Federal Civil Rights Cases
1. What are federal civil rights cases?
Simply put, federal civil rights cases are cases that enforce people’s rights not to have the government violate their federal constitutional or statutory rights. These cases specifically originate from a federal statute: 42 U.S.C. § 1983. That statute reads:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, 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, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.
Typical case: Excessive force, aka police brutality, unjustified use of force, police beating
Typically, a federal civil rights case might involve the use of excessive force by a police officer. For example, sometimes officers use Tasers on detainees when there is no reason to. In one such case we litigated, officers dog-piled on our client in jail and shocked him with Tasers dozens of times, even though he was not resisting. We litigated, demanding downloads from the Taser computer chips that store information on Taser use. (Yes, Tasers have memory chips that record their use.) We also sought officer histories for abuse. Our efforts finally forced the city to settle on terms favorable to our client.
Typical case: False arrest, aka arrest without probable cause, retaliatory arrest
Or a typical federal civil rights case might also involve an arrest without sufficient legal reason. In one such case we litigated, a deputy sheriff arrested one of our clients, a retired deputy sheriff himself. The deputy arrested our client just because he was angry that our client would not cooperate and bring our client’s daughter to the door when the deputy wanted to interrogate her. In fact, our client had no obligation to do so. The deputy was wrong. He magnified his error by arresting our client for failure to do what our client had no obligation to do. We litigated this case to a successful conclusion.
Typical case: Unconstitutional search or entry , aka violation of the Fourth Amendment
Another typical federal civil rights case involves the wrongful entry into a home. The courts take a dim view of illegal entries. A home is the last bastion of our privacy and individuality. It is suppose to be sacrosanct. In one case we handled, police invaded a home based on a fraudulent search warrant affidavit. We were able to demonstrate that the officer seeking the warrant misrepresented crucial facts and omitted other material information in order to secure a search warrant – a court order permitting police entry into a home. The police had concocted a "confidential informant" out of their imaginations. We litigated this case to a successful conclusion.
Federal civil rights cases under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 accomplish multiple purposes.
The first purpose, of course, is to compensate victims of government abuse. We have been successful in obtaining compensation for our clients. For example, in one case, we obtained a verdict for our client of $1,700,000 against the City of Long Beach. (Grant v. City of Long Beach.) Our client had been falsely accused of, and prosecuted for, being a serial rapist. After DNA proved that he was not the rapist, and he was exonerated in criminal court, we sued.
Grant was one of our favorite clients. He was truly an innocent who had been accused by dint of the police frustration at their inability to find a notorious serial rapist who had victimized women in Long Beach for several years. The police eventually caught the real perpetrator, but not until after he had struck again with his signature modus operandi while our client awaited criminal trial in custody. (The police hid the rape while our client was in custody on charges, not publicizing the rape, nor informing us, Grant’s criminal-defense attorneys.) The case was covered by 60 Minutes II in a piece that examined how bloodhound evidence can go seriously wrong.
Federal civil rights cases can also result in a court order for the government to stop violating a person’s rights. If the government persists in trampling a person’s rights, a civil rights suit can stop that.
Federal civil rights cases also hold the government to account. Nothing makes Americans more furious than the government getting away with mistreating us. Civil rights cases are vehicles for establishing the people’s rights over the government.
Finally, federal civil rights cases deter the government from doing wrong. A federal civil rights lawsuit can hold the government to account by establishing the government’s wrongdoing, or by making it pay for its wrongdoing. When that happens, we all hope, the government will not be so ready to run roughshod over the plaintiff’s rights – or the plaintiff’s neighbors’ rights – in the future.
3. Our experience.
Civil rights litigation
We have extensive experience in prosecuting civil rights lawsuits. We started doing federal civil rights lawsuits over a decade ago. Since then, we have prosecuted over 30 civil rights lawsuits in federal court. We have litigated Civil rights from Florida to Southern California. We have litigated in District Court (the trial level), and in the Ninth Circuit (the appellate level).
Former prosecutors and criminal-defense attorneys
Our experience is also garnered from being both former prosecutors and criminal-defense attorneys in California. That experience allows use a unique perspective. We have seen both sides. We have been part of law enforcement and know it.
Based on our extensive experience in prosecuting federal civil rights cases, we have acquired a reputation: that we are tenacious, tough, knowledgeable, experienced, and trial-ready.
And we are not always popular with the attorneys who defend the government. Although we do not go out of our way to give offense, we know that our responsibility lies in getting justice for our client, and getting the most for our clients consistent with the law and our ethical duties. That means that sometimes we must be confrontational and aggressive. We look out for our clients. To us, that is more important than getting along with the other side.
Federal civil rights cases are almost always defended by tough, aggressive, well-funded law firms. The government often would rather pay for an aggressive defense than give up money to the aggrieved or admit wrongdoing. To be sure, they will paint their clients in the best light they can, and they will try to put any and all blame on the plaintiff. That is why you need experienced, tough lawyers on your side when you enter the civil-rights arena.
6. Why federal court.
Almost all of our civil rights cases have been in federal court. There are reasons for this.
Judge and jury
One reason is that we sue under the a federal civil rights statute – 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 is designed to protect persons from overreaching and abusive state government. Federal court, in our opinion, gives plaintiffs the best chances for a neutral judge and jury. Also, typically, federal judges have more experience with federal civil rights litigations than most state-court judges. That is because, typically, a higher percentage of a federal judge’s cases deal with federal civil rights under federal civil rights statutes.
And there is another advantage to litigating federal civil rights cases in federal courts. State trial court dockets are crowded. It often takes up to five years to get a state civil rights case to trial. By way of contrast, it is unusual for a federal civil rights case to come to trial more than two years after it is filed in federal court.
Procedures and discovery
Also, procedures in federal court are aimed to create a level playing field between the powerful government and the lonely you. Discovery, the process by which attorneys "discover" evidence through depositions and other requests, have more powerful talons in federal court. The federal discovery statutes lend themselves to more incisive ‘discovery’, and the requests can easily be monitored and enforced by special magistrates who ensures that the government divulges what it must. These procedural tools and safeguards, and neutral magistrates to enforce those tools and safeguards, are less available in state court.
7. Attorney’s fees in federal civil rights cases.
We handle all of our federal civil rights cases on a contingency-fee basis or modified contingency-fee basis. All payments or fees are described in detail before you hire us. But, in the end, what it will mean to you is that you pay no attorney’s fees to get us to take your case. We recover our attorney’s fees only when we are successful.
Sometimes the government settles for a lump sum. In such cases, we divide up that lump sum according to our prior agreement with our client.
If the matter is successfully litigated to verdict, attorney’s fees usually are paid by the government. A successful verdict means, usually, that we obtain our attorney’s fees from the government, as awarded by the court.
We make sure you understand
We endeavor to explain everything about litigation, but, foremost, we will make sure you understand how we are compensated. We do that because we know that people worry about attorneys and the motivation that attorneys have for representing clients. Unfortunately, that’s natural. We want to ensure a worry-free litigation as far as attorney’s fees are concerned.
8. We are passionate about civil rights cases.
Civil rights cases are our passion. Peter Schlueter traveled the world as a journalist before he became an attorney. He covered stories from El Salvador during its tumultuous civil war to Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. He learned through experience in war zones of the importance of empowering citizens with the ability to take adversaries and the government to court. When a citizen uses the courts, he or she has the court’s power. Peter Schlueter saw that failing to so empower citizens with a power equal to the government leads to oppression. In such countries where citizens are not so empowered, guns and force are the only law.
Jon Schlueter also has found a calling in civil rights litigation. His travels as a Christian worker and college professor in China brought home the necessity of basic human rights. He sees the Civil Rights Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1983, as a uniquely American means to enforce basic human rights.
9. Call us.
If you feel that your federal civil rights have been violated, you should call us right away. Our number is (909) 381-4888.