quick facts

The Maine Civil Rights Act

Maine is one of eight states to enact a statute creating a private right of action for damages arising from violations of its constitution. 1 The Maine Civil Rights Act (“MCRA”) allows lawsuits for legal and equitable relief whenever a person interferes with a state constitutional right through actual or threatened: (1) physical force or violence, (2) damage or destruction of property, or (3) trespass on property. 2 Because a state is not “a person” within the meaning of the MCRA, the statute does not allow actions against the State or its agencies. 3 When it comes to municipal liability, at least one court has held, “The Maine law was patterned after section 1983 and, therefore, the same municipal liability analysis applies.” 4 Another similarity with Section 1983 is that courts will apply the same qualified-immunity analysis to claims under the MCRA as they apply to federal civil rights claims. 5

The Maine Tort Claims Act

In addition to the MCRA, plaintiffs can sue public entities and employees under the Maine Tort Claims Act (“MTCA”). 6 The MTCA waives the immunity of government entities in enumerated instances of negligence. 7 Under the MTCA, government entities are liable for “property damage, bodily injury or death” resulting from negligent acts or omissions relating to the operation of a vehicle, maintenance or construction of a public building, discharge of pollutants, and construction and maintenance of roads. 8

While public employees can generally be sued in their personal capacity, these lawsuits are subject to several limitations. A government employee’s personal liability “for negligent acts or omissions within the course and scope of employment” is limited to $10,000. 9 Government employees are completely immunized from civil liability for discretionary functions and for intentional acts committed within the scope of employment, provided that the employee’s actions do not reach the level of “bad faith.” 10 Because the MTCA waives governmental immunity only for certain instances of negligence, plaintiffs will generally have no recourse for intentional torts committed within the course of employment that do not rise to the level of “bad faith” unless the plaintiff has a claim under the MCRA. Although the portion of the MTCA immunizing government employees from liability for discretionary acts and intentional torts is written broadly, the Maine Supreme Court has declined to apply it to claims brought against government officials under the MCRA, instead applying a common-law qualified-immunity analysis that matches the federal standard. 11