Vanderbilt Law Review


Steven E. Comer

First Page



The Reconstruction Congress passed section 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (Act), commonly known as the Ku Klux Klan Act,1 to com- bat racial violence in the South where local police officers, in violation of the victims' constitutional rights, often failed to protect blacks from attacks by lynch mobs. Although section 1 protects all citizens regard- less of race, it was designed primarily to (1) prevent states from passing racially discriminatory laws, (2) provide blacks with redress for deprivations of civil rights when state law proved inadequate, and (3) enable victims to sue in federal court when state law remedies were, in practice, unavailable to blacks.' Currently codified at section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code,4 section I does not create any substantive rights. Instead, it provides a private right of action in federal court for the deprivation of federally protected rights.'

Since its passage, section 1983 has evolved into an all-purpose remedy for victims of official abuse. Whenever a local government violates a person's federally protected rights, the victim can sue the officer and the governmental entity for money damages under section 1983.

Section 1983 does not provide a remedy for deprivations caused by federal actors or by states.' In 1978, however, the United States Supreme Court approved the recovery of damages directly from a municipality that ultimately was found responsible for the plaintiff's deprivation. Section 1983 has become an effective means of redress for victims of official abuse and, consequently, appears to have altered the behavior of police, who frequently are placed in confrontational situations in which deprivations are most likely to occur." A municipality, however, is not automatically liable when one of its officers or employees causes a deprivation. This Note considers when a municipality is and should be liable for deprivations caused by its officers.