right [insert right, e.g., "of privacy"];

4. That [name of plaintiff] was harmed; and

5. That [name of defendant]'s [insert wrongful act] was a substantial factor in causing [name of plaintiff]'s harm.

Directions for Use

In element 1, the standard is not always based on intentional conduct. Insert the appropriate level of scienter. For example, Eighth Amendment cases involve conduct carried out with "deliberate indifference," and Fourth Amendment claims do not necessarily involve intentional conduct. The "official duties" referred to in element 2 must be duties created pursuant to any state, county, or municipal law, ordinance, or regulation. This aspect of color of law most likely will not be a jury issue, so it has been omitted to shorten the wording of element 2. This instruction is intended for claims not covered by any of the following more specific instructions regarding the elements that the plaintiff must prove.

Sources and Authority

42 U.S.C. section 1983 provides, in part: "Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law . . . ."

"As we have said many times, § 1983 'is not itself a source of substantive rights,' but merely provides 'a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.' " (Graham v. Connor (1989) 490 U.S. 386, 393-394 [109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443], internal citation omitted.)

"42 U.S.C. § 1983 creates a cause of action against a person who, acting under color of state law, deprives another of rights guaranteed under the Constitution. Section 1983 does not create any substantive rights; rather it is the vehicle whereby plaintiffs can challenge actions by governmental officials. To prove a case under section 1983, the plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) the action occurred 'under color of state law' and (2) the action resulted in the deprivation of a constitutional right or federal statutory right." (Jones v. Williams (9th Cir. 2002) 286 F.3d 1159, 1162-1163, internal citations omitted.)

"In order to state a cause of action for violation of federal civil rights a plaintiff is required to make two allegations. 'First, the plaintiff must allege that some person has deprived him of a federal right. Second, he must allege that the person who has deprived him of that right acted under color of state or territorial law.' If there is no violation of a federal right, there is no basis for a civil rights action." (Rosales v. City of Los Angeles (2000) 82 Cal.App.4th 419, 430-431 [98 Cal.Rptr.2d 144], internal citations omitted.)

"Section 1983 claims may be brought in either state or federal court." (Pitts v. County of Kern (1998) 17 Cal.4th 340, 348 [70 Cal.Rptr.2d 823, 949 P.2d 920].)

" 'State courts look to federal law to determine what conduct will support an action under section 1983. The first inquiry in any section 1983 suit is to identify the precise constitutional violation with which the defendant is charged.' " (Weaver v. State of California (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 188, 203 [73 Cal.Rptr.2d 571], internal citations omitted.)

" 'Qualified immunity is an affirmative defense against section 1983 claims. Its purpose is to shield public officials "from undue interference with their duties and from potentially disabling threats of liability." The defense provides immunity from suit, not merely from liability. Its purpose is to spare defendants the burden of going forward with trial.' Because it is an immunity from suit, not just a mere defense to liability, it is important to resolve immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in litigation. Immunity should ordinarily be resolved by the court, not a jury." (Martinez v. County of Los Angeles (1996) 47 Cal.App.4th 334, 342 [54 Cal.Rptr.2d 772], internal citations omitted.)

"Constitutional torts employ the same measure of damages as common law torts and are not augmented 'based on the abstract "value" or "importance" of constitutional rights . . . .' Plaintiffs have the burden of proving compensatory damages in section 1983 cases, and the amount of damages depends 'largely upon the credibility of the plaintiffs' testimony concerning their injuries.' " (Choate v. County of Orange (2000) 86 Cal.App.4th 312, 321 [103 Cal.Rptr.2d 339], internal citations omitted.)

"The Supreme Court has interpreted the phrase 'under "color" of law' to mean 'under "pretense" of law.' A police officer's actions are under pretense of law only if they are 'in some way "related to the performance of his official duties.' " By contrast, an officer who is ' "pursuing his own goals and is not in any way subject to control by [his public employer],' " does not act under color of law, unless he 'purports or pretends' to do so. Officers who engage in confrontations for personal reasons unrelated to law enforcement, and do not 'purport[] or pretend[]' to be officers, do not act under color of law." (Huffman v. County of Los Angeles (9th Cir. 1998) 147 F.3d 1054, 1058, internal citations omitted.)

"[P]rivate parties ordinarily are not subject to suit under section 1983, unless, sifting the circumstances of the particular case, the state has so significantly involved itself in the private conduct that the private parties may fairly be termed state actors. Among the factors considered are whether the state subsidized or heavily regulated the conduct, or compelled or encouraged the particular conduct, whether the private actor was performing a function which normally is performed exclusively by the state, and whether there was a symbiotic relationship rendering the conduct joint state action." (Robbins v. Hamburger Home for Girls (1995) 32 Cal.App.4th 671, 683 [38 Cal.Rptr.2d 534], internal citations omitted.)

"Private parties act under color of state law if they willfully participate in joint action with state officials to deprive others of constitutional rights. Private parties involved in such a conspiracy may be liable under section 1983." (United Steelworkers of America v. Phelps Dodge Corp. (9th Cir. 1989) 865 F.2d 1539, 1540, internal citations omitted.)

Secondary Sources

8 Witkin, Summary of California Law (9th ed. 1988) Constitutional Law, § 706 et seq.

2 Civil Rights Actions, Ch. 7, Deprivation of Rights Under Color of State Law—General Principles (Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983), ¶¶ 7.05-7.07, Ch. 17, Deprivation of Rights Under Color of State Law— General Principles (Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983), ¶ 17.02 (Matthew Bender)

11 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 113, Civil Rights: The Post-Civil War Civil Rights Statutes, § 113.14 (Matthew Bender)

3 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 35, Civil Rights (Matthew Bender)

(New September 2003)