Civil Rights

Everyone in the United States has rights under the United States Constitution, regardless of their race, religion, age, sex, disability, or criminal history. These rights extend to both Unites States citizens and non-citizens. Recently we have witnessed the powerful attempt to chip away our constitutional rights on a local and national scale. At The Law Office of Katherine E. Smith we recognize that now more than ever we need to fight against oppression and stand up for what is right. In the words of former president John F. Kennedy, "The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened."

Abuse of authority by those in positions of power is never acceptable and must not be tolerated. At The Law Office of Katherine E. Smith, we work hard to hold those who have violated your constitutional rights accountable, to get you compensation for the damages you have suffered on account of these abuses, and to ensure that this unlawful behavior is stopped.

We specialize in the following civil rights actions:

  • Law enforcement misconduct
  • Race discrimination
  • Discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender
  • Sex abuse and harassment
  • Discrimination based on disability including violations of the American's with Disabilities' Act (ADA)
Law Enforcement Misconduct

The Constitution of the United States prohibits law enforcement from stopping and searching individuals without reasonable suspicion, arresting individuals without probable cause, and using unreasonable force when effectuating arrests. However, all too often law enforcement personnel arrest individuals based on the color of their skin, instead of on the nature of their actions, often resulting in constitution violations. Even if police officers are justified in making an arrest, they must only use reasonable force necessary to place the individual under arrest; law enforcement, including correction officers, are not permitted to use excessive force.

Those who have had interactions with the criminal justice systems may have claims for:

  • False arrest
  • Unlawful Stop and Search
  • Unlawful Entry and Search of their Home
  • Malicious Prosecution
  • Denial of Access to a Fair Trial

Those who have been injured by law enforcement officers may have claims for:

  • Use of Excessive Force
  • Failure to Provide Medical Treatment

When the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Monell v. Department of Social Services (1978) that municipal agencies such as police departments could be sued when a “custom, policy, or practice” violated the Constitution, it created a powerful device for accountability to the law. In fact, civil lawsuits against police officers, Police Departments, municipalities, and cities departments have become a common way of seeking accountability. As a result, “constitutional torts” have had a large influence on police policy and practice. A civil rights lawsuit will seek monetary damages, but it also seeks to effect change and accountability.

Those who have had experiences with the criminal justice system may have had additional constitutional rights violated. If you feel that your rights have been violated, call us for a fee consultation.

Sexual Abuse and Harassment

Too often those in positions of trust use their power to violate victims. Abusers frequently threaten, manipulate and otherwise yield their power in an attempt to silence their victims. At the Law Office of Katherine E. Smith we refuse to allow this reprehensible conduct to go unpunished.

At the Law Office of Katherine E. Smith we specialize in prosecuting doctors who have sexually abused their patients, employers who have harassed their employees, correctional officers who have sexually abused prisoners, and other forms of sexual abuse and harassment.

The Law Office of Katherine E. Smith represents the plaintiff Newman v. Mt. Sinai, et al. In Newman, the plaintiff was drugged and sexually assaulted by Doctor David Newman. The plaintiff informed hospital staff that she had been drugged and assaulted but they did not taken any action; they did not alert authorities or conduct a rape kit. Instead, they discharged the plaintiff and left her virtually unattended in the emergency room for hours. Dr. Newman pleaded guilty sexually assaulting and drugging the plaintiff and sexually assaulting three other women. The civil action against Dr. David Newman, Andrew Lapsely, Mount Sinai Medical Center, Dr. Jagoda, et al., is pending in New York County Supreme Court.

We stand up for individuals in wide variety of situations who have been subjected to sexual abuse and harassment to obtain justice for our clients. If you have been the victim of sexual abuse or harassment please call us for a free consultation.

Section 1983 Liability

If a government police department falsely arrests or otherwise abuses an individual, there is a possibility of a successful lawsuit pursuant to 42 USC Section 1983. An action brought under 42 USC Section 1983 allows a private citizen to hold a municipal entity liable for civil rights violations.

The federal Civil Rights Act of 1871 also known as the The Enforcement Act of 1871 (17 Stat. 13), the Ku Klux Klan Act, Third Enforcement Act, or Third Ku Klux Klan Act, is an act of congress enacted after the Civil War in an effort to combat racial injustice, especially in the south by the KKK. Section 1983 was part of post Civil War legal developments that include the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. The purpose of Section 1983 was to provide a private remedy for violations of federal law. Section 1983 gives plaintiffs a remedy for the violation of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the United States Constitution. Section 1983 of the U.S. Code has made it unlawful for someone, especially a law enforcement official, to deprive someone of his or her constitutional rights.

42 U.S.C. Section 1983 states, in part:

“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.”

Section 1983 remedies are only available for actions taken by persons acting under color of state law. This means that a state employee performing a governmental function, even if it goes beyond his authority, is acting under color of law. In 1961, the Supreme Court decided a seminal section 1983 action: Monroe v. Pape involved a section 1983 claim brought by an African-American alleging police misconduct. In Monroe v. Pape, the Supreme Court held that a police officer was acting "under color of state law" even though his actions were unlawful. Monroe also held that individual police officers could not claim governmental immunity from suit, but that the municipality itself still retained such protection. In other words, the police department and the city were held to be immune from suit, the Court said that individual officers could be held liable. This was the first case in which the Supreme Court permitted liability where a government employee acted outside the scope of his authority under state law, but still operated under color of law as defined by Section 1983. The number of cases that have been brought under section 1983 has dramatically increased since 1961 when the Supreme Court decided Monroe v. Pape.

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