Only eight states have civil rights statutes, usually bogged down by immunities.
Only sixteen states allow suits directly under their state constitutions, but those claims often die based on confusing caselaw and immunities.
While most of the 50 states allow for limited tort claims against government officials, they are riddled with exceptions and immunities.
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State and Territory Grades
|District of Columbia||F|
|New Hampshire||D –|
|New Jersey||B –|
|New Mexico||A –|
|North Carolina||C +|
|North Dakota||D –|
|Northern Mariana Islands||F|
|Puerto Rico||D –|
|Rhode Island||D +|
|South Dakota||D –|
The study was last updated in May 2023.
To ensure consistency in grading, we evaluated the following questions:
- Whether the state has a civil rights statute
- Whether this civil rights statute is limited to certain constitutional violations
- Whether this statute is burdened by immunity
- Whether there is a right to sue directly under the constitution
- Whether this right is limited to certain constitutional violations
- Whether this right is burdened by immunity
- Whether there is a broad tort statute available that can be used to sue for violations of individual rights
- Whether this tort statute is burdened by immunity
|Suing directly under the constitution||the state courts or constitution have indicated that the constitution itself provides a remedy, regardless of any statute|
|Suing under a civil rights statute||the legislature has passed a law that authorizes a remedy for violations of civil rights|
|Suing under a state tort claims act||the legislature has passed a law that authorizes a remedy for the infliction of a personal injury (called, in legal terms, a “tort”) by a government official. We prefer civil rights statutes to tort statutes because they deal more directly with constitutional violations|
|Section 1983||the federal civil rights statute that allows for damages claims against state and local officials who violate federal, not state, constitutional rights. 42 U.S.C. § 1983|
|Bivens claim||suing a federal official directly under the federal constitution|
|Federal Tort Claims Act||the law that Congress has passed that authorizes a remedy for the infliction of a personal injury by a government official, under certain limited circumstances. 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1), et seq.|
Special thanks to Alexander Reinert, Joanna Schwartz, and James Pfander for their paper New Federalism and Civil Rights Enforcement. The paper helped us refine our categories for evaluating each state, as well as cross-check our findings with theirs.
And thank you to Justice Neil Gorsuch. His concurrence in Browder v. City of Albuquerque, 787 F.3d 1076, 1083 (10th Cir. 2015), was a catalyst for this study.
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