Bringing a §1983 Suit Against a Municipality: The Monell Claim, Part 1

Bringing a §1983 claim against a municipality requires the plaintiff show the existence of a very specific set of circumstances. These circumstances are outlined in the 1978 case Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (thus the eponymous “Monell claim”). Specifically, to bring a successful claim under Monell the plaintiff must show (1) the violation of a constitutional right (2) by an official act (3) that resulted from a “government policy or custom.” Mere allegations that a municipality has a policy or custom that violated a plaintiff’s rights are insufficient to hold a municipality liable under §1983, rather it must be proven that the policy or custom not only caused the complained of constitutional violation, but exhibits a “deliberate indifference” to citizens’ rights. Dwares v. City of New York, 985 F.2d. 94, 100-101 (2d Cir. 1993).

Plaintiffs can show a “governmental policy or custom” sufficient to establish municipal liability under Monell in one of four ways. Plaintiffs can allege:

(1) the existence of a formal policy which is officially endorsed by the municipality; (2)actions taken or decisions made by municipal officials with final decision making authority, which caused the alleged violation of plaintiff’s civil rights; (3) a practice so persistent and widespread that it constitutes a custom of which constructive knowledge can be implied on the part of the policymaking officials; or (4) a failure by policymakers to properly train or supervise their subordinates, amounting to “deliberate indifference” tothe rights of those who come in contact with the municipal employees.

Castanza v. Town of Brookhaven, 700 F.Supp.2d 277, 287 (E.D.N.Y. 2010); see also Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs of Bryan Cty., Okl. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397 (1997); Davis v. City of New York, 75 Fed. Appx. 827 (2d Cir. 2003).

Our next post will continue looking at the Monell claim, this time at the implications of Monell for suits in which both a municipality and government officials are named defendants.

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