United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Office of Staff Attorneys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Section 1983 Outline

 

Updated December 2018

 

Office of Staff Attorneys

United States Court of Appeals

for the Ninth Circuit

 

This outline is intended for use as a starting point for research.  It is not intended to express the views or opinions of the Ninth Circuit, and it may not be cited to or by the courts of this circuit.

 


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Originally written in 2002 by Kent Brintnall.  Updated by the Office of Staff Attorneys.

Many thanks to the staff attorneys and others who have reviewed sections of this outline, and have contributed valuable comments and corrections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corrections and comments should be e-mailed to Jennifer Hendershot at jennifer_hendershot@ca9.uscourts.gov.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

I.        GENERAL § 1983 PRINCIPLES. 1

A.    Elements of a § 1983 Action. 1

1.    Person. 2

a.       States. 2

b.       Territories. 2

c.        Local Governmental Units 2

(1)         Status as Persons. 3

(2)         Theory of Liability. 3

(a)     Municipal Policy. 5

(b)     Municipal Custom.. 7

(c)     Municipality’s Failure to Train. 7

(d)     Pleading Standard. 9

d.       Agencies. 10

e.        State Officials. 12

(1)         Official Capacity. 12

(2)         Personal Capacity. 12

(3)         Determining Capacity. 13

f.        Federal Officials. 14

2.    Acting under Color of State Law.. 14

a.       General Principles 14

b.       Applications 15

(1)         State Employees. 15

(2)         Prison Officials. 15

(3)         Prison Physicians 16

(4)         Public Defenders. 16

(5)         Private Parties 17

(6)         Federal Employees. 18

3.    Deprivation of a Right 18

a.       Rights Guaranteed by the Constitution. 18

b.       Rights Guaranteed by Federal Statutes 18

c.        Rights Guaranteed by State Law.. 20

B.     State-of-Mind Requirement 20

C.     Causation. 20

1.    General Principles 20

2.    Supervisory Liability. 21

3.    Local Governmental Unit Liability. 22

4.    Relationship to Relief Sought 23

5.    Pleading Standards. 23

D.    Immunities. 23

1.    Absolute Immunity. 23

a.       Basic Principles. 24

(1)         Determining Eligibility for Absolute Immunity. 24

(2)         Burden of Proof Regarding Eligibility for Absolute Immunity. 25

(3)         Effect of Absolute Immunity. 25

(4)         Application to Bivens Actions. 25

b.       Judicial Immunity. 26

(1)         Basic Principles. 26

(2)         Eligibility. 26

(a)     Judges. 26

(b)     Magistrate Judges. 28

(c)     Administrative Agency Hearing Officers. 28

(d)     Court Mediators 28

(e)     Court-Appointed Psychiatrists. 28

(f)     Court Employees / Courtroom Officials. 28

(g)     Parole Board Officials. 29

(h)     Probation Officers / Parole Officers. 30

c.        Prosecutorial Immunity. 30

(1)         Basic Principles. 30

(2)         Eligibility. 34

(a)     Attorneys. 34

(b)     Agency Officials. 35

(c)     Social Workers. 35

d.       Presidential Immunity. 36

e.        Legislative Immunity. 36

f.        Witness Immunity. 36

g.       Ineligibility. 37

(1)         Local Governmental Units 37

(2)         Prison Officials. 37

(3)         Defense Counsel 38

(4)         Police Officers. 38

(5)         Court Reporters. 38

(6)         Executive Officials. 39

2.    Qualified Immunity. 39

a.       Basic Principles. 40

(1)         Eligibility. 40

(a)     Identifying the Right 43

(b)     Clearly Established Right 43

(2)         Ineligibility. 46

(a)     Local Governmental Units 46

(b)     Municipal Employees 46

(c)     Private Individuals. 47

b.       Pleading:  Plaintiff’s Allegations 48

c.        Pleading:  Affirmative Defense. 49

d.       Burdens of Proof 49

e.        Discovery. 49

f.        Dismissal 50

g.       Summary Judgment 51

h.       Interlocutory Appeals 51

3.    Eleventh Amendment Immunity. 52

a.       Basic Principles. 53

b.       Inapplicability of Amendment 54

(1)         Local Governmental Units 54

(2)         State Officials. 54

(a)     Official Capacity. 54

(b)     Personal Capacity. 55

c.        Abrogation. 56

d.       Waiver 57

e.        Violations of State Law.. 58

f.        Burden of Proof 58

g.       Interlocutory Appeals 58

E.     Remedies. 59

1.    Damages. 59

a.       Compensatory. 59

b.       Punitive. 60

c.        Presumed. 60

d.       Nominal 61

2.    Injunctive Relief 61

a.       Law Prior to Enactment of the Prison Litigation Reform Act 62

b.       Law after Enactment of the Prison Litigation Reform Act 62

3.    Declaratory Relief 63

F.     Exhaustion of Remedies. 64

1.    State Remedies. 64

2.    Prison Administrative Remedies. 64

G.    Statute of Limitations 69

1.    General Principles 69

2.    States’ Personal-Injury Statutes of Limitations 71

3.    Dismissal 72

H.    Attorney’s Fees. 73

1.    Prison Litigation Reform Act (42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)) 73

2.    42 U.S.C. § 1988. 73

a.       General Principles 74

b.       Determining when a Plaintiff is a “Prevailing Party”. 74

c.        Determining the Amount of the Fee Award. 77

d.       Awarding Attorney’s Fees to Defendants. 78

e.        Awarding Attorney’s Fees to Pro Se Litigants. 79

f.        Immunity and Fee Awards. 79

g.       Other Work Entitling Attorney to Fees. 80

3.    Equal Access to Justice Act (28 U.S.C. § 2412) 80

I.       Costs. 81

J.      Relationship to Habeas Corpus Proceedings. 82

K.    Bivens Actions. 86

II.      PROCEDURAL ISSUES CONCERNING PRO SE COMPLAINTS. 88

A.    General Considerations. 88

1.    Pleadings. 88

a.       Liberal Construction. 88

b.       Exceptions 90

(1)         Pleading Requirements. 90

(2)         Procedural Rules. 92

2.    Time Limits. 93

3.    Representing Others 94

4.    Competency Hearings 94

5.    Presence at Hearings. 95

B.     Processing and Resolving Cases 95

1.    Applications for In Forma Pauperis Status. 95

a.       Application Requirements (28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)) 95

b.       Evaluation of Application. 96

c.        Payment of Fee (28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)–(c)) 96

d.       Prior Litigation History (28 U.S.C. § 1915(g)) 97

e.        Accompanying Rights 98

(1)        Service of Process (28 U.S.C. § 1915(d)) 98

(2)         Appointment of Counsel (28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1)) 99

2.    Screening of Complaints (28 U.S.C. § 1915A) 100

3.    Frivolousness (28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)) 100

a.       Sua Sponte Dismissal 100

b.       Standard. 100

c.        Leave to Amend. 101

d.       Review on Appeal 102

4.    Failure to State a Claim (28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)) 102

a.       Sua Sponte Dismissal 102

b.       Standard. 102

c.        Materials to be Considered. 103

d.       Leave to Amend. 104

e.        Effect of Amendment 104

f.        Review on Appeal 104

5.    Summary Judgment (Fed. R. Civ. P. 56) 105

a.       Sua Sponte Entry of Summary Judgment 105

b.       Standard. 106

c.        Informing Pro Se Litigants about Summary Judgment Requirements. 107

d.       Materials Submitted in Opposition to Summary Judgment Motion. 110

e.        Conversion of Motion to Dismiss 111

f.        Requests for Additional Discovery Prior to Summary Judgment (Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d)) 112

g.       Local Rules Concerning Summary Judgment 113

h.       Review on Appeal 113

6.    Other Kinds of Dismissal 114

a.       Subject-matter Jurisdiction. 114

b.       Personal Jurisdiction. 114

c.        Service of Process (Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(m)) 114

d.       Short and Plain Statement (Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)) 115

e.        Voluntary Dismissal (Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)) 116

f.        Involuntary Dismissal (Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(b)) 117

g.       Default Judgments (Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b)) 119

C.     Disciplining Pro Se Litigants. 119

1.    Vexatious Litigant Orders 119

2.    Sanctions. 120

D.    Using Magistrate Judges. 120

E.     Recusal/Disqualification of Judges. 123

F.     Considerations on Appeal 124

1.    Granting In Forma Pauperis Status 124

2.    Appointment of Counsel 125

3.    Transcripts 125

III.    ANALYSIS OF SUBSTANTIVE LAW... 126

A.    Constitutional Claims 126

1.    First Amendment 127

a.       Speech Claims. 127

(1)         General Principles 127

(2)         Applications 129

(a)     Personal Correspondence. 129

(b)     Legal Correspondence. 130

(c)     Publications 131

(d)     Telephones. 133

(e)     Access to Media. 133

(f)     Associational Rights. 134

(g)     Jailhouse Lawyers 134

(h)     Prison Grievances. 134

b.       Religion Claims. 135

(1)         Free Exercise Clause. 135

(2)         Religious Freedom Restoration Act (42 U.S.C §§ 2000bb to 2000bb-4); Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc to 2000cc-5. 138

2.    Fourth Amendment 140

a.       General Principles 140

b.       Cell Searches. 141

c.        Body Searches 141

d.       Phone-Call Monitoring. 143

3.    Sixth Amendment 143

4.    Eighth Amendment 144

a.       General Principles 144

b.       Safety. 147

c.        Medical Needs. 150

(1)         General Principles 150

(2)         Denial of, Delay of, or Interference with Treatment 152

(3)         Qualified Medical Personnel 153

(4)         Informing Medical Personnel of Medical Problems. 153

(5)         Negligence/Medical Malpractice. 153

(6)         Difference of Opinion about Medical Treatment 154

(7)         Fees for Medical Services. 155

(8)         Transfers 155

d.       Conditions of Confinement 155

(1)         General Principles 155

(2)         Specific Conditions 156

(a)     Crowding. 156

(b)     Sanitation. 156

(c)     Food. 157

(d)     Noise. 157

(e)     Exercise. 157

(f)     Vocational and Rehabilitative Programs 158

(g)     Temperature of Cells. 158

(h)     Ventilation. 159

(i)     Lighting. 159

(j)     Environmental Tobacco Smoke. 159

(k)     Asbestos 160

(l)     Personal Hygiene. 160

(m)     Clothing. 160

(n)     Searches. 160

(o)     Verbal Harassment 160

(p)    Safety Cell 161

e.        Excessive Force. 161

f.        Capital Punishment 162

5.    Fourteenth Amendment 163

a.       Equal Protection Claims. 163

b.       Procedural Due Process Claims. 164

(1)         Defining Liberty Interests 164

(a)     Interests Protected by the Constitution. 164

(b)     Interests Protected by State Law.. 165

(2)         Defining Property Interests 167

(3)         Procedural Guarantees 168

(a)     Administrative Segregation. 168

(b)     Disciplinary Hearings 170

(4)         Effect of State Remedies. 172

(5)         State-of-Mind Requirement 173

c.        Substantive Due Process Claims 173

d.       Vagueness Claims 174

6.    Access to Court Claims. 174

7.    Miscellaneous Constitutional Claims. 177

a.       Classification. 177

b.       Transfers 177

c.        Visitation. 177

d.       Verbal Harassment 178

e.        Vocational and Rehabilitative Programs 179

f.        Right to Marry/Procreate. 179

g.       Takings. 179

B.     Statutory Claims. 179

1.    42 U.S.C. § 1981. 179

2.    42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) 180

3.    42 U.S.C. § 1986. 181

4.    Religious Freedom Restoration Act (42 U.S.C §§ 2000bb to 2000bb-4); Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc to 2000cc-5. 181

5.    Fair Labor Standards Act (29 U.S.C. §§ 201–19) 182

6.    Rehabilitation Act ( 29 U.S.C. §§ 701–97b); Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. §§ 12101–12213) 182

7.    Title VII (42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e–17) 183

8.    Title IX (20 U.S.C. §§ 1681–88) 183

9.    Federal Tort Claims Act (28 U.S.C. §§ 2671–2680) 183

C.     Parole/Probation. 184

D.    Rights of Pretrial Detainees. 187


 

IV.    PRISON LITIGATION REFORM ACT. 191

A.    Application of the In Forma Pauperis Provisions (28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 & 1915A) 191

B.     Fee Provisions (28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2)–(3), (b)) 193

C.     Procedural Aspects of §§ 1915 and 1915A.. 196

D.    Three-Strikes Provision (28 U.S.C. § 1915(g)) 198

E.     Exhaustion Requirement (42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)) 200

F.     Physical-Injury Requirement (42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e)) 205

G.    Injunctive Relief (18 U.S.C. § 3626) 206

H.    Special Masters (18 U.S.C. § 3626(f)) 206

I.       Attorney’s Fees (42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)) 207

 


I.       GENERAL § 1983 PRINCIPLES

This section of the outline discusses both the elements of a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 cause of action (I.A) and rules common to all § 1983 causes of action (I.B–J).  The section concludes with a discussion of Bivens actions, the “federal official” analogue to § 1983 (I.K).

Section 1983 provides:

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 … .

42 U.S.C. § 1983.

“[Section] 1983 ‘is not itself a source of substantive rights,’ but merely provides ‘a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.’”  Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393–94 (1989) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)); see also Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Org., 441 U.S. 600, 618 (1979); Tatum v. Moody, 768 F.3d 806, 814 (9th Cir. 2014); Hall v. City of Los Angeles, 697 F.3d 1059, 1068 (9th Cir. 2012); Anderson v. Warner, 451 F.3d 1063, 1067 (9th Cir. 2006).

A.      Elements of a § 1983 Action

“Traditionally, the requirements for relief under [§] 1983 have been articulated as: (1) a violation of rights protected by the Constitution or created by federal statute, (2) proximately caused (3) by conduct of a ‘person’ (4) acting under color of state law.”  Crumpton v. Gates, 947 F.2d 1418, 1420 (9th Cir. 1991).  Or, more simply, courts have required plaintiffs to “plead that (1) the defendants acting under color of state law (2) deprived plaintiffs of rights secured by the Constitution or federal statutes.”  Gibson v. United States, 781 F.2d 1334, 1338 (9th Cir. 1986); see also Pistor v. Garcia, 791 F. 3d 1104, 1114 (9th Cir. 2015); Long v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2006); WMX Techs., Inc. v. Miller, 197 F.3d 367, 372 (9th Cir. 1999) (en banc); Ortez v. Wash. Cty., Or., 88 F.3d 804, 810 (9th Cir. 1996).

1.       Person

a.       States

States are not persons for purposes of § 1983.  See Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, 69 (1997); Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989); Stilwell v. City of Williams, 831 F.3d 1234, 1245 (9th Cir. 2016) (explaining § 1983 did not abrogate states’ Eleventh Amendment immunity and therefore does not allow suits against states themselves); Jackson v. Barnes, 749 F.3d 755, 764 (9th Cir. 2014); Doe v. Lawrence Livermore Nat’l Lab., 131 F.3d 836, 839 (9th Cir. 1997); Hale v. Arizona, 993 F.2d 1387, 1398 (9th Cir. 1993) (en banc); Gilbreath v. Cutter Biological, Inc., 931 F.2d 1320, 1327 (9th Cir. 1991).  Section 1983 claims against states, therefore, are legally frivolous.  See Jackson v. Arizona, 885 F.2d 639, 641 (9th Cir. 1989), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).

For a discussion of a state’s Eleventh Amendment immunity, see infra I.D.3.a.

b.      Territories

Territories are not persons for purposes of § 1983.  See Ngiraingas v. Sanchez, 495 U.S. 182, 192 (1990); Magana v. Northern Mariana Islands, 107 F.3d 1436, 1438 n.1 (9th Cir. 1997); DeNieva v. Reyes, 966 F.2d 480, 483 (9th Cir. 1992); Guam Soc’y of Obstetricians & Gynecologists v. Ada, 962 F.2d 1366, 1371 (9th Cir. 1992); Bermudez v. Duenas, 936 F.2d 1064, 1066 (9th Cir. 1991) (per curiam).  However, territorial officers acting in their official capacity are persons that could be subject to suit under § 1983 when sued for prospective relief.  See Paeste v. Gov’t of Guam, 798 F.3d 1228, 1235–40 (9th Cir. 2015) (discussing distinction between suits seeking damages and suits seeking prospective relief).

c.       Local Governmental Units

For a discussion of the absence of immunity defenses for local governmental entities, see infra I.D.1.g.(1), I.D.2.a.(2), and I.D.3.b.(1).

For a discussion of the element of causation as it applies to local governmental entities, see infra I.C.3.

(1)     Status as Persons

“[M]unicipalities and other local government units … [are] among those persons to whom § 1983 applies.”  Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978); see also Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997); Edgerly v. City & Cty. of San Francisco, 599 F.3d 946, 960 (9th Cir. 2010); Waggy v. Spokane Cty. Wash., 594 F.3d 707, 713 (9th Cir. 2010); Fogel v. Collins, 531 F.3d 824, 834 (9th Cir. 2008); Long v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2006); Cortez v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 294 F.3d 1186, 1188 (9th Cir. 2002); Fairley v. Luman, 281 F.3d 913, 916 (9th Cir. 2002) (per curiam); Van Ort v. Estate of Stanewich, 92 F.3d 831, 835 (9th Cir. 1996).

Counties are also persons for purposes of § 1983.  See Jackson v. Barnes, 749 F.3d 755, 764 (9th Cir. 2014) (“[W]hen a California sheriff’s department performs the function of conducting criminal investigations, it is a county actor subject to suit under § 1983”); Miranda v. Clark Cty., Nev., 319 F.3d 465, 469 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc); see also Castro v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060, 1066 n.2 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc) (rejecting the County’s claim that the Eleventh Amendment barred the suit), cert. denied sub nom. Los Angeles Cty., Cal. v. Castro, 137 S. Ct. 831, (2017).  Municipal government officials are also persons for purposes of § 1983.  See Monell, 436 U.S. at 691 n.55.

“A county is subject to Section 1983 liability ‘if its policies, whether set by the government’s lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts ... may fairly be said to represent official policy, caused the particular constitutional violation at issue.’”  King v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 885 F.3d 548, 558 (9th Cir. 2018) (quoting Streit v. County of Los Angeles, 236 F.3d 552, 559 (9th Cir. 2001)); Rivera v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 745 F.3d 384, 389 (9th Cir. 2014) (“[M]unicipalities, including counties and their sheriff’s departments, can only be liable under § 1983 if an unconstitutional action ‘implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body’s officers.’” (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 690)).

(2)     Theory of Liability

A local governmental unit may not be held responsible for the acts of its employees under a respondeat superior theory of liability.  See Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997); Collins v. City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115, 121 (1992); City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989); Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978); Castro v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060, 1073 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc), cert. denied sub nom. Los Angeles Cty., Cal. v. Castro, 137 S. Ct. 831 (2017); Fogel v. Collins, 531 F.3d 824, 834 (9th Cir. 2008); Webb v. Sloan, 330 F.3d 1158, 1163–64 (9th Cir. 2003); Hopper v. City of Pasco, 241 F.3d 1067, 1082 (9th Cir. 2001).  “To [prevail on a claim against a municipal entity for a constitutional violation], a plaintiff must go beyond the respondeat superior theory of liability and demonstrate that the alleged constitutional deprivation was the product of a policy or custom of the local governmental unit.”  Kirkpatrick v. Cty. of Washoe, 843 F.3d 784, 793 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc).

Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to Bivens and § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official’s own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.”  Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009); see also Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S. Ct. 1843, 1860 (2017) (explaining a Bivens claim is brought against the individual official for his or her own acts, not the acts of others; its purpose being to deter the officer); Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1207 (9th Cir. 2011) (discussing Iqbal and explaining that “when a supervisor is found liable based on deliberate indifference, the supervisor is being held liable for his or her own culpable action or inaction, not held vicariously liable for the culpable action or inaction of his or her subordinates.”).  Therefore, a plaintiff must go beyond the respondeat superior theory of liability and demonstrate that the alleged constitutional deprivation was the product of a policy or custom of the local governmental unit, because municipal liability must rest on the actions of the municipality, and not the actions of the employees of the municipality.  See Brown, 520 U.S. at 403; City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 385; Monell, 436 U.S. at 690–91; Fogel, 531 F.3d at 834; Webb, 330 F.3d at 1164; Hopper, 241 F.3d at 1082; Blair v. City of Pomona, 223 F.3d 1074, 1079 (9th Cir. 2000); Oviatt v. Pearce, 954 F.2d 1470, 1473–74 (9th Cir. 1992).  See also Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 60 (2011) (explaining that to impose liability on a local government under § 1983 the plaintiffs must prove that an “action pursuant to official municipal policy” caused their injury); Garmon v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 828 F.3d 837, 845 (9th Cir. 2016) (same); Sandoval v. Las Vegas Metro. Police Dep’t, 756 F.3d 1154, 1167–68 (9th Cir. 2014) (same).  The Supreme Court has emphasized that “[w]here a plaintiff claims that the municipality … has caused an employee to [violate plaintiff’s constitutional rights], rigorous standards of culpability and causation must be applied to ensure that the municipality is not held liable solely for the actions of its employee.”  Brown, 520 U.S. at 405.

The “policy or custom” requirement applies irrespective of whether the remedy sought is money damages or prospective relief.  Los Angeles Cty., Cal. v. Humphries, 562 U.S. 29, 34 (2010).

(a)     Municipal Policy

“In order to establish municipal liability, a plaintiff must show that a ‘policy or custom’ led to the plaintiff's injury.” Castro v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060, 1073 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc), cert. denied sub nom. Los Angeles Cty., Cal. v. Castro, 137 S. Ct. 831 (2017) (quoting Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)); see also Garmon v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 828 F.3d 837, 845 (9th Cir. 2016) (“[P]laintiffs who seek to impose liability on local governments under § 1983 must prove that action pursuant to official municipal policy caused their injury.” (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)).  “The [Supreme] Court has further required that the plaintiff demonstrate that the policy or custom of a municipality ‘reflects deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of its inhabitants.’” Castro, 833 F.3d at 1060 (quoting City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 392 (1989)).  The deliberate indifference standard for municipal liability under § 1983 is an objective inquiry.  Castro, 833 F.3d at 1076 (overruling Gibson v. County of Washoe, 290 F.3d 1175 (9th Cir. 2002)).

  Official municipal policy includes the decisions of a government’s lawmakers, the acts of its policymaking officials, and practices so persistent and widespread as to practically have the force of law.”  Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 61 (2011).  A policy “promulgated, adopted, or ratified by a local governmental entity’s legislative body unquestionably satisfies Monell’s policy requirement.”  Thompson v. City of Los Angeles, 885 F.2d 1439, 1443 (9th Cir. 1989), overruled on other grounds by Bull v. City & Cty. of San Francisco, 595 F.3d 964 (9th Cir. 2010) (en banc).  Moreover, a policy of inaction may be a municipal policy within the meaning of Monell.  See Brown v. Lynch, 831 F.3d 1146, 1152 (9th Cir. 2016); Waggy v. Spokane Cty. Wash., 594 F.3d 707, 713 (9th Cir. 2010); Long v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2006); Fairley v. Luman, 281 F.3d 913, 918 (9th Cir. 2002) (per curiam); Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 681 (9th Cir. 2001); Oviatt v. Pearce, 954 F.2d 1470, 1474 (9th Cir. 1992).

A choice among alternatives by a municipal official with final decision-making authority may also serve as the basis of municipal liability.  See Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 482–83 (1986); Brown v. Lynch, 831 F.3d 1146, 1152 (9th Cir. 2016); Waggy, 594 F.3d at 713 (explaining that a policy has been defined as a deliberate choice, made from among various alternatives, to follow a course of action); Long, 442 F.3d at 1185; Fairley, 281 F.3d at 918; Oviatt, 954 F.2d at 1477; see also City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 127 (1988) (emphasizing that critical inquiry is whether official has final decision-making authority); Peralta v. Dillard, 744 F.3d 1076, 1083 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc) (“Section 1983 also authorizes prisoners to sue municipal entities for damages if the enforcement of a municipal policy or practice, or the decision of a final municipal policymaker, caused the Eighth Amendment violation.”); Lytle v. Carl, 382 F.3d 978, 983 (9th Cir. 2004) (“municipality can be liable for an isolated constitutional violation when the person causing the violation has final policymaking authority”) (citation and internal quotation  marks omitted); Collins v. City of San Diego, 841 F.2d 337, 341 (9th Cir. 1988) (“municipal liability attaches only when the decisionmaker possesses ‘final authority’ to establish municipal policy with respect to the action ordered”) (quoting Pembaur, 475 U.S. at 481).  To identify officials with final policy-making authority, the court should look to state law.  See Praprotnik, 485 U.S. at 124; Pembaur, 475 U.S. at 483; Lytle, 382 F.3d at 982; Streit v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 236 F.3d 552, 560 (9th Cir. 2001); Christie v. Iopa, 176 F.3d 1231, 1235 (9th Cir. 1999).  The question of whether an official has final decision-making authority is not a question for the jury.  See Jett v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 737 (1989), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Fed’n of African Am. Contractors v. City of Oakland, 96 F.3d 1204, 1205 (9th Cir. 1996); Praprotnik, 485 U.S. at 126; Lytle, 382 F.3d at 982; Hammer v. Gross, 932 F.2d 842, 850 n.4 (9th Cir. 1991) (en banc).

Ratification of the decisions of a subordinate by an official with final decision-making authority can also be a policy for purposes of municipal liability under § 1983.  See Praprotnik, 485 U.S. at 127; Trevino v. Gates, 99 F.3d 911, 920–21 (9th Cir. 1996); Gillette v. Delmore, 979 F.2d 1342, 1346–47 (9th Cir. 1992).  “[T]he mere failure to investigate the basis of a subordinate’s discretionary decisions[,]” however, is not a ratification of those decisions.  Praprotnik, 485 U.S. at 130.  Moreover, mere acquiescence in a single instance of alleged unconstitutional conduct is not sufficient to demonstrate ratification of a subordinate’s acts.  See Gillette, 979 F.2d at 1348. But see McRorie v. Shimoda, 795 F.2d 780, 784 (9th Cir. 1986) (suggesting that failure of prison officials to discipline guards after impermissible shakedown search and failure to admit the guards’ conduct was in error could be interpreted as a municipal policy).

(b)     Municipal Custom

Even if there is not an explicit policy, a plaintiff may establish municipal liability upon a showing that there is a permanent and well-settled practice by the municipality which gave rise to the alleged constitutional violation.  See City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 127 (1988); Navarro v. Block, 72 F.3d 712, 714–15 (9th Cir. 1996); Thompson v. City of Los Angeles, 885 F.2d 1439, 1444 (9th Cir. 1989), overruled on other grounds by Bull v. City & Cty. of San Francisco, 595 F.3d 964 (9th Cir. 2010).  Allegations of random acts, or single instances of misconduct, however, are insufficient to establish a municipal custom.  See Navarro, 72 F.3d at 714; Thompson, 885 F.2d at 1444.  Once the plaintiff has demonstrated that a custom existed, the plaintiff need not also demonstrate that “official policy-makers had actual knowledge of the practice at issue.”  Navarro, 72 F.3d at 714–15; Thompson, 885 F.2d at 1444.  But see Blair v. City of Pomona, 223 F.3d 1074, 1080 (9th Cir. 2000) (“open to the [municipality] to show that the custom was not known to the policy-makers”).

(c)      Municipality’s Failure to Train

The plaintiff may also establish municipal liability by demonstrating that the alleged constitutional violation was caused by a failure to train municipal employees adequately.  See City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388–91 (1989); Garmon v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 828 F.3d 837, 846 (9th Cir. 2016); Flores v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 758 F.3d 1154, 1158 (9th Cir. 2014); Price v. Sery, 513 F.3d 962, 973 (9th Cir. 2008); Blankenhorn v. City of Orange, 485 F.3d 463, 484–85 (9th Cir. 2007); Long v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 442 F.3d 1178, 1186–87 (9th Cir. 2006)Johnson v. Hawe, 388 F.3d 676, 686 (9th Cir. 2004); Miranda v. Clark Cty., Nev., 319 F.3d 465, 471 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc); Fairley v. Luman, 281 F.3d 913, 917 (9th Cir. 2002) (per curiam); see especially Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 409–10 (1997) (discussing limited scope of such a claim).  Such a showing depends on three elements:  (1) the training program must be inadequate “‘in relation to the tasks the particular officers must perform’”; (2) the city officials must have been deliberately indifferent “‘to the rights of persons with whom the [local officials] come into contact’”; and (3) the inadequacy of the training “must be shown to have ‘actually caused’ the constitutional deprivation at issue.”  Merritt v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 875 F.2d 765, 770 (9th Cir. 1989) (internal citations omitted); see also Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 61 (2011) (stating, “To satisfy the statute, a municipality’s failure to train its employees in a relevant respect must amount to ‘deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the [untrained employees] come into contact.’  []  Only then ‘can such a shortcoming be properly thought of as a city ‘policy or custom’ that is actionable under § 1983.’”) (quoting City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 388).  Note that “[a] municipality’s culpability for a deprivation of rights is at its most tenuous where a claim turns on a failure to train.”  Connick, 563 U.S. at 61.

“Under this standard, a municipal defendant can be held liable because of a failure to properly train its employees only if the failure reflects a “conscious” choice by the government.” Kirkpatrick v. Cty. of Washoe, 843 F.3d 784, 793 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc).  The indifference of city officials may be shown where, “in light of the duties assigned to specific … employees[,] the need for more or different training is so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policymakers of the city can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need.”  City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 390; see Long, 442 F.3d at 1186–87; Johnson, 388 F.3d at 686; Berry v. Baca, 379 F.3d 764, 767 (9th Cir. 2004); Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 682 (9th Cir. 2001); Oviatt v. Pearce, 954 F.2d 1470, 1477–78 (9th Cir. 1992); Merritt, 875 F.2d at 770; see also Henry v. Cty. of Shasta, 137 F.3d 1372, 1372 (9th Cir. 1998) (order) (amending opinion to include statement that turning blind eye to constitutional violation can demonstrate deliberate indifference).

The Supreme Court has explained that “[d]eliberate indifference is a stringent standard of fault, requiring proof that a municipal actor disregarded a known or obvious consequence of his action.”  Connick, 563 U.S. at 61 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Kirkpatrick, 843 F.3d at 794.  Whether the plaintiff has succeeded in demonstrating such deliberate indifference is generally a question for the jury.  See Lee, 250 F.3d at 682 (citation omitted); Alexander v. City of San Francisco, 29 F.3d 1355, 1367 (9th Cir. 1994), abrogated on other grounds by Cty. of Los Angeles, Cal. v. Mendez, 137 S. Ct. 1539, 1546 (2017); Oviatt, 954 F.2d at 1478. “Satisfying this standard requires proof that the municipality had actual or constructive notice that a particular omission in their training program will cause municipal employees to violate citizens’ constitutional rights.” Kirkpatrick, 843 F.3d at 794 (internal quotation marks, alterations and citations omitted).  In order “to demonstrate that the municipality was on notice of a constitutionally significant gap in its training, it is ordinarily necessary for a plaintiff to demonstrate a pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained employees.” Id. (internal quotations marks omitted).  The deliberate indifference standard for municipal liability under § 1983 is an objective inquiry.  Castro v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060, 1076 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc), cert. denied sub nom. Los Angeles Cty., Cal. v. Castro, 137 S. Ct. 831 (2017) (overruling Gibson v. County of Washoe, 290 F.3d 1175 (9th Cir. 2002)).

(d)     Pleading Standard

There is no heightened pleading standard with respect to the “policy or custom” requirement of demonstrating municipal liability.  See Leatherman, 507 U.S. at 167–68; see also Empress LLC, 419 F.3d at 1055; Galbraith, 307 F.3d at 1124; Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 679–80 (9th Cir. 2001); Evans v. McKay, 869 F.2d 1341, 1349 (9th Cir. 1989).

Prior to Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), this court held that “a claim of municipal liability under [§] 1983 is sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss ‘even if the claim is based on nothing more than a bare allegation that the individual officers’ conduct conformed to official policy, custom, or practice.’”  Karim-Panahi v. L.A. Police Dep’t., 839 F.2d 621, 624 (9th Cir. 1988) (quoting Shah v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 797 F.2d 743, 747 (9th Cir. 1986)); see also Evans, 869 F.2d at 1349; Shaw v. Cal. Dep’t of Alcoholic Beverage Control, 788 F.2d 600, 610 (9th Cir. 1986) (“[I]t is enough if the custom or policy can be inferred from the allegations of the complaint.”).

The Supreme Court’s decisions in Twombly and Iqbal established a more demanding pleading standard.  In Twombly, the Supreme Court held that a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”  Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.  In Iqbal, the Supreme Court held that “bare assertions” that “amount to nothing more than a formulaic recitation of the elements of a [ ] claim” are not entitled to “presumption of truth,” and that the district court, after disregarding “bare assertions” and conclusions, must “consider the factual allegations in [a] complaint to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief” as opposed to a claim that is merely “conceivable.”  Iqbal, 556 U.S. 679–80.

After Twombly and Iqbal, the court in Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1212–16 (9th Cir. 2011), identified and addressed conflicts in the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on the pleading requirements applicable to civil actions.  The court held that whatever the differences between the Supreme Court cases, there were two principles common to all:

First, to be entitled to the presumption of truth, allegations in a complaint or counterclaim may not simply recite the elements of a cause of action, but must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively. Second, the factual allegations that are taken as true must plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief, such that it is not unfair to require the opposing party to be subjected to the expense of discovery and continued litigation.

Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011).  In AE ex rel. Hernandez v. Cty. of Tulare, 666 F.3d 631, 637 (9th Cir. 2012), this court held that the Starr standard applied to pleading policy or custom for claims against municipal entities.

Although the standard for stating a claim became stricter after Twombly and Iqbal, the filings and motions of pro se inmates continue to be construed liberally.  See Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (as amended) (explaining that Twombly and Iqbal “did not alter the courts’ treatment of pro se filings,” and stating, “[w]hile the standard is higher [under Iqbal], our obligation remains, where the petitioner is pro se, particularly in civil rights cases, to construe the pleadings liberally and to afford the petitioner the benefit of any doubt.” (internal citation omitted)).

For discussion of the pleading standard in the context of claims of qualified immunity, see infra I.D.2.b.

d.      Agencies

A governmental agency that is an arm of the state is not a person for purposes of § 1983.  See Howlett v. Rose, 496 U.S. 356, 365 (1990); Sato v. Orange Cty. Dep’t of Educ., 861 F.3d 923, 928 (9th Cir.) (explaining agencies of the state are immune under the Eleventh Amendment from private damages or suits for injunctive relief brought in federal court), cert. denied, 138 S. Ct. 459 (2017); Flint v. Dennison, 488 F.3d 816, 824–25 (9th Cir. 2007); Doe v. Lawrence Livermore Nat’l Lab., 131 F.3d 836, 839 (9th Cir. 1997); Hale v. Arizona, 993 F.2d 1387, 1398–99 (9th Cir. 1993) (en banc); cf. Durning v. Citibank, N.A., 950 F.2d 1419, 1423 (9th Cir. 1991) (explaining that agencies that are arms of the state are entitled to the same immunity from suit as the state because “‘the state is the real, substantial party in interest’” (citation omitted)).

A state’s Department of Corrections is most likely an arm of the state under this analysis.  See Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978) (per curiam) (concluding that the suit against the state Board of Corrections was barred by the Eleventh Amendment); Hale, 993 F.2d at 1398–99 (concluding that the Arizona Department of Corrections was an arm of the state and, thus, not a person for § 1983 purposes); Gilbreath v. Cutter Biological, Inc., 931 F.2d 1320, 1327 (9th Cir. 1991) (same).

To determine whether a governmental agency is an arm of the state, the court should “look to state law and examine ‘whether a money judgment would be satisfied out of state funds, whether the entity performs central governmental functions, whether the entity may sue or be sued, whether the entity has the power to take property in its own name or only in the name of the state, and the corporate status of the entity.’”  Hale, 993 F.2d at 1399 (quoting Mitchell v. L.A. Cmty. Coll. Dist., 861 F.2d 198, 201 (9th Cir. 1988)); see also Del Campo v. Kennedy, 517 F.3d 1070, 1077 (9th Cir. 2008); Beentjes v. Placer Cty. Air Pollution Control Dist., 397 F.3d 775, 778 (9th Cir. 2005); Holz v. Nenana City Pub. Sch. Dist., 347 F.3d 1176, 1180 (9th Cir. 2003); Aguon v. Commonwealth Ports Auth., 316 F.3d 899, 901 (9th Cir. 2003); Streit v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 236 F.3d 552, 566 (9th Cir. 2001).

The first, and most important, factor is “whether a judgment against the defendant entity under the terms of the complaint would have to be satisfied out of the limited resources of the entity itself or whether the state treasury would also be legally pledged to satisfy the obligation.”  Durning, 950 F.2d at 1424; see also Beentjes, 397 F.3d at 778; Holz, 347 F.3d at 1182; Streit, 236 F.3d at 566–67; ITSI T.V. Prods. v. Agric. Ass’ns, 3 F.3d 1289, 1292 (9th Cir. 1993); cf. Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Doe, 519 U.S. 425, 430 (1997) (stating that the first factor is of “considerable importance”).  Whether the state will be indemnified by a third party for financial liability is irrelevant to this inquiry.  See Regents of the Univ. of Cal., 519 U.S. at 431; cf. Schulman v. California (In re Lazar), 237 F.3d 967, 975 (9th Cir. 2001); Ashker v. Cal. Dep’t of Corr., 112 F.3d 392, 395 (9th Cir. 1997).

When analyzing the second factor, the court should construe “central governmental functions” broadly.  See Durning, 950 F.2d at 1426.

The third factor of the test is entitled to less weight than the first two factors.  See Holz, 347 F.3d at 1187–88; Aguon, 316 F.3d at 903.

e.       State Officials

(1)     Official Capacity

State officials sued in their official capacity for damages are not persons for purposes of § 1983.  See Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, 69 n.24 (1997); Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 27 (1991); Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989); Flint v. Dennison, 488 F.3d 816, 824–25 (9th Cir. 2007); Doe v. Lawrence Livermore Nat’l Lab., 131 F.3d 836, 839 (9th Cir. 1997); Aguon v. Commonwealth Ports Auth., 316 F.3d 899, 901 (9th Cir. 2003); DeNieva v. Reyes, 966 F.2d 480, 483 (9th Cir. 1992).

State officials sued in their official capacity for injunctive relief, however, are persons for purposes of § 1983.  See Will, 491 U.S. at 71 n.10; Hartmann v. Cal. Dep’t of Corr. & Rehab., 707 F.3d 1114, 1127 (9th Cir. 2013); Flint, 488 F.3d at 825; Doe, 131 F.3d at 839; Guam Soc’y of Obstetricians & Gynecologists v. Ada, 962 F.2d 1366, 1371 (9th Cir. 1992).  See also Paeste v. Gov’t of Guam, 798 F.3d 1228, 1235–40 (9th Cir. 2015) (discussing distinction between suits seeking damages and suits seeking prospective relief); Thornton v. Brown, 757 F.3d 834, 839 (9th Cir. 2013).

Official-capacity suits filed against state officials are merely an alternative way of pleading an action against the entity of which the defendant is an officer.  See Hafer, 502 U.S. at 25; Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985); see also Hartmann, 707 F.3d at 1127; Holley v. Cal. Dep’t of Corr., 599 F.3d 1108, 1111 (9th Cir. 2010) (treating suit against state officials in their official capacities as a suit against the state of California).  In an official-capacity suit, the plaintiff must demonstrate that a policy or custom of the governmental entity of which the official is an agent was the moving force behind the violation.  See Hafer, 502 U.S. at 25; Graham, 473 U.S. at 166.  For a discussion of how a plaintiff might make such a showing, see supra I.A.1.c.(2).  Moreover, the only immunity available to the defendant sued in her or his official capacity is the sovereign immunity that the governmental entity may possess.  See Graham, 473 U.S. at 167.  For a discussion of a state’s Eleventh Amendment immunity, see infra I.D.3.a.

(2)     Personal Capacity

State officials sued in their personal capacity are persons for purposes of § 1983.  See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 31 (1991); Mitchell v. Washington, 818 F.3d 436, 442 (9th Cir. 2016) (explaining the Eleventh Amendment does not bar claims for damages against state officials in their personal capacities); Porter v. Jones, 319 F.3d 483, 491 (9th Cir. 2003); DeNieva v. Reyes, 966 F.2d 480, 483 (9th Cir. 1992).

“Personal-capacity suits seek to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions [the official] takes under color of state law.”  Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985).  Liability in a personal-capacity suit can be demonstrated by showing that the official caused the alleged constitutional injury.  See id. at 166.  The official in a personal-capacity suit may, depending upon the facts, be able to establish immunity from claims for damages.  See id. at 166–67.  For a discussion of absolute immunities, see infra I.D.1; for a discussion of the defense of qualified immunity, see infra I.D.2.

(3)     Determining Capacity

Because the plaintiff’s complaint will not always clearly indicate the capacity in which the defendants are being sued, the court must sometimes make this determination.

As a first principle, it is important to note that the capacity in which the official acted when engaging in the alleged unconstitutional conduct does not determine the capacity in which the official is sued.  See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 26 (1991) (Official capacity “is best understood as a reference to the capacity in which the state officer is sued, not the capacity in which the officer inflicts the alleged injury.”); Price v. Akaka, 928 F.2d 824, 828 (9th Cir. 1991).

Courts should examine the nature of the proceedings to determine the capacity in which a defendant is sued.  See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167 n.14 (1985); Eaglesmith v. Ward, 73 F.3d 857, 859 (9th Cir. 1996).  Where the plaintiff is seeking damages against a state official, a strong presumption is created in favor of a personal-capacity suit because an official-capacity suit for damages would be barred.  See Mitchell v. Washington, 818 F.3d 436, 442 (9th Cir. 2016); Romano v. Bible, 169 F.3d 1182, 1186 (9th Cir. 1999); Shoshone-Bannock Tribes v. Fish & Game Comm’n, Idaho, 42 F.3d 1278, 1284 (9th Cir. 1994); Cerrato v. S.F. Cmty. Coll. Dist., 26 F.3d 968, 973 n.16 (9th Cir. 1994); Price, 928 F.2d at 828.

f.       Federal Officials

“It is well settled that federal officials sued in their official capacity are subject to injunctive relief under § 1983 if they ‘conspire with or participate in concert with state officials who, under color of state law, act to deprive a person of protected rights.’”  Cabrera v. Martin, 973 F.2d 735, 741 (9th Cir. 1992) (quoting Scott v. Rosenberg, 702 F.2d 1263, 1269 (9th Cir. 1983)).  For a discussion of the elements of a conspiracy claim, see infra I.A.2.b.(5).  For a discussion of Bivens actions against federal officials in their personal capacity, see infra I.K.

2.       Acting under Color of State Law

a.       General Principles

The question of whether a person who has allegedly caused a constitutional injury was acting under color of state law is a factual determination.  See Brunette v. Humane Soc’y of Ventura Cty., 294 F.3d 1205, 1209 (9th Cir. 2002); Gritchen v. Collier, 254 F.3d 807, 813 (9th Cir. 2001); Lopez v. Dep’t of Health Servs., 939 F.2d 881, 883 (9th Cir. 1991) (per curiam); Howerton v. Gabica, 708 F.2d 380, 383 (9th Cir. 1983).

A defendant has acted under color of state law where he or she has “exercised power ‘possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law.’”  West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49 (1988) (quoting United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 326 (1941)); see also Polk Cty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 317–18 (1981); Anderson v. Warner, 451 F.3d 1063, 1068 (9th Cir. 2006); McDade v. West, 223 F.3d 1135, 1139–40 (9th Cir. 2000); Johnson v. Knowles, 113 F.3d 1114, 1117 (9th Cir. 1997); Vang v. Xiong, 944 F.2d 476, 479 (9th Cir. 1991); see also Florer v. Congregation Pidyon Shevuyim, N.A., 639 F.3d 916, 922 (9th Cir. 2011) (determining whether private entities operating as contract chaplains within the Washington State prison system were state actors for purposes of § 1983 and RLUIPA).

Moreover, conduct that would amount to state action for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment is action under the color of state law for purposes of § 1983.  See West, 487 U.S. at 49; Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 935 (1982); Johnson, 113 F.3d at 1118; Fred Meyer, Inc. v. Casey, 67 F.3d 1412, 1414 (9th Cir. 1995); cf. Johnson, 113 F.3d at 1118–20 (describing tests for finding state action); Howerton, 708 F.2d at 382–83 (same).

“Actions taken pursuant to a municipal ordinance are made ‘under color of state law.’” See Coral Constr. Co. v. King Cty., 941 F.2d 910, 926 (9th Cir. 1991).

Even if the deprivation represents an abuse of authority or lies outside the authority of the official, if the official is acting within the scope of his or her employment, the person is still acting under color of state law.  See Anderson, 451 F.3d at 1068–69; McDade, 223 F.3d at 1140; Shah v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 797 F.2d 743, 746 (9th Cir. 1986).  However, “[i]f a government officer does not act within [the] scope of employment or under the color of state law, then that government officer acts as a private citizen.”  See Van Ort v. Estate of Stanewich, 92 F.3d 831, 835 (9th Cir. 1996) (finding no action under color of state law where a police officer returned to a home where a search had taken place the day before, forced his way in, and tortured the two people residing in the home); see also Gritchen, 254 F.3d at 812–13; Huffman v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 147 F.3d 1054, 1058 (9th Cir. 1998); Johnson, 113 F.3d at 1117–18.

b.      Applications

(1)     State Employees

Generally, employees of the state are acting under color of state law when acting in their official capacity.  See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49 (1988); Anderson v. Warner, 451 F.3d 1063, 1068 (9th Cir. 2006); McDade v. West, 223 F.3d 1135, 1140 (9th Cir. 2000); Vang v. Xiong, 944 F.2d 476, 479 (9th Cir. 1991).

Even where state officials are administering a federally funded program, the state officials are still acting under color of state law.  See Tongol v. Usery, 601 F.2d 1091, 1097 (9th Cir. 1979).

(2)     Prison Officials

Prison officials, when acting in their official capacity, are acting under color of state law.  See Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 633 (9th Cir. 1988); Haygood v. Younger, 769 F.2d 1350, 1354 (9th Cir. 1985) (en banc).  The Supreme Court has reserved the question of whether prison guards working for private prison management firms are acting under color of state law.  See Richardson v. McKnight, 521 U.S. 399, 413 (1997) (holding that employees of private prison are not entitled to qualified immunity).  But see Pollard v. The Geo Group, Inc., 629 F.3d 843, 856–58 (9th Cir. 2010) (recognizing in Richardson the Court did not address the question of whether private guards acted under color of federal or state law, and holding that employees of a private corporation operating a prison acted under color of federal law for purposes of Bivens liability), reversed by Minneci v. Pollard, 565 U.S. 118, 120, 132 n.* (2012) (holding that prisoner could not assert an Eighth Amendment Bivens claim for damages against private prison employees; note that Justice Ginsberg’s dissent noted that petitioners did not seek Supreme Court review of the Ninth Circuit’s determination that petitioners acted under color of federal law).

“[P]rison officials charged with executing facially valid court orders enjoy absolute immunity from section 1983 liability for conduct prescribed by those orders.” Engebretson v. Mahoney, 724 F.3d 1034, 1039 (9th Cir. 2013).  However, if the prison official fails to strictly comply with the order, the immunity does not apply. See Garcia v. Cty. of Riverside, 817 F.3d 635, 644 (9th Cir.), cert. denied sub nom. Baca v. Garcia, 137 S. Ct. 344 (2016).

(3)     Prison Physicians

Physicians who contract with prisons to provide medical services are acting under color of state law.  See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 53–54 (1988); Lopez v. Dep’t of Health Servs., 939 F.2d 881, 883 (9th Cir. 1991) (per curiam) (hospital and ambulance service under contract with the state).  Cf. Florer v. Congregation Pidyon Shevuyim, N.A., 639 F.3d 916, 925–26 (9th Cir. 2011) (distinguishing West and determining that contract chaplains were not state actors).

(4)     Public Defenders

When public defenders are acting in their role as advocate, they are not acting under color of state law for § 1983 purposes.  See Georgia v. McCollum, 505 U.S. 42, 53 (1992); Polk Cty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 320–25 (1981); Jackson v. Brown, 513 F.3d 1057, 1079 (9th Cir. 2008); Miranda v. Clark Cty., Nev., 319 F.3d 465, 468 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc); United States v. De Gross, 960 F.2d 1433, 1442 n.12 (9th Cir. 1992) (en banc); see also Vermont v. Brillon, 556 U.S. 81, 91 (2009) (assigned public defender is ordinarily not considered a state actor); Kirtley v. Rainey, 326 F.3d 1088, 1093–94 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing Polk Cty. to determine that a state-appointed guardian ad litem does not act under color of state law for purposes of § 1983); Cox v. Hellerstein, 685 F.2d 1098, 1099 (9th Cir. 1982) (relying on Polk Cty. to determine that federal public defenders are not acting under color of federal law for purposes of Bivens action).  The Supreme Court has concluded that public defenders do not act under color of state law because their conduct as legal advocates is controlled by professional standards independent of the administrative direction of a supervisor.  See Brillon, 556 U.S. at 92; Polk Cty., 454 U.S. at 321; see also Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1008–09 (1982) (applying similar rationale to determine that administrators of nursing home were not state actors); Mathis v. Pac. Gas & Elec. Co., 891 F.2d 1429, 1432 (9th Cir. 1989) (applying similar rationale to determine that employees conducting psychiatric evaluation were not state actors).  But cf. Gonzalez v. Spencer, 336 F.3d 832, 834 (9th Cir. 2003) (per curiam) (explaining that a private attorney who is retained to represent state entities and their employees in litigation acts under color of state law because his or her role is “analogous to that of a state prosecutor rather than a public defender” (citing Polk Cty., 454 U.S. at 323 n.13)), abrogated by Filarsky v. Delia, 566 U.S. 377, 393–94 (2012).

Where public defenders are performing administrative or investigative functions, they may be acting under color of state law.  See Brillon, 556 U.S. at 91 n.7; Polk Cty., 454 U.S. at 324–25; Miranda, 319 F.3d at 469. For a discussion of the distinction between functions performed as an advocate and functions performed as an administrator/investigator, see infra I.D.1.c.(1).

(5)     Private Parties

Generally, private parties are not acting under color of state law.  See Price v. Hawaii, 939 F.2d 702, 707–08 (9th Cir. 1991); see also Simmons v. Sacramento Cty. Superior Court, 318 F.3d 1156, 1161 (9th Cir. 2003) (explaining that a lawyer in private practice does not act under color of state law).

Where a private party conspires with state officials to deprive others of constitutional rights, however, the private party is acting under color of state law.  See Tower v. Glover, 467 U.S. 914, 920 (1984); Dennis v. Sparks, 449 U.S. 24, 27–28 (1980); Crowe v. Cty. of San Diego, 608 F.3d 406, 440 (9th Cir. 2010); Franklin v. Fox, 312 F.3d 423, 441 (9th Cir. 2002); DeGrassi v. City of Glendora, 207 F.3d 636, 647 (9th Cir. 2000); George v. Pacific-CSC Work Furlough, 91 F.3d 1227, 1231 (9th Cir. 1996) (per curiam); Kimes v. Stone, 84 F.3d 1121, 1126 (9th Cir. 1996); Howerton v. Gabica, 708 F.2d 380, 383 (9th Cir. 1983).

“To prove a conspiracy between the state and private parties under [§] 1983, the [plaintiff] must show an agreement or meeting of the minds to violate constitutional rights.  To be liable, each participant in the conspiracy need not know the exact details of the plan, but each must at least share the common objective of the conspiracy.”  United Steelworkers of Am. v. Phelps Dodge Corp., 865 F.2d 1539, 1540–41 (9th Cir. 1989) (en banc) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Crowe, 608 F.3d at 440; Franklin, 312 F.3d at 441; Mendocino Envt’l Ctr. v. Mendocino Cty., 192 F.3d 1283, 1301–02 (9th Cir. 1999); Gilbrook v. City of Westminster, 177 F.3d 839, 856–57 (9th Cir. 1999); Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1048 (9th Cir. 1989).  Conclusory allegations are insufficient to state a claim of conspiracy.  See Simmons, 318 F.3d at 1161; Radcliffe v. Rainbow Constr. Co., 254 F.3d 772, 783–84 (9th Cir. 2001); Price, 939 F.2d at 708–09.  For a discussion of pleading requirements, see infra I.D.2.b and II.A.1.b.(1).

(6)     Federal Employees

Federal employees acting pursuant to federal law are not acting under the color of state law.  See Billings v. United States, 57 F.3d 797, 801 (9th Cir. 1995); Stonecipher v. Bray, 653 F.2d 398, 401 (9th Cir. 1981).

Where federal officials conspire with state officials to deprive a person of constitutional rights, however, they may be acting under color of state law.  See Billings, 57 F.3d at 801.  For elements of conspiracy, see supra I.A.2.b.(5).

For state administration of federally funded programs, see supra I.A.2.b.(1).

3.       Deprivation of a Right

a.       Rights Guaranteed by the Constitution

Section 1983 provides a cause of action against persons acting under color of state law who have violated rights guaranteed by the Constitution.  See Buckley v. City of Redding, 66 F.3d 188, 190 (9th Cir. 1995); Demery v. Kupperman, 735 F.2d 1139, 1146 (9th Cir. 1984).

b.      Rights Guaranteed by Federal Statutes

Section 1983 can provide a cause of action against persons acting under color of state law who have violated rights guaranteed by federal statutes.  See Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 279 (2002); Blessing v. Freestone, 520 U.S. 329, 340–41 (1997); Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 451 U.S. 1, 28 (1981); Maine v. Thiboutot, 448 U.S. 1, 4 (1980); Henry A. v. Willden, 678 F.3d 991, 1005 (9th Cir. 2012); Cal. State Foster Parent Ass’n v. Wagner, 624 F.3d 974, 978–79 (9th Cir. 2010); AlohaCare v. Haw., Dep’t of Human Servs., 572 F.3d 740, 745 (9th Cir. 2009); Ball v. Rodgers, 492 F.3d 1094, 1103 (9th Cir. 2007); Legal Servs. of N. Cal., Inc. v. Arnett, 114 F.3d 135, 138 (9th Cir. 1997).  Some decisions have stated that there is a presumption that § 1983 provides a remedy for violations of federal statutes.  See Livadas v. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 133 (1994); Almond Hill Sch. v. USDA, 768 F.2d 1030, 1035 (9th Cir. 1985); Keaukaha-Panaewa Cmty. Ass’n v. Hawaiian Homes Comm’n, 739 F.2d 1467, 1470 (9th Cir. 1984).  For a statutory provision to be privately enforceable, however, it must create an individual right.  Blessing, 520 U.S. at 340; Henry A., 678 F.3d at 1005.