Can I sue whenever someone interferes with one of my civil rights?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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You generally won’t be successful in a lawsuit against a private individual for depriving you of your civil rights unless there is a Federal or state statute authorizing a suit against a private individual. For example, if you are trying to make a speech in someone’s house and the owner kicks you out, you cannot sue him for depriving you of your First Amendment right-to-free speech. Of course if the owner beats you up while getting you to stop, you may be able to sue the person for the intentional tort of battery.

As there are Federal and state statutes covering fields such as housing, employment, and public accommodations, you can sue to prevent private individuals from discriminating against you in those areas. The Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Justice Department reported in January, 2000 that civil rights complaints of all varieties more than doubled from 1990 to 1998, from 18,793 in 1990 (8.6 percent of the 217,879 total Federal civil cases filed that year) to 42,354, or 16.5 percent of all 256,787 new Federal civil cases filed in 1998. Private parties brought substantially all of the cases. There were only 672 Government-initiated civil rights lawsuits against a business, individual or government for alleged civil rights violations in 1998. Most of the growth in cases was due to the increase in employment cases between private parties.

You can also sue a government employee who deprives you of your civil rights while acting “under color of law”.

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