quick facts

Implied Constitutional Cause of Action, But With a High Bar

Utah courts recognize that the common law historically permitted individuals to collect damages for constitutional violations. 1 But to ensure that damages are permitted only “under appropriate circumstances,” the Utah Supreme Court has required a plaintiff to establish that (1) he suffered a flagrant violation of his constitutional rights, (2) existing remedies do not redress his injuries, and (3) equitable relief, such as an injunction, is wholly inadequate to protect the plaintiff’s rights. 2 Importantly, Utah courts interpret the first element to mean “that a defendant must have violated ‘clearly established’ constitutional rights ‘of which a reasonable person would have known,’” essentially importing federal qualified immunity analysis into the state constitution. 3 Satisfying these elements, therefore, is essentially just as challenging as proceeding under Section 1983.

Governmental Immunity Act of Utah

Liability against government entities is governed by the Governmental Immunity Act of Utah (“GIAU”). 4 GIAU provides that “each governmental entity and each employee of a governmental entity are immune from suit for any injury that results from the exercise of a governmental function,” unless the GIAU expressly waives that immunity. 5

Although the GIAU expressly retains immunity in cases involving “assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution, intentional trespass, abuse of process, libel, slander, deceit, interference with contract rights, infliction of mental anguish, or violation of civil rights,” Utah courts have held that GIAU “does not apply to claims alleging state constitutional violations.” 6 , 7