It is generally possible to sue an individual or business entity in civil court if they breach the terms of a contract, cause someone to suffer injuries or otherwise infringe upon their legal rights. However, the process of suing federal entities – and employees of those entities – for violations of one’s civil rights is a little more complex than the “average” civil court claim.
Most civil rights claims filed against the federal government and its actors must be brough under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which is commonly referred to as “Section 1983.” A Section 1983 claim – also known as a Section 1983 action – allows those whose rights have been infringed upon to seek redress for violations of their federally protected rights enshrined by the U.S. Constitution or otherwise codified by a specific federal law or laws.
Section 1983 actions are filed for a number of different reasons. For example, those who have suffered harm as a result of police brutality can seek redress for that violation of their Fourth Amendment rights via a Section 1983 claim. Similarly, those who have been denied substantive due process regarding alleged wrongdoing can file a Section 1983 claim to address that violation of their Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Regardless of why they are filed, these claims must meet specific criteria if filers hope to succeed. Specifically, the offending actor must have been exercising conduct while acting (essentially) on behalf of the government and the conduct in question must have deprived their filer of a legally guaranteed right.
Civil rights claims are subject to nuanced aspects of the law that don’t broadly apply in other civil contexts. As a result, those who are concerned about any violations of their civil rights that may have occurred may want to strongly consider seeking legal guidance.