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Anatomy of a Civil Rights Action

In the last few decades, there has been unprecedented growth in the number of cases filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which was originally designed to provide redress for violations of federally protected rights committed by persons acting under color of law. Section1983 does not create substantive rights; rather, it merely provides civil remedies for deprivation of rights established under the Constitution or federal laws. The Supreme Court has held that public officials’ actions meet the “color of law” requirement when they act under the authority of state law, regardless of whether their act is illegal under state law. The Court has further extended the reach of § 1983 actions by ruling that a municipality could be held liability, overruling prior precedent holding that a municipal corporation could not be sued under § 1983.

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