What are Civil Rights Cases?
Civil Rights cases generally take the form of some branch of the government or agent of the government engaging in conduct that either physically or emotionally causes harm. These cases are governed by a federal statute which has been interpreted by case law as follows:
“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.)
This statute is most commonly associated with cases involving some form of police misconduct. At Richards Willis PC we have used this statute to protect and in some cases compensate children and their families who have been injured or separated by the actions of a government agent or entity.
In the case of Lawson v. Center Point Richards Willis PC represented three children seriously injured when they were denied medical care while they were warehoused in prisons with their mothers who were serving short sentences for drug related felonies. One child had a cancerous brain tumor that went untreated for almost five months. The trial court ruled that the State of California had no obligation to provide medical treatment through the private corporation it paid to administer the prisons. We pursued the case to the Fourth District Court of Appeals who reversed the trial court’s ruling and created for the first time an obligation on behalf of the State of California to provide medical care to children it incarcerates along with their mothers.
In the case of Ramirez v. Escondido Union School District, Richards Willis PC represented a five year old boy kidnapped into Mexico in violation of a custody order by an unknown man who claimed to be the “boyfriend” of the boy’s mother, who previously had been deported to Mexico. The mother staged the kidnapping to occur at the boys elementary school after the father dropped off his son for class. We sued the school district for violating the child’s and father’s constitutional right to be together under the Civil Rights statues that are used to sue police officers for violating the rights of their prisoners.
The school district claimed that a father had no constitutional right to be with his son for the purpose of the Civil Rights statutes. Federal District Court Judge Dana Sabraw agreed with us that this was a constitutionally protected right and allowed the case to go to a jury to decide liability and damages. A San Diego jury awarded the father and son $2.85 million dollars in damages October 4, 2013. The case is currently at the 9th Circuit court of Appeals where we hope to have a published opinion making this case mandatory federal law for the entire nation by the end of 2015.
We continue to seek out cases where the law is lacking in its protection of children, particularly children who through no fault of their own find themselves at the absolute mercy of some government agent or entity.
As a result of this case, Mr. Richards is credited with promoting a change in policies and procedures in all California School Districts, and having a lasting, statewide, positive effect on the safety of children in our schools.