General Principals of 1983- 9th Circuit

GENERAL § 1983 PRINCIPLES

This section of the outline discusses both the elements of a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 cause of action (I.A) and rules common to all § 1983 causes of action (I.B–J).  The section concludes with a discussion of Bivens actions, the “federal official” analogue to § 1983 (I.K).

Section 1983 provides:

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 … .

42 U.S.C. § 1983.

“[Section] 1983 ‘is not itself a source of substantive rights,’ but merely provides ‘a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.’”  Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393–94 (1989) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)); see also Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Org., 441 U.S. 600, 618 (1979); Tatum v. Moody, 768 F.3d 806, 814 (9th Cir. 2014); Hall v. City of Los Angeles, 697 F.3d 1059, 1068 (9th Cir. 2012); Anderson v. Warner, 451 F.3d 1063, 1067 (9th Cir. 2006).

A.      Elements of a § 1983 Action

“Traditionally, the requirements for relief under [§] 1983 have been articulated as: (1) a violation of rights protected by the Constitution or created by federal statute, (2) proximately caused (3) by conduct of a ‘person’ (4) acting under color of state law.”  Crumpton v. Gates, 947 F.2d 1418, 1420 (9th Cir. 1991).  Or, more simply, courts have required plaintiffs to “plead that (1) the defendants acting under color of state law (2) deprived plaintiffs of rights secured by the Constitution or federal statutes.”  Gibson v. United States, 781 F.2d 1334, 1338 (9th Cir. 1986); see also Pistor v. Garcia, 791 F. 3d 1104, 1114 (9th Cir. 2015); Long v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2006); WMX Techs., Inc. v. Miller, 197 F.3d 367, 372 (9th Cir. 1999) (en banc); Ortez v. Wash. Cty., Or., 88 F.3d 804, 810 (9th Cir. 1996).

1.       Person

a.       States

States are not persons for purposes of § 1983.  See Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, 69 (1997); Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989); Stilwell v. City of Williams, 831 F.3d 1234, 1245 (9th Cir. 2016) (explaining § 1983 did not abrogate states’ Eleventh Amendment immunity and therefore does not allow suits against states themselves); Jackson v. Barnes, 749 F.3d 755, 764 (9th Cir. 2014); Doe v. Lawrence Livermore Nat’l Lab., 131 F.3d 836, 839 (9th Cir. 1997); Hale v. Arizona, 993 F.2d 1387, 1398 (9th Cir. 1993) (en banc); Gilbreath v. Cutter Biological, Inc., 931 F.2d 1320, 1327 (9th Cir. 1991).  Section 1983 claims against states, therefore, are legally frivolous.  See Jackson v. Arizona, 885 F.2d 639, 641 (9th Cir. 1989), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).

For a discussion of a state’s Eleventh Amendment immunity, see infra I.D.3.a.

b.      Territories

Territories are not persons for purposes of § 1983.  See Ngiraingas v. Sanchez, 495 U.S. 182, 192 (1990); Magana v. Northern Mariana Islands, 107 F.3d 1436, 1438 n.1 (9th Cir. 1997); DeNieva v. Reyes, 966 F.2d 480, 483 (9th Cir. 1992); Guam Soc’y of Obstetricians & Gynecologists v. Ada, 962 F.2d 1366, 1371 (9th Cir. 1992); Bermudez v. Duenas, 936 F.2d 1064, 1066 (9th Cir. 1991) (per curiam).  However, territorial officers acting in their official capacity are persons that could be subject to suit under § 1983 when sued for prospective relief.  See Paeste v. Gov’t of Guam, 798 F.3d 1228, 1235–40 (9th Cir. 2015) (discussing distinction between suits seeking damages and suits seeking prospective relief).

c.       Local Governmental Units

For a discussion of the absence of immunity defenses for local governmental entities, see infra I.D.1.g.(1), I.D.2.a.(2), and I.D.3.b.(1).

For a discussion of the element of causation as it applies to local governmental entities, see infra I.C.3.

(1)     Status as Persons

“[M]unicipalities and other local government units … [are] among those persons to whom § 1983 applies.”  Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978); see also Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997); Edgerly v. City & Cty. of San Francisco, 599 F.3d 946, 960 (9th Cir. 2010); Waggy v. Spokane Cty. Wash., 594 F.3d 707, 713 (9th Cir. 2010); Fogel v. Collins, 531 F.3d 824, 834 (9th Cir. 2008); Long v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2006); Cortez v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 294 F.3d 1186, 1188 (9th Cir. 2002); Fairley v. Luman, 281 F.3d 913, 916 (9th Cir. 2002) (per curiam); Van Ort v. Estate of Stanewich, 92 F.3d 831, 835 (9th Cir. 1996).

Counties are also persons for purposes of § 1983.  See Jackson v. Barnes, 749 F.3d 755, 764 (9th Cir. 2014) (“[W]hen a California sheriff’s department performs the function of conducting criminal investigations, it is a county actor subject to suit under § 1983”); Miranda v. Clark Cty., Nev., 319 F.3d 465, 469 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc); see also Castro v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060, 1066 n.2 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc) (rejecting the County’s claim that the Eleventh Amendment barred the suit), cert. denied sub nom. Los Angeles Cty., Cal. v. Castro, 137 S. Ct. 831, (2017).  Municipal government officials are also persons for purposes of § 1983.  See Monell, 436 U.S. at 691 n.55.

“A county is subject to Section 1983 liability ‘if its policies, whether set by the government’s lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts … may fairly be said to represent official policy, caused the particular constitutional violation at issue.’”  King v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 885 F.3d 548, 558 (9th Cir. 2018) (quoting Streit v. County of Los Angeles, 236 F.3d 552, 559 (9th Cir. 2001)); Rivera v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 745 F.3d 384, 389 (9th Cir. 2014) (“[M]unicipalities, including counties and their sheriff’s departments, can only be liable under § 1983 if an unconstitutional action ‘implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body’s officers.’” (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 690)).

(2)     Theory of Liability

A local governmental unit may not be held responsible for the acts of its employees under a respondeat superior theory of liability.  See Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997); Collins v. City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115, 121 (1992); City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989); Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978); Castro v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060, 1073 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc), cert. denied sub nom. Los Angeles Cty., Cal. v. Castro, 137 S. Ct. 831 (2017); Fogel v. Collins, 531 F.3d 824, 834 (9th Cir. 2008); Webb v. Sloan, 330 F.3d 1158, 1163–64 (9th Cir. 2003); Hopper v. City of Pasco, 241 F.3d 1067, 1082 (9th Cir. 2001).  “To [prevail on a claim against a municipal entity for a constitutional violation], a plaintiff must go beyond the respondeat superior theory of liability and demonstrate that the alleged constitutional deprivation was the product of a policy or custom of the local governmental unit.”  Kirkpatrick v. Cty. of Washoe, 843 F.3d 784, 793 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc).

“Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to Bivens and § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official’s own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.”  Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009); see also Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S. Ct. 1843, 1860 (2017) (explaining a Bivens claim is brought against the individual official for his or her own acts, not the acts of others; its purpose being to deter the officer); Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1207 (9th Cir. 2011) (discussing Iqbal and explaining that “when a supervisor is found liable based on deliberate indifference, the supervisor is being held liable for his or her own culpable action or inaction, not held vicariously liable for the culpable action or inaction of his or her subordinates.”).  Therefore, a plaintiff must go beyond the respondeat superior theory of liability and demonstrate that the alleged constitutional deprivation was the product of a policy or custom of the local governmental unit, because municipal liability must rest on the actions of the municipality, and not the actions of the employees of the municipality.  See Brown, 520 U.S. at 403; City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 385; Monell, 436 U.S. at 690–91; Fogel, 531 F.3d at 834; Webb, 330 F.3d at 1164; Hopper, 241 F.3d at 1082; Blair v. City of Pomona, 223 F.3d 1074, 1079 (9th Cir. 2000); Oviatt v. Pearce, 954 F.2d 1470, 1473–74 (9th Cir. 1992).  See also Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 60 (2011) (explaining that to impose liability on a local government under § 1983 the plaintiffs must prove that an “action pursuant to official municipal policy” caused their injury); Garmon v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 828 F.3d 837, 845 (9th Cir. 2016) (same); Sandoval v. Las Vegas Metro. Police Dep’t, 756 F.3d 1154, 1167–68 (9th Cir. 2014) (same).  The Supreme Court has emphasized that “[w]here a plaintiff claims that the municipality … has caused an employee to [violate plaintiff’s constitutional rights], rigorous standards of culpability and causation must be applied to ensure that the municipality is not held liable solely for the actions of its employee.”  Brown, 520 U.S. at 405.

The “policy or custom” requirement applies irrespective of whether the remedy sought is money damages or prospective relief.  Los Angeles Cty., Cal. v. Humphries, 562 U.S. 29, 34 (2010).

(a)     Municipal Policy

“In order to establish municipal liability, a plaintiff must show that a ‘policy or custom’ led to the plaintiff’s injury.” Castro v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060, 1073 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc), cert. denied sub nom. Los Angeles Cty., Cal. v. Castro, 137 S. Ct. 831 (2017) (quoting Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)); see also Garmon v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 828 F.3d 837, 845 (9th Cir. 2016) (“[P]laintiffs who seek to impose liability on local governments under § 1983 must prove that action pursuant to official municipal policy caused their injury.” (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)).  “The [Supreme] Court has further required that the plaintiff demonstrate that the policy or custom of a municipality ‘reflects deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of its inhabitants.’” Castro, 833 F.3d at 1060 (quoting City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 392 (1989)).  The deliberate indifference standard for municipal liability under § 1983 is an objective inquiry.  Castro, 833 F.3d at 1076 (overruling Gibson v. County of Washoe, 290 F.3d 1175 (9th Cir. 2002)).

  “Official municipal policy includes the decisions of a government’s lawmakers, the acts of its policymaking officials, and practices so persistent and widespread as to practically have the force of law.”  Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 61 (2011).  A policy “promulgated, adopted, or ratified by a local governmental entity’s legislative body unquestionably satisfies Monell’s policy requirement.”  Thompson v. City of Los Angeles, 885 F.2d 1439, 1443 (9th Cir. 1989), overruled on other grounds by Bull v. City & Cty. of San Francisco, 595 F.3d 964 (9th Cir. 2010) (en banc).  Moreover, a policy of inaction may be a municipal policy within the meaning of Monell.  See Brown v. Lynch, 831 F.3d 1146, 1152 (9th Cir. 2016); Waggy v. Spokane Cty. Wash., 594 F.3d 707, 713 (9th Cir. 2010); Long v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2006); Fairley v. Luman, 281 F.3d 913, 918 (9th Cir. 2002) (per curiam); Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 681 (9th Cir. 2001); Oviatt v. Pearce, 954 F.2d 1470, 1474 (9th Cir. 1992).

A choice among alternatives by a municipal official with final decision-making authority may also serve as the basis of municipal liability.  See Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 482–83 (1986); Brown v. Lynch, 831 F.3d 1146, 1152 (9th Cir. 2016); Waggy, 594 F.3d at 713 (explaining that a policy has been defined as a deliberate choice, made from among various alternatives, to follow a course of action); Long, 442 F.3d at 1185; Fairley, 281 F.3d at 918; Oviatt, 954 F.2d at 1477; see also City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 127 (1988) (emphasizing that critical inquiry is whether official has final decision-making authority); Peralta v. Dillard, 744 F.3d 1076, 1083 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc) (“Section 1983 also authorizes prisoners to sue municipal entities for damages if the enforcement of a municipal policy or practice, or the decision of a final municipal policymaker, caused the Eighth Amendment violation.”); Lytle v. Carl, 382 F.3d 978, 983 (9th Cir. 2004) (“municipality can be liable for an isolated constitutional violation when the person causing the violation has final policymaking authority”) (citation and internal quotation  marks omitted); Collins v. City of San Diego, 841 F.2d 337, 341 (9th Cir. 1988) (“municipal liability attaches only when the decisionmaker possesses ‘final authority’ to establish municipal policy with respect to the action ordered”) (quoting Pembaur, 475 U.S. at 481).  To identify officials with final policy-making authority, the court should look to state law.  See Praprotnik, 485 U.S. at 124; Pembaur, 475 U.S. at 483; Lytle, 382 F.3d at 982; Streit v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 236 F.3d 552, 560 (9th Cir. 2001); Christie v. Iopa, 176 F.3d 1231, 1235 (9th Cir. 1999).  The question of whether an official has final decision-making authority is not a question for the jury.  See Jett v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 737 (1989), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Fed’n of African Am. Contractors v. City of Oakland, 96 F.3d 1204, 1205 (9th Cir. 1996); Praprotnik, 485 U.S. at 126; Lytle, 382 F.3d at 982; Hammer v. Gross, 932 F.2d 842, 850 n.4 (9th Cir. 1991) (en banc).

Ratification of the decisions of a subordinate by an official with final decision-making authority can also be a policy for purposes of municipal liability under § 1983.  See Praprotnik, 485 U.S. at 127; Trevino v. Gates, 99 F.3d 911, 920–21 (9th Cir. 1996); Gillette v. Delmore, 979 F.2d 1342, 1346–47 (9th Cir. 1992).  “[T]he mere failure to investigate the basis of a subordinate’s discretionary decisions[,]” however, is not a ratification of those decisions.  Praprotnik, 485 U.S. at 130.  Moreover, mere acquiescence in a single instance of alleged unconstitutional conduct is not sufficient to demonstrate ratification of a subordinate’s acts.  See Gillette, 979 F.2d at 1348. But see McRorie v. Shimoda, 795 F.2d 780, 784 (9th Cir. 1986) (suggesting that failure of prison officials to discipline guards after impermissible shakedown search and failure to admit the guards’ conduct was in error could be interpreted as a municipal policy).

(b)     Municipal Custom

Even if there is not an explicit policy, a plaintiff may establish municipal liability upon a showing that there is a permanent and well-settled practice by the municipality which gave rise to the alleged constitutional violation.  See City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 127 (1988); Navarro v. Block, 72 F.3d 712, 714–15 (9th Cir. 1996); Thompson v. City of Los Angeles, 885 F.2d 1439, 1444 (9th Cir. 1989), overruled on other grounds by Bull v. City & Cty. of San Francisco, 595 F.3d 964 (9th Cir. 2010).  Allegations of random acts, or single instances of misconduct, however, are insufficient to establish a municipal custom.  See Navarro, 72 F.3d at 714; Thompson, 885 F.2d at 1444.  Once the plaintiff has demonstrated that a custom existed, the plaintiff need not also demonstrate that “official policy-makers had actual knowledge of the practice at issue.”  Navarro, 72 F.3d at 714–15; Thompson, 885 F.2d at 1444.  But see Blair v. City of Pomona, 223 F.3d 1074, 1080 (9th Cir. 2000) (“open to the [municipality] to show that the custom was not known to the policy-makers”).

(c)      Municipality’s Failure to Train

The plaintiff may also establish municipal liability by demonstrating that the alleged constitutional violation was caused by a failure to train municipal employees adequately.  See City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388–91 (1989); Garmon v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 828 F.3d 837, 846 (9th Cir. 2016); Flores v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 758 F.3d 1154, 1158 (9th Cir. 2014); Price v. Sery, 513 F.3d 962, 973 (9th Cir. 2008); Blankenhorn v. City of Orange, 485 F.3d 463, 484–85 (9th Cir. 2007); Long v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 442 F.3d 1178, 1186–87 (9th Cir. 2006); Johnson v. Hawe, 388 F.3d 676, 686 (9th Cir. 2004); Miranda v. Clark Cty., Nev., 319 F.3d 465, 471 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc); Fairley v. Luman, 281 F.3d 913, 917 (9th Cir. 2002) (per curiam); see especially Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 409–10 (1997) (discussing limited scope of such a claim).  Such a showing depends on three elements:  (1) the training program must be inadequate “‘in relation to the tasks the particular officers must perform’”; (2) the city officials must have been deliberately indifferent “‘to the rights of persons with whom the [local officials] come into contact’”; and (3) the inadequacy of the training “must be shown to have ‘actually caused’ the constitutional deprivation at issue.”  Merritt v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 875 F.2d 765, 770 (9th Cir. 1989) (internal citations omitted); see also Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 61 (2011) (stating, “To satisfy the statute, a municipality’s failure to train its employees in a relevant respect must amount to ‘deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the [untrained employees] come into contact.’  []  Only then ‘can such a shortcoming be properly thought of as a city ‘policy or custom’ that is actionable under § 1983.’”) (quoting City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 388).  Note that “[a] municipality’s culpability for a deprivation of rights is at its most tenuous where a claim turns on a failure to train.”  Connick, 563 U.S. at 61.

“Under this standard, a municipal defendant can be held liable because of a failure to properly train its employees only if the failure reflects a “conscious” choice by the government.” Kirkpatrick v. Cty. of Washoe, 843 F.3d 784, 793 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc).  The indifference of city officials may be shown where, “in light of the duties assigned to specific … employees[,] the need for more or different training is so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policymakers of the city can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need.”  City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 390; see Long, 442 F.3d at 1186–87; Johnson, 388 F.3d at 686; Berry v. Baca, 379 F.3d 764, 767 (9th Cir. 2004); Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 682 (9th Cir. 2001); Oviatt v. Pearce, 954 F.2d 1470, 1477–78 (9th Cir. 1992); Merritt, 875 F.2d at 770; see also Henry v. Cty. of Shasta, 137 F.3d 1372, 1372 (9th Cir. 1998) (order) (amending opinion to include statement that turning blind eye to constitutional violation can demonstrate deliberate indifference).

The Supreme Court has explained that “[d]eliberate indifference is a stringent standard of fault, requiring proof that a municipal actor disregarded a known or obvious consequence of his action.”  Connick, 563 U.S. at 61 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Kirkpatrick, 843 F.3d at 794.  Whether the plaintiff has succeeded in demonstrating such deliberate indifference is generally a question for the jury.  See Lee, 250 F.3d at 682 (citation omitted); Alexander v. City of San Francisco, 29 F.3d 1355, 1367 (9th Cir. 1994), abrogated on other grounds by Cty. of Los Angeles, Cal. v. Mendez, 137 S. Ct. 1539, 1546 (2017); Oviatt, 954 F.2d at 1478. “Satisfying this standard requires proof that the municipality had actual or constructive notice that a particular omission in their training program will cause municipal employees to violate citizens’ constitutional rights.” Kirkpatrick, 843 F.3d at 794 (internal quotation marks, alterations and citations omitted).  In order “to demonstrate that the municipality was on notice of a constitutionally significant gap in its training, it is ordinarily necessary for a plaintiff to demonstrate a pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained employees.” Id. (internal quotations marks omitted).  The deliberate indifference standard for municipal liability under § 1983 is an objective inquiry.  Castro v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060, 1076 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc), cert. denied sub nom. Los Angeles Cty., Cal. v. Castro, 137 S. Ct. 831 (2017) (overruling Gibson v. County of Washoe, 290 F.3d 1175 (9th Cir. 2002)).

(d)     Pleading Standard

There is no heightened pleading standard with respect to the “policy or custom” requirement of demonstrating municipal liability.  See Leatherman, 507 U.S. at 167–68; see also Empress LLC, 419 F.3d at 1055; Galbraith, 307 F.3d at 1124; Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 679–80 (9th Cir. 2001); Evans v. McKay, 869 F.2d 1341, 1349 (9th Cir. 1989).

Prior to Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), this court held that “a claim of municipal liability under [§] 1983 is sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss ‘even if the claim is based on nothing more than a bare allegation that the individual officers’ conduct conformed to official policy, custom, or practice.’”  Karim-Panahi v. L.A. Police Dep’t., 839 F.2d 621, 624 (9th Cir. 1988) (quoting Shah v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 797 F.2d 743, 747 (9th Cir. 1986)); see also Evans, 869 F.2d at 1349; Shaw v. Cal. Dep’t of Alcoholic Beverage Control, 788 F.2d 600, 610 (9th Cir. 1986) (“[I]t is enough if the custom or policy can be inferred from the allegations of the complaint.”).

The Supreme Court’s decisions in Twombly and Iqbal established a more demanding pleading standard.  In Twombly, the Supreme Court held that a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”  Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.  In Iqbal, the Supreme Court held that “bare assertions” that “amount to nothing more than a formulaic recitation of the elements of a [ ] claim” are not entitled to “presumption of truth,” and that the district court, after disregarding “bare assertions” and conclusions, must “consider the factual allegations in [a] complaint to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief” as opposed to a claim that is merely “conceivable.”  Iqbal, 556 U.S. 679–80.

After Twombly and Iqbal, the court in Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1212–16 (9th Cir. 2011), identified and addressed conflicts in the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on the pleading requirements applicable to civil actions.  The court held that whatever the differences between the Supreme Court cases, there were two principles common to all:

First, to be entitled to the presumption of truth, allegations in a complaint or counterclaim may not simply recite the elements of a cause of action, but must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively. Second, the factual allegations that are taken as true must plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief, such that it is not unfair to require the opposing party to be subjected to the expense of discovery and continued litigation.

Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011).  In AE ex rel. Hernandez v. Cty. of Tulare, 666 F.3d 631, 637 (9th Cir. 2012), this court held that the Starr standard applied to pleading policy or custom for claims against municipal entities.

Although the standard for stating a claim became stricter after Twombly and Iqbal, the filings and motions of pro se inmates continue to be construed liberally.  See Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (as amended) (explaining that Twombly and Iqbal “did not alter the courts’ treatment of pro se filings,” and stating, “[w]hile the standard is higher [under Iqbal], our obligation remains, where the petitioner is pro se, particularly in civil rights cases, to construe the pleadings liberally and to afford the petitioner the benefit of any doubt.” (internal citation omitted)).

For discussion of the pleading standard in the context of claims of qualified immunity, see infra I.D.2.b.

d.      Agencies

A governmental agency that is an arm of the state is not a person for purposes of § 1983.  See Howlett v. Rose, 496 U.S. 356, 365 (1990); Sato v. Orange Cty. Dep’t of Educ., 861 F.3d 923, 928 (9th Cir.) (explaining agencies of the state are immune under the Eleventh Amendment from private damages or suits for injunctive relief brought in federal court), cert. denied, 138 S. Ct. 459 (2017); Flint v. Dennison, 488 F.3d 816, 824–25 (9th Cir. 2007); Doe v. Lawrence Livermore Nat’l Lab., 131 F.3d 836, 839 (9th Cir. 1997); Hale v. Arizona, 993 F.2d 1387, 1398–99 (9th Cir. 1993) (en banc); cf. Durning v. Citibank, N.A., 950 F.2d 1419, 1423 (9th Cir. 1991) (explaining that agencies that are arms of the state are entitled to the same immunity from suit as the state because “‘the state is the real, substantial party in interest’” (citation omitted)).

A state’s Department of Corrections is most likely an arm of the state under this analysis.  See Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978) (per curiam) (concluding that the suit against the state Board of Corrections was barred by the Eleventh Amendment); Hale, 993 F.2d at 1398–99 (concluding that the Arizona Department of Corrections was an arm of the state and, thus, not a person for § 1983 purposes); Gilbreath v. Cutter Biological, Inc., 931 F.2d 1320, 1327 (9th Cir. 1991) (same).

To determine whether a governmental agency is an arm of the state, the court should “look to state law and examine ‘whether a money judgment would be satisfied out of state funds, whether the entity performs central governmental functions, whether the entity may sue or be sued, whether the entity has the power to take property in its own name or only in the name of the state, and the corporate status of the entity.’”  Hale, 993 F.2d at 1399 (quoting Mitchell v. L.A. Cmty. Coll. Dist., 861 F.2d 198, 201 (9th Cir. 1988)); see also Del Campo v. Kennedy, 517 F.3d 1070, 1077 (9th Cir. 2008); Beentjes v. Placer Cty. Air Pollution Control Dist., 397 F.3d 775, 778 (9th Cir. 2005); Holz v. Nenana City Pub. Sch. Dist., 347 F.3d 1176, 1180 (9th Cir. 2003); Aguon v. Commonwealth Ports Auth., 316 F.3d 899, 901 (9th Cir. 2003); Streit v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 236 F.3d 552, 566 (9th Cir. 2001).

The first, and most important, factor is “whether a judgment against the defendant entity under the terms of the complaint would have to be satisfied out of the limited resources of the entity itself or whether the state treasury would also be legally pledged to satisfy the obligation.”  Durning, 950 F.2d at 1424; see also Beentjes, 397 F.3d at 778; Holz, 347 F.3d at 1182; Streit, 236 F.3d at 566–67; ITSI T.V. Prods. v. Agric. Ass’ns, 3 F.3d 1289, 1292 (9th Cir. 1993); cfRegents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Doe, 519 U.S. 425, 430 (1997) (stating that the first factor is of “considerable importance”).  Whether the state will be indemnified by a third party for financial liability is irrelevant to this inquiry.  See Regents of the Univ. of Cal., 519 U.S. at 431; cfSchulman v. California (In re Lazar), 237 F.3d 967, 975 (9th Cir. 2001); Ashker v. Cal. Dep’t of Corr., 112 F.3d 392, 395 (9th Cir. 1997).

When analyzing the second factor, the court should construe “central governmental functions” broadly.  See Durning, 950 F.2d at 1426.

The third factor of the test is entitled to less weight than the first two factors.  See Holz, 347 F.3d at 1187–88; Aguon, 316 F.3d at 903.

e.       State Officials

(1)     Official Capacity

State officials sued in their official capacity for damages are not persons for purposes of § 1983.  See Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, 69 n.24 (1997); Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 27 (1991); Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989); Flint v. Dennison, 488 F.3d 816, 824–25 (9th Cir. 2007); Doe v. Lawrence Livermore Nat’l Lab., 131 F.3d 836, 839 (9th Cir. 1997); Aguon v. Commonwealth Ports Auth., 316 F.3d 899, 901 (9th Cir. 2003); DeNieva v. Reyes, 966 F.2d 480, 483 (9th Cir. 1992).

State officials sued in their official capacity for injunctive relief, however, are persons for purposes of § 1983.  See Will, 491 U.S. at 71 n.10; Hartmann v. Cal. Dep’t of Corr. & Rehab., 707 F.3d 1114, 1127 (9th Cir. 2013); Flint, 488 F.3d at 825; Doe, 131 F.3d at 839; Guam Soc’y of Obstetricians & Gynecologists v. Ada, 962 F.2d 1366, 1371 (9th Cir. 1992).  See also Paeste v. Gov’t of Guam, 798 F.3d 1228, 1235–40 (9th Cir. 2015) (discussing distinction between suits seeking damages and suits seeking prospective relief); Thornton v. Brown, 757 F.3d 834, 839 (9th Cir. 2013).

Official-capacity suits filed against state officials are merely an alternative way of pleading an action against the entity of which the defendant is an officer.  See Hafer, 502 U.S. at 25; Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985); see also Hartmann, 707 F.3d at 1127; Holley v. Cal. Dep’t of Corr., 599 F.3d 1108, 1111 (9th Cir. 2010) (treating suit against state officials in their official capacities as a suit against the state of California).  In an official-capacity suit, the plaintiff must demonstrate that a policy or custom of the governmental entity of which the official is an agent was the moving force behind the violation.  See Hafer, 502 U.S. at 25; Graham, 473 U.S. at 166.  For a discussion of how a plaintiff might make such a showing, see supra I.A.1.c.(2).  Moreover, the only immunity available to the defendant sued in her or his official capacity is the sovereign immunity that the governmental entity may possess.  See Graham, 473 U.S. at 167.  For a discussion of a state’s Eleventh Amendment immunity, see infra I.D.3.a.

(2)     Personal Capacity

State officials sued in their personal capacity are persons for purposes of § 1983.  See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 31 (1991); Mitchell v. Washington, 818 F.3d 436, 442 (9th Cir. 2016) (explaining the Eleventh Amendment does not bar claims for damages against state officials in their personal capacities); Porter v. Jones, 319 F.3d 483, 491 (9th Cir. 2003); DeNieva v. Reyes, 966 F.2d 480, 483 (9th Cir. 1992).

“Personal-capacity suits seek to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions [the official] takes under color of state law.”  Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985).  Liability in a personal-capacity suit can be demonstrated by showing that the official caused the alleged constitutional injury.  See id. at 166.  The official in a personal-capacity suit may, depending upon the facts, be able to establish immunity from claims for damages.  See id. at 166–67.  For a discussion of absolute immunities, see infra I.D.1; for a discussion of the defense of qualified immunity, see infra I.D.2.

(3)     Determining Capacity

Because the plaintiff’s complaint will not always clearly indicate the capacity in which the defendants are being sued, the court must sometimes make this determination.

As a first principle, it is important to note that the capacity in which the official acted when engaging in the alleged unconstitutional conduct does not determine the capacity in which the official is sued.  See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 26 (1991) (Official capacity “is best understood as a reference to the capacity in which the state officer is sued, not the capacity in which the officer inflicts the alleged injury.”); Price v. Akaka, 928 F.2d 824, 828 (9th Cir. 1991).

Courts should examine the nature of the proceedings to determine the capacity in which a defendant is sued.  See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167 n.14 (1985); Eaglesmith v. Ward, 73 F.3d 857, 859 (9th Cir. 1996).  Where the plaintiff is seeking damages against a state official, a strong presumption is created in favor of a personal-capacity suit because an official-capacity suit for damages would be barred.  See Mitchell v. Washington, 818 F.3d 436, 442 (9th Cir. 2016); Romano v. Bible, 169 F.3d 1182, 1186 (9th Cir. 1999); Shoshone-Bannock Tribes v. Fish & Game Comm’n, Idaho, 42 F.3d 1278, 1284 (9th Cir. 1994); Cerrato v. S.F. Cmty. Coll. Dist., 26 F.3d 968, 973 n.16 (9th Cir. 1994); Price, 928 F.2d at 828.

f.       Federal Officials

“It is well settled that federal officials sued in their official capacity are subject to injunctive relief under § 1983 if they ‘conspire with or participate in concert with state officials who, under color of state law, act to deprive a person of protected rights.’”  Cabrera v. Martin, 973 F.2d 735, 741 (9th Cir. 1992) (quoting Scott v. Rosenberg, 702 F.2d 1263, 1269 (9th Cir. 1983)).  For a discussion of the elements of a conspiracy claim, see infra I.A.2.b.(5).  For a discussion of Bivens actions against federal officials in their personal capacity, see infra I.K.

2.       Acting under Color of State Law

a.       General Principles

The question of whether a person who has allegedly caused a constitutional injury was acting under color of state law is a factual determination.  See Brunette v. Humane Soc’y of Ventura Cty., 294 F.3d 1205, 1209 (9th Cir. 2002); Gritchen v. Collier, 254 F.3d 807, 813 (9th Cir. 2001); Lopez v. Dep’t of Health Servs., 939 F.2d 881, 883 (9th Cir. 1991) (per curiam); Howerton v. Gabica, 708 F.2d 380, 383 (9th Cir. 1983).

A defendant has acted under color of state law where he or she has “exercised power ‘possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law.’”  West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49 (1988) (quoting United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 326 (1941)); see also Polk Cty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 317–18 (1981); Anderson v. Warner, 451 F.3d 1063, 1068 (9th Cir. 2006); McDade v. West, 223 F.3d 1135, 1139–40 (9th Cir. 2000); Johnson v. Knowles, 113 F.3d 1114, 1117 (9th Cir. 1997); Vang v. Xiong, 944 F.2d 476, 479 (9th Cir. 1991); see also Florer v. Congregation Pidyon Shevuyim, N.A., 639 F.3d 916, 922 (9th Cir. 2011) (determining whether private entities operating as contract chaplains within the Washington State prison system were state actors for purposes of § 1983 and RLUIPA).

Moreover, conduct that would amount to state action for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment is action under the color of state law for purposes of § 1983.  See West, 487 U.S. at 49; Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 935 (1982); Johnson, 113 F.3d at 1118; Fred Meyer, Inc. v. Casey, 67 F.3d 1412, 1414 (9th Cir. 1995); cf. Johnson, 113 F.3d at 1118–20 (describing tests for finding state action); Howerton, 708 F.2d at 382–83 (same).

“Actions taken pursuant to a municipal ordinance are made ‘under color of state law.’” See Coral Constr. Co. v. King Cty., 941 F.2d 910, 926 (9th Cir. 1991).

Even if the deprivation represents an abuse of authority or lies outside the authority of the official, if the official is acting within the scope of his or her employment, the person is still acting under color of state law.  See Anderson, 451 F.3d at 1068–69; McDade, 223 F.3d at 1140; Shah v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 797 F.2d 743, 746 (9th Cir. 1986).  However, “[i]f a government officer does not act within [the] scope of employment or under the color of state law, then that government officer acts as a private citizen.”  See Van Ort v. Estate of Stanewich, 92 F.3d 831, 835 (9th Cir. 1996) (finding no action under color of state law where a police officer returned to a home where a search had taken place the day before, forced his way in, and tortured the two people residing in the home); see also Gritchen, 254 F.3d at 812–13; Huffman v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 147 F.3d 1054, 1058 (9th Cir. 1998); Johnson, 113 F.3d at 1117–18.

b.      Applications

(1)     State Employees

Generally, employees of the state are acting under color of state law when acting in their official capacity.  See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49 (1988); Anderson v. Warner, 451 F.3d 1063, 1068 (9th Cir. 2006); McDade v. West, 223 F.3d 1135, 1140 (9th Cir. 2000); Vang v. Xiong, 944 F.2d 476, 479 (9th Cir. 1991).

Even where state officials are administering a federally funded program, the state officials are still acting under color of state law.  See Tongol v. Usery, 601 F.2d 1091, 1097 (9th Cir. 1979).

(2)     Prison Officials

Prison officials, when acting in their official capacity, are acting under color of state law.  See Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 633 (9th Cir. 1988); Haygood v. Younger, 769 F.2d 1350, 1354 (9th Cir. 1985) (en banc).  The Supreme Court has reserved the question of whether prison guards working for private prison management firms are acting under color of state law.  See Richardson v. McKnight, 521 U.S. 399, 413 (1997) (holding that employees of private prison are not entitled to qualified immunity).  But see Pollard v. The Geo Group, Inc., 629 F.3d 843, 856–58 (9th Cir. 2010) (recognizing in Richardson the Court did not address the question of whether private guards acted under color of federal or state law, and holding that employees of a private corporation operating a prison acted under color of federal law for purposes of Bivens liability), reversed by Minneci v. Pollard, 565 U.S. 118, 120, 132 n.* (2012) (holding that prisoner could not assert an Eighth Amendment Bivens claim for damages against private prison employees; note that Justice Ginsberg’s dissent noted that petitioners did not seek Supreme Court review of the Ninth Circuit’s determination that petitioners acted under color of federal law).

“[P]rison officials charged with executing facially valid court orders enjoy absolute immunity from section 1983 liability for conduct prescribed by those orders.” Engebretson v. Mahoney, 724 F.3d 1034, 1039 (9th Cir. 2013).  However, if the prison official fails to strictly comply with the order, the immunity does not apply. See Garcia v. Cty. of Riverside, 817 F.3d 635, 644 (9th Cir.), cert. denied sub nom. Baca v. Garcia, 137 S. Ct. 344 (2016).

(3)     Prison Physicians

Physicians who contract with prisons to provide medical services are acting under color of state law.  See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 53–54 (1988); Lopez v. Dep’t of Health Servs., 939 F.2d 881, 883 (9th Cir. 1991) (per curiam) (hospital and ambulance service under contract with the state).  Cf. Florer v. Congregation Pidyon Shevuyim, N.A., 639 F.3d 916, 925–26 (9th Cir. 2011) (distinguishing West and determining that contract chaplains were not state actors).

(4)     Public Defenders

When public defenders are acting in their role as advocate, they are not acting under color of state law for § 1983 purposes.  See Georgia v. McCollum, 505 U.S. 42, 53 (1992); Polk Cty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 320–25 (1981); Jackson v. Brown, 513 F.3d 1057, 1079 (9th Cir. 2008); Miranda v. Clark Cty., Nev., 319 F.3d 465, 468 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc); United States v. De Gross, 960 F.2d 1433, 1442 n.12 (9th Cir. 1992) (en banc); see also Vermont v. Brillon, 556 U.S. 81, 91 (2009) (assigned public defender is ordinarily not considered a state actor); Kirtley v. Rainey, 326 F.3d 1088, 1093–94 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing Polk Cty. to determine that a state-appointed guardian ad litem does not act under color of state law for purposes of § 1983); Cox v. Hellerstein, 685 F.2d 1098, 1099 (9th Cir. 1982) (relying on Polk Cty. to determine that federal public defenders are not acting under color of federal law for purposes of Bivens action).  The Supreme Court has concluded that public defenders do not act under color of state law because their conduct as legal advocates is controlled by professional standards independent of the administrative direction of a supervisor.  See Brillon, 556 U.S. at 92; Polk Cty., 454 U.S. at 321; see also Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1008–09 (1982) (applying similar rationale to determine that administrators of nursing home were not state actors); Mathis v. Pac. Gas & Elec. Co., 891 F.2d 1429, 1432 (9th Cir. 1989) (applying similar rationale to determine that employees conducting psychiatric evaluation were not state actors).  But cf. Gonzalez v. Spencer, 336 F.3d 832, 834 (9th Cir. 2003) (per curiam) (explaining that a private attorney who is retained to represent state entities and their employees in litigation acts under color of state law because his or her role is “analogous to that of a state prosecutor rather than a public defender” (citing Polk Cty., 454 U.S. at 323 n.13)), abrogated by Filarsky v. Delia, 566 U.S. 377, 393–94 (2012).

Where public defenders are performing administrative or investigative functions, they may be acting under color of state law.  See Brillon, 556 U.S. at 91 n.7; Polk Cty., 454 U.S. at 324–25; Miranda, 319 F.3d at 469For a discussion of the distinction between functions performed as an advocate and functions performed as an administrator/investigator, see infra I.D.1.c.(1).

(5)     Private Parties

Generally, private parties are not acting under color of state law.  See Price v. Hawaii, 939 F.2d 702, 707–08 (9th Cir. 1991); see also Simmons v. Sacramento Cty. Superior Court, 318 F.3d 1156, 1161 (9th Cir. 2003) (explaining that a lawyer in private practice does not act under color of state law).

Where a private party conspires with state officials to deprive others of constitutional rights, however, the private party is acting under color of state law.  See Tower v. Glover, 467 U.S. 914, 920 (1984); Dennis v. Sparks, 449 U.S. 24, 27–28 (1980); Crowe v. Cty. of San Diego, 608 F.3d 406, 440 (9th Cir. 2010); Franklin v. Fox, 312 F.3d 423, 441 (9th Cir. 2002); DeGrassi v. City of Glendora, 207 F.3d 636, 647 (9th Cir. 2000); George v. Pacific-CSC Work Furlough, 91 F.3d 1227, 1231 (9th Cir. 1996) (per curiam); Kimes v. Stone, 84 F.3d 1121, 1126 (9th Cir. 1996); Howerton v. Gabica, 708 F.2d 380, 383 (9th Cir. 1983).

“To prove a conspiracy between the state and private parties under [§] 1983, the [plaintiff] must show an agreement or meeting of the minds to violate constitutional rights.  To be liable, each participant in the conspiracy need not know the exact details of the plan, but each must at least share the common objective of the conspiracy.”  United Steelworkers of Am. v. Phelps Dodge Corp., 865 F.2d 1539, 1540–41 (9th Cir. 1989) (en banc) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Crowe, 608 F.3d at 440; Franklin, 312 F.3d at 441; Mendocino Envt’l Ctr. v. Mendocino Cty., 192 F.3d 1283, 1301–02 (9th Cir. 1999); Gilbrook v. City of Westminster, 177 F.3d 839, 856–57 (9th Cir. 1999); Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1048 (9th Cir. 1989).  Conclusory allegations are insufficient to state a claim of conspiracy.  See Simmons, 318 F.3d at 1161; Radcliffe v. Rainbow Constr. Co., 254 F.3d 772, 783–84 (9th Cir. 2001); Price, 939 F.2d at 708–09.  For a discussion of pleading requirements, see infra I.D.2.b and II.A.1.b.(1).

(6)     Federal Employees

Federal employees acting pursuant to federal law are not acting under the color of state law.  See Billings v. United States, 57 F.3d 797, 801 (9th Cir. 1995); Stonecipher v. Bray, 653 F.2d 398, 401 (9th Cir. 1981).

Where federal officials conspire with state officials to deprive a person of constitutional rights, however, they may be acting under color of state law.  See Billings, 57 F.3d at 801.  For elements of conspiracy, see supra I.A.2.b.(5).

For state administration of federally funded programs, see supra I.A.2.b.(1).

3.       Deprivation of a Right

a.       Rights Guaranteed by the Constitution

Section 1983 provides a cause of action against persons acting under color of state law who have violated rights guaranteed by the Constitution.  See Buckley v. City of Redding, 66 F.3d 188, 190 (9th Cir. 1995); Demery v. Kupperman, 735 F.2d 1139, 1146 (9th Cir. 1984).

b.      Rights Guaranteed by Federal Statutes

Section 1983 can provide a cause of action against persons acting under color of state law who have violated rights guaranteed by federal statutes.  See Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 279 (2002); Blessing v. Freestone, 520 U.S. 329, 340–41 (1997); Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 451 U.S. 1, 28 (1981); Maine v. Thiboutot, 448 U.S. 1, 4 (1980); Henry A. v. Willden, 678 F.3d 991, 1005 (9th Cir. 2012); Cal. State Foster Parent Ass’n v. Wagner, 624 F.3d 974, 978–79 (9th Cir. 2010); AlohaCare v. Haw., Dep’t of Human Servs., 572 F.3d 740, 745 (9th Cir. 2009); Ball v. Rodgers, 492 F.3d 1094, 1103 (9th Cir. 2007); Legal Servs. of N. Cal., Inc. v. Arnett, 114 F.3d 135, 138 (9th Cir. 1997).  Some decisions have stated that there is a presumption that § 1983 provides a remedy for violations of federal statutes.  See Livadas v. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 133 (1994); Almond Hill Sch. v. USDA, 768 F.2d 1030, 1035 (9th Cir. 1985); Keaukaha-Panaewa Cmty. Ass’n v. Hawaiian Homes Comm’n, 739 F.2d 1467, 1470 (9th Cir. 1984).  For a statutory provision to be privately enforceable, however, it must create an individual right.  Blessing, 520 U.S. at 340; Henry A., 678 F.3d at 1005.

Section 1983 can be used as a mechanism for enforcing the rights guaranteed by a particular federal statute only if (1) the statute creates enforceable rights and (2) Congress has not foreclosed the possibility of a § 1983 remedy for violations of the statute in question.  See Blessing, 520 U.S. at 340–41; Dittman v. California, 191 F.3d 1020, 1027–28 (9th Cir. 1999); Arnett, 114 F.3d at 138; Almond Hill Sch., 768 F.2d at 1035.

To determine whether the federal statute has created rights enforceable through § 1983, the court considers whether the statute (1) is intended to benefit the class of which the plaintiff is a member; (2) sets forth standards, clarifying the nature of the right, that make the right capable of enforcement by the judiciary; and (3) is mandatory, rather than precatory, in nature.  See Blessing, 520 U.S. at 340–41; Cal. State Foster Parent Ass’n, 624 F.3d at 979; Day v. Apoliona, 496 F.3d 1027, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007); Ball, 492 F.3d at 1104; Sanchez v. Johnson, 416 F.3d 1051, 1056–57 (9th Cir. 2005); Dittman, 191 F.3d at 1028; Buckley v. City of Redding, 66 F.3d 188, 190–91 (9th Cir. 1995).  “In carrying out this inquiry, [the court should] examine whether particular statutory provisions create specific enforceable rights, rather than considering the statute and purported rights on a more general level.”  Arnett, 114 F.3d at 138 (citing Blessing, 520 U.S. at 341–42).

To determine whether the federal statute forecloses the possibility of a § 1983 action, the court considers whether the statute contains (1) an express provision precluding a cause of action under § 1983 or (2) “‘a comprehensive enforcement scheme that is incompatible with individual enforcement under section 1983.’”  City of Rancho Palos Verdes, Cal. v. Abrams, 544 U.S. 113, 120 (2005) (quoting Blessing, 520 U.S. at 341); Dittman, 191 F.3d at 1028.  Where statutes contain provisions for criminal penalties, citizen suits, judicial review, or even administrative proceedings alone, the Supreme Court has found the remedial scheme sufficiently comprehensive to foreclose an independent § 1983 cause of action.  See Abrams, 544 U.S. at 121–22; see also Buckley, 66 F.3d at 191–92.  Where a statute contains neither judicial nor administrative remedies available to private parties, the statute does not imply the foreclosure of a § 1983 remedy, even where the government retains oversight of statutory compliance.  See Blessing, 520 U.S. at 346–48.  See also Fitzgerald v. Barnstable Sch. Comm., 555 U.S. 246, 252–58 (2009) (stating that the Court has not held that an implied right of action had the effect of precluding suit under § 1983, and holding that Title IX is not an exclusive mechanism for addressing gender discrimination in schools or a substitute for § 1983 suits).

Attorney’s fees are available through 42 U.S.C. § 1988 for § 1983 actions alleging violations of federal statutes.  See Maine, 448 U.S. at 9.  For further discussion of availability of attorney’s fees under § 1983, see infra I.H.1.

c.       Rights Guaranteed by State Law

Section 1983 does not provide a cause of action for violations of state law.  See Galen v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 477 F.3d 652, 662 (9th Cir. 2007); Ove v. Gwinn, 264 F.3d 817, 824 (9th Cir. 2001); Sweaney v. Ada Cty., Idaho, 119 F.3d 1385, 1391 (9th Cir. 1997); Lovell v. Poway Unified Sch. Dist., 90 F.3d 367, 370 (9th Cir. 1996); Ybarra v. Bastian, 647 F.2d 891, 892 (9th Cir. 1981).  Where a violation of state law is also a violation of a constitutional right, however, § 1983 does provide a cause of action. See Lovell, 90 F.3d at 370; Draper v. Coombs, 792 F.2d 915, 921 (9th Cir. 1986); see also Weilburg v. Shapiro, 488 F.3d 1202, 1207 (9th Cir. 2007).

B.      State-of-Mind Requirement

“[Section] 1983 … contains no state-of-mind requirement independent of that necessary to state a violation of the underlying constitutional right.”  Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 329–30 (1986); see also Maddox v. City of Los Angeles, 792 F.2d 1408, 1413–14 (9th Cir. 1986).

C.      Causation

1.       General Principles

A person deprives another of a constitutional right, “within the meaning of § 1983, ‘if he does an affirmative act, participates in another’s affirmative act, or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made.’” Preschooler II v. Clark Cty. Sch. Bd. of Trs., 479 F.3d 1175, 1183 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978)); see also Lacey v. Maricopa Cty., 693 F.3d 896, 915 (9th Cir. 2012) (en banc); Stevenson v. Koskey, 877 F.2d 1435, 1438–39 (9th Cir. 1989); Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 633 (9th Cir. 1988).  “The requisite causal connection may be established when an official sets in motion a ‘series of acts by others which the actor knows or reasonably should know would cause others to inflict’ constitutional harms.”  Preschooler II, 479 F.3d at 1183 (quoting Johnson, 588 F.2d at 743); see also Rodriguez v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 891 F.3d 776, 798 (9th Cir. 2018); Wong v. United States, 373 F.3d 952, 966 (9th Cir. 2004); Gilbrook v. City of Westminster, 177 F.3d 839, 854 (9th Cir. 1999); Harris v. Roderick, 126 F.3d 1189, 1196 (9th Cir. 1997); Bateson v. Geisse, 857 F.2d 1300, 1304 (9th Cir. 1988); Merritt v. Mackey, 827 F.2d 1368, 1371 (9th Cir. 1987).  This standard of causation “closely resembles the standard ‘foreseeability’ formulation of proximate cause.”  Arnold v. Int’l Bus. Mach. Corp., 637 F.2d 1350, 1355 (9th Cir. 1981); see also Harper v. City of Los Angeles, 533 F.3d 1010, 1026 (9th Cir. 2008); Wong, 373 F.3d at 966; Stevenson, 877 F.2d at 1438–39; Leer, 844 F.2d at 634.

When making the causation determination, the court “must take a very individualized approach which accounts for the duties, discretion, and means of each defendant.”  Leer, 844 F.2d at 633–34.

2.       Supervisory Liability

“Liability under [§] 1983 arises only upon a showing of personal participation by the defendant.  A supervisor is only liable for the constitutional violations of … subordinates if the supervisor participated in or directed the violations, or knew of the violations and failed to act to prevent them.  There is no respondeat superior liability under [§] 1983.”  Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989) (citations omitted); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009) (“Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to Bivens and § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official’s own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.”); Rodriguez v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 891 F.3d 776, 798 (9th Cir. 2018) (explaining a supervisory official is liable under § 1983 “if there exists either (1) his or her personal involvement in the constitutional deprivation, or (2) a sufficient causal connection between the supervisor’s wrongful conduct and the constitutional violation.” (quotation marks and citation omitted)); King v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 885 F.3d 548, 559 (9th Cir. 2018) (same); Keates v. Koile, 883 F.3d 1228, 1242–43 (9th Cir. 2018) (same).  “‘The requisite causal connection can be established … by setting in motion a series of acts by others or by knowingly refus[ing] to terminate a series of acts by others, which [the supervisor] knew or reasonably should have known would cause others to inflict a constitutional injury.’” Rodriguez, 891 F.3d at 798  (quoting Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1207 (9th Cir. 2011); see also  King, 885 F.3d at 559.

See also Maxwell v. Cty. of San Diego, 708 F.3d 1075, 1097 (9th Cir. 2013) (“[T]here is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983. Rather, a government official may be held liable only for the official’s own conduct.”); Corales v. Bennett, 567 F.3d 554, 570 (9th Cir. 2009); Preschooler II v. Clark Cty. Sch. Bd. of Trs., 479 F.3d 1175, 1182 (9th Cir. 2007) (concluding that allegations that school officials knew of alleged violation and failed to take corrective action were sufficient to state a claim); Harris v. Roderick, 126 F.3d 1189, 1204 (9th Cir. 1997) (concluding that allegations that FBI agents developed a plan and then encouraged another agent to shoot a suspect were sufficient to state a claim); Ortez v. Wash. Cty., Or., 88 F.3d 804, 809 (9th Cir. 1996) (concluding proper to dismiss where no allegations of knowledge of or participation in alleged violation); Robins v. Meecham, 60 F.3d 1436, 1442 (9th Cir. 1995) (concluding that failure to intervene to stop alleged violation could be sufficient to establish liability); Redman v. Cty. of San Diego, 942 F.2d 1435, 1446–47 (9th Cir. 1991) (en banc) (concluding that knowledge of a policy and practice of overcrowding that allegedly resulted in inmate’s rape could be sufficient to establish liability), abrogated on other grounds by Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994).

“A showing that a supervisor acted, or failed to act, in a manner that was deliberately indifferent to an inmate’s Eighth Amendment rights is sufficient to demonstrate the involvement – and the liability – of that supervisor. Thus, when a supervisor is found liable based on deliberate indifference, the supervisor is being held liable for his or her own culpable action or inaction, not held vicariously liable for the culpable action or inaction of his or her subordinates.”  Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1207 (9th Cir. 2011) (holding that “a plaintiff may state a claim against a supervisor for deliberate indifference based upon the supervisor’s knowledge of and acquiescence in unconstitutional conduct by his or her subordinates”).

Where state law imposes vicarious liability, however, it may be imposed under § 1983.  See Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 744 (9th Cir. 1978).

For further discussion of supervisory liability, see supra I.A.1.c.(2).

3.       Local Governmental Unit Liability

Regardless of what theory the plaintiff employs to establish municipal liability – policy, custom or failure to train – the plaintiff must establish an affirmative causal link between the municipal policy or practice and the alleged constitutional violation.  See City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385, 391–92 (1989); Van Ort v. Estate of Stanewich, 92 F.3d 831, 835 (9th Cir. 1996); Oviatt v. Pearce, 954 F.2d 1470, 1473–74 (9th Cir. 1992).

For a discussion of theories of liability applicable to local governmental units, see supra I.A.1.c.(2).

4.       Relationship to Relief Sought

Where the plaintiff is seeking injunctive or declaratory relief, as opposed to damages, the causation inquiry “is broader and more generalized.”  Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 633 (9th Cir. 1988).

5.       Pleading Standards

“Sweeping conclusory allegations will not suffice to prevent summary judgment.  The [plaintiff] must set forth specific facts as to each individual defendant’s” causal role in the alleged constitutional deprivation.  Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 634 (9th Cir. 1988) (citation omitted).

D.      Immunities

1.       Absolute Immunity

Immunities that were well established when § 1983 was enacted were not abrogated by § 1983.  See Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 268 (1993); Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 484 (1991); Procunier v. Navarette, 434 U.S. 555, 561 (1978); Miller v. Gammie, 335 F.3d 889, 895–96 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc); Kimes v. Stone, 84 F.3d 1121, 1128 (9th Cir. 1996); Demery v. Kupperman, 735 F.2d 1139, 1143 (9th Cir. 1984).  In light of this presumption, “absolute immunity [has been granted] to ‘the President, judges, prosecutors, witnesses, and officials performing ‘quasi-judicial’ functions, and legislators.’”  Fry v. Melaragno, 939 F.2d 832, 836 (9th Cir. 1991) (citation omitted); see also Tower v. Glover, 467 U.S. 914, 920 (1984); Procunier, 434 U.S. at 561; Miller, 335 F.3d at 896.

“Absolute immunity ‘is an extreme remedy, and it is justified only where any lesser degree of immunity could impair the judicial process itself.’” Garmon v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 828 F.3d 837, 843 (9th Cir. 2016) (quoting Lacey v. Maricopa Cty., 693 F.3d 896, 912 (9th Cir. 2012) (en banc)).  See also Brooks v. Clark Cty., 828 F.3d 910, 915–16 (9th Cir. 2016) (discussing absolute immunity).

“The ‘official seeking absolute immunity bears the burden of showing that such immunity is justified for the function in question.’”  Garmon, 828 F.3d at 843 (quoting Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 486 (1991)).

For a discussion of policy arguments in favor of absolute immunity, see  Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 223 (1988); Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 423 (1976); Robichaud v. Ronan, 351 F.2d 533, 535–36 (9th Cir. 1965).

a.       Basic Principles

(1)     Determining Eligibility for Absolute Immunity

“In determining which officials perform functions that might justify a full exemption from liability, [the Court] ha[s] undertaken a considered inquiry into the immunity historically accorded the relevant official at common law and the interests behind it.”  Antoine v. Byers & Anderson, Inc., 508 U.S. 429, 432 (1993) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 269 (1993); Tower v. Glover, 467 U.S. 914, 920 (1984); Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 508 (1978).  “[T]he Court has [also] examined the ‘functional comparability’ of the role of the official under scrutiny to the role of analogous officials who enjoyed immunity under common law in order to determine whether the modern-day official is entitled to any degree of immunity.”  Sellars v. Procunier, 641 F.2d 1295, 1298 (9th Cir. 1981).  Under this “functional approach,” the Court “examine[s] the nature of the functions with which a particular official or class of officials has been lawfully entrusted, and … seek[s] to evaluate the effect that exposure to particular forms of liability would likely have on the appropriate exercise of those functions.”  Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 224 (1988); see also Brooks v. Clark Cty., 828 F.3d 910, 917–18 (9th Cir. 2016) (concluding “neither precedent nor first principles justify giving courtroom officials absolute immunity when they allegedly use force in excess of what their judge commanded and the Constitution allows.”); Burton v. Infinity Capital Mgmt., 862 F.3d 740, 747–48 (9th Cir. 2017) (applying functional approach); Mishler v. Clift, 191 F.3d 998, 1002 (9th Cir. 1999); Fry v. Melaragno, 939 F.2d 832, 835 n.6 (9th Cir. 1991).  The eligibility inquiry for absolute immunity, then, turns on “the nature of the function performed, not the identity of the actor who performed it.”  Buckley, 509 U.S. at 269 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 695 (1997); Waggy v. Spokane Cty. Wash., 594 F.3d 707, 710–11 (9th Cir. 2010); Cousins v. Lockyer, 568 F.3d 1063, 1068 (9th Cir. 2009); Botello v. Gammick, 413 F.3d 971, 976 (9th Cir. 2005); KRL v. Moore, 384 F.3d 1105, 1113 (9th Cir. 2004); cf. Richardson v. McKnight, 521 U.S. 399, 408–09 (1997) (explaining that mere performance of governmental function does not entitle private person to absolute or qualified immunity).

(2)     Burden of Proof Regarding Eligibility for Absolute Immunity

“The proponent of a claim to absolute immunity bears the burden of establishing the justification for such immunity.”  Antoine v. Byers & Anderson, Inc., 508 U.S. 429, 432 (1993); see also Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 269 (1993); Brooks v. Clark Cty., 828 F.3d 910, 915–16 (9th Cir. 2016); Garmon v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 828 F.3d 837, 843 (9th Cir. 2016) (“The ‘official seeking absolute immunity bears the burden of showing that such immunity is justified for the function in question.’”  Garmon, 828 F.3d at 843 (quoting Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 486 (1991))); Ewing v. City of Stockton, 588 F.3d 1218, 1234 (9th Cir. 2009); Botello v. Gammick, 413 F.3d 971, 976 (9th Cir. 2005); Genzler v. Longanbach, 410 F.3d 630, 636 (9th Cir. 2005).  “The justification must take care to explain why the official hoping to secure absolute immunity would not be sufficiently shielded by qualified immunity, which already affords officials considerable leeway to perform their jobs without fear of personal liability.”  Brooks, 828 F.3d at 916 (concluding courtroom marshal was not entitled to absolute immunity).

“[A]bsolute freedom from the threat of unfounded lawsuits … is the rare exception to the rule.”  Meyers v. Contra Costa Cty. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 812 F.2d 1154, 1158 (9th Cir. 1987); see also Antoine, 508 U.S. at 432 n.4; Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 486–87 (1991); Botello, 413 F.3d at 976; Genzler, 410 F.3d at 636–37.

(3)     Effect of Absolute Immunity

“An absolute immunity defeats a suit [for damages] at the outset, so long as the official’s actions were within the scope of the immunity.”  Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 419 n.13 (1976); see also Sellars v. Procunier, 641 F.2d 1295, 1297 n.4 (9th Cir. 1981).

(4)     Application to Bivens Actions

For purposes of immunity analysis, there is no distinction between § 1983 actions and Bivens actions.  See Antoine v. Byers & Anderson, Inc., 508 U.S. 429, 433 n.5 (1993); Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 499–500 (1978).

b.      Judicial Immunity

(1)     Basic Principles

“Courts have extended absolute judicial immunity from damage actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 not only to judges but also to officers whose functions bear a close association to the judicial process.”  Demoran v. Witt, 781 F.2d 155, 156 (9th Cir. 1986).  “Judges and those performing judge-like functions are absolutely immune from damage liability for acts performed in their official capacities.”  Ashelman v. Pope, 793 F.2d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir. 1986) (en banc); see also Miller v. Davis, 521 F.3d 1142, 1145 (9th Cir. 2008); Partington v. Gedan, 961 F.2d 852, 860 n.8 (9th Cir. 1992); Houghton v. Osborne, 834 F.2d 745, 750 (9th Cir. 1987).

Judicial immunity for state defendants does not extend to actions for prospective injunctive relief.  See Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 10 n.1 (1991) (per curiam); Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522, 541–42 (1984); Lebbos v. Judges of  Superior Court, Santa Clara Cty., 883 F.2d 810, 813 & n.5 (9th Cir. 1989); Ashelman, 793 F.2d at 1075; see also Partington, 961 F.2d at 860 n.8 (declaratory relief).  But see Moore v. Brewster, 96 F.3d 1240, 1243 (9th Cir. 1996) (“‘The judicial or quasi-judicial immunity available to federal officers is not limited to immunity from damages, but extends to actions for declaratory, injunctive and other equitable relief.’”) (emphasis added) (citation omitted).  In 1996, however, Congress amended § 1983 to prohibit the grant of injunctive relief against any judicial officer acting in her or his official capacity “unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.”  42 U.S.C. § 1983.

(2)     Eligibility
(a)     Judges

“Judges are absolutely immune from damage actions for judicial acts taken within the jurisdiction of their courts… . A judge loses absolute immunity only when [the judge] acts in the clear absence of all jurisdiction or performs an act that is not judicial in nature.”  Schucker v. Rockwood, 846 F.2d 1202, 1204 (9th Cir. 1988) (per curiam) (citations omitted); see also Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 9 (1991) (per curiam); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 553–54 (1967); Brooks v. Clark Cty., 828 F.3d 910, 916 & n.3 (9th Cir. 2016); Brown v. Cal. Dep’t of Corr., 554 F.3d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 2009) (absolute immunity is generally accorded to judges functioning in their official capacities); Miller v. Davis, 521 F.3d 1142, 1145 (9th Cir. 2008); Sadoski v. Mosley, 435 F.3d 1076, 1079 (9th Cir. 2006); Mishler v. Clift, 191 F.3d 998, 1003 (9th Cir. 1999); Meek v. Cty. of Riverside, 183 F.3d 962, 965 (9th Cir. 1999); New Alaska Dev. Corp. v. Guetschow, 869 F.2d 1298, 1301–02 (9th Cir. 1989); Gregory v. Thompson, 500 F.2d 59, 62 (9th Cir. 1974) (“A seemingly impregnable fortress in American Jurisprudence is the absolute immunity of judges from civil liability for acts done by them within their judicial jurisdiction.”).

The court should construe the term “jurisdiction” broadly when making a judicial-immunity inquiry.  See Franceschi v. Schwartz, 57 F.3d 828, 830 (9th Cir. 1995) (per curiam); Rosenthal v. Justices of the Supreme Court of Cal., 910 F.2d 561, 566 (9th Cir. 1990); Ashelman v. Pope, 793 F.2d 1072, 1076 (9th Cir. 1986) (en banc); see also Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 357–60 (1978).  The focus is on the court’s subject-matter jurisdiction over the dispute, not the court’s personal jurisdiction over the parties.  See New Alaska Dev. Corp., 869 F.2d at 1302; Ashelman, 793 F.2d at 1076.  Finally, a judge retains absolute immunity even when the judge erroneously interprets a jurisdiction-conferring statute.  See Sadoski, 435 F.3d at 1079 (explaining that even where a judge acts in excess of jurisdiction, he or she does not act in clear absence of all jurisdiction); Schucker, 846 F.2d at 1204.

“To determine if a given action is judicial … , courts [should] focus on whether (1) the precise act is a normal judicial function; (2) the events occurred in the judge’s chambers; (3) the controversy centered around a case then pending before the judge; and (4) the events at issue arose directly and immediately out of a confrontation with the judge in his or her official capacity.”  Ashelman, 793 F.2d at 1075–76; see also Stump, 435 U.S. at 362; Meek, 183 F.3d at 965–66; Partington v. Gedan, 961 F.2d 852, 866 (9th Cir. 1992); New Alaska Dev. Corp., 869 F.2d at 1302.

“Administrative decisions, even though they may be essential to the very functioning of the courts,” are not within the scope of judicial immunity.  Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 228–30 (1988) (holding that a judge is not absolutely immune from suit in her or his capacity as an employer and that the judge may be liable for unconstitutional conduct regarding the discharge, demotion, and treatment of employees); see also Antoine v. Byers & Anderson, Inc., 508 U.S. 429, 435 (1993); Meek, 183 F.2d at 966; L.A. Police Protective League v. Gates, 907 F.2d 879, 889 (9th Cir. 1990); New Alaska Dev. Corp., 869 F.2d at 1302.

Judges retain their immunity when they are accused of acting maliciously or corruptly, see Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11; Stump, 435 U.S. at 356–57; Meek, 183 F.3d at 965; Tanner v. Heise, 879 F.2d 572, 576 (9th Cir. 1989), and when they are accused of acting in error, see Meek, 183 F.3d at 965; Schucker, 846 F.2d at 1204; Ashelman, 793 F.2d at 1075.

(b)     Magistrate Judges

Magistrate judges are entitled to absolute judicial immunity from § 1983 damage actions.  See Tanner v. Heise, 879 F.2d 572, 576–78 (9th Cir. 1989); Ryan v. Bilby, 764 F.2d 1325, 1328 n.4 (9th Cir. 1985); see also Atkinson-Baker & Assocs., Inc. v. Kolts, 7 F.3d 1452, 1454–55 (9th Cir. 1993) (per curiam) (extending judicial immunity to special masters).

(c)      Administrative Agency Hearing Officers

“[A]djudication within a federal administrative agency shares enough of the characteristics of the judicial process that those who participate in such adjudication should also be immune from [§ 1983] suits for damages.”  Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 512–13 (1978); see also Cleavinger v. Saxner, 474 U.S. 193, 200 (1985); Olsen v. Idaho State Bd. of Med., 363 F.3d 916, 925–26 (9th Cir. 2004); Buckles v. King Cty., 191 F.3d 1127, 1133–34 (9th Cir. 1999); Mishler v. Clift, 191 F.3d 998, 1009 (9th Cir. 1999); Romano v. Bible, 169 F.3d 1182, 1186 (9th Cir. 1999); Fry v. Melaragno, 939 F.2d 832, 836–37 (9th Cir. 1991).

(d)     Court Mediators

As judicial officers, court mediators of custody and visitation disputes are entitled to absolute judicial immunity from § 1983 damage actions for conduct that is part of their official duties.  See Meyers v. Contra Costa Cty. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 812 F.2d 1154, 1158–59 (9th Cir. 1987).

(e)      Court-Appointed Psychiatrists

“[C]ourt-appointed psychiatrists who prepared and submitted medical reports to the state court are … immune from liability for damages under [§ 1983].”  Burkes v. Callion, 433 F.2d 318, 319 (9th Cir. 1970) (per curiam).

(f)      Court Employees / Courtroom Officials

“The need to ‘free [ ] the judicial process of harassment or intimidation’ has led courts to extend absolute judicial immunity beyond the judges themselves, including ‘to Executive Branch officials who perform quasi-judicial functions.’ Brooks v. Clark Cty., 828 F.3d 910, 916 (9th Cir. 2016) (quoting Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 225–26 (1988)). “In all cases, the Supreme Court has emphasized that immunity is justified and defined by the functions it protects and serves, not by the person to whom it attaches.” Brooks, 828 F.3d at 916 (concluding that neither precedent nor first principles justify giving courtroom officials absolute immunity when they allegedly use force in excess of what their judge commanded and the Constitution allows).

Court employees involved in the jury selection process may be entitled to absolute judicial immunity for actions taken in their official capacity.  Compare Duvall v. Cty. of Kitsap, 260 F.3d 1124, 1133–35 (9th Cir. 2001) (explaining that employees performing administrative tasks are not entitled to immunity) and Greater L.A. Council on Deafness, Inc. v. Zolin, 812 F.2d 1103, 1108 (9th Cir. 1987) (same), with Pomerantz v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 674 F.2d 1288, 1291 (9th Cir. 1982) (concluding employees involved in jury-selection process were entitled to quasi-judicial immunity).  However, the Ninth Circuit has found that a courtroom marshal was not entitled to absolute immunity when he allegedly used force in excess of what his judge commanded and the Constitution allows.  See Brooks, 828 F.3d at 916–19.

(g)     Parole Board Officials

The Ninth Circuit has held that “parole board officials are entitled to absolute immunity from suits by prisoners for actions taken when processing parole applications.”  Sellars v. Procunier, 641 F.2d 1295, 1302 (9th Cir. 1981); see also Brown v. Cal. Dep’t of Corr., 554 F.3d 747, 751 (9th Cir. 2009) (“[P]arole board members are entitled to absolute immunity for parole board decisions.”); Swift v. California, 384 F.3d 1184, 1189 (9th Cir. 2004); Bermudez v. Duenas, 936 F.2d 1064, 1066 (9th Cir. 1991) (per curiam); cf. Miller v. Davis, 521 F.3d 1142, 1145 (9th Cir. 2008) (holding that governor’s review of parole decisions regarding prisoners convicted of murder pursuant to Article V, § 8(b) of the California Constitution was “functionally comparable” to a judge’s role and was therefore entitled to absolute immunity).  The immunity does not extend, however, to conduct “taken outside an official’s adjudicatory role,” or “arising from their duty to supervise parolees.”  Anderson v. Boyd, 714 F.2d 906, 909–10 (9th Cir. 1983), abrogated in part by Swift, 384 F.3d 1184; see also Swift, 384 F.3d at 1191 (concluding that parole officers were “not entitled to absolute immunity for their conduct while: (1) investigating parole violations, (2) ordering the issuance of a parole hold and orchestrating [plaintiff’s] arrest, and (3) recommending the initiation of parole revocation proceedings”).

The Supreme Court “has not decided whether state parole officials enjoy absolute immunity.”  Cleavinger v. Saxner, 474 U.S. 193, 200 (1985); see also Swift, 384 F.3d at 1188–89.

(h)     Probation Officers / Parole Officers

“In determining which officials perform functions that might justify a full exemption from liability, [the court undertakes] ‘a considered inquiry into the immunity historically accorded the relevant official at common law and the interests behind it.’”  Antoine v. Byers & Anderson, Inc., 508 U.S. 429, 432, (1993) (citation omitted).  For example, “[p]robation officers preparing reports for the use of state courts possess an absolute judicial immunity from damage suits under [§] 1983 arising from acts performed within the scope of their official duties.”  Demoran v. Witt, 781 F.2d 155, 157 (9th Cir. 1986); see also Burkes v. Callion, 433 F.2d 318, 319 (9th Cir. 1970) (per curiam).  However, “a parole agent acts as a law enforcement official when investigating parole violations and executing parole holds” and cannot be entitled to absolute immunity when performing law enforcement functions.  Swift v. California, 384 F.3d 1184, 1191 (9th Cir. 2004) (explaining that parole officers are not entitled to absolute immunity for conduct not requiring the exercise of quasi-judicial discretion and holding that parole officers are not absolutely immune from suits arising from conduct distinct from the decision to grant, deny, or revoke parole).  Accordingly, parole officials “may be accorded one degree of immunity for one type of activity and a different degree for a discrete function.”  Id. at 1189 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).  See also Thornton v. Brown, 757 F.3d 834, 839–40 (9th Cir. 2013) (concluding that parole officers were entitled to absolute immunity from the parolee’s damages claims arising out of the imposition of GPS monitoring as a condition of parole pursuant to their discretionary authority under section 3010 of the California Penal Code).

c.       Prosecutorial Immunity

(1)     Basic Principles

          Prosecutorial immunity applies to § 1983 claims. [Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 427 (1976)]. State prosecutors are absolutely immune from § 1983 actions when performing functions “intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process,” id. at 430, 96 S. Ct. 984, or, phrased differently, “when performing the traditional functions of an advocate.” Kalina v. Fletcher, 522 U.S. 118, 131, 118 S. Ct. 502, 139 L. Ed. 2d 471 (1997).

Garmon v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 828 F.3d 837, 842–43 (9th Cir. 2016). See also Imbler, 424 U.S. at 430; Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, 555 U.S. 335, 341–43 (2009) (giving examples where absolute immunity has applied, including when a prosecutor prepares to initiate a judicial proceeding, or appears in court to present evidence in support of an application for a search warrant); Lacey v. Maricopa Cty., 693 F.3d 896, 912–13 (9th Cir. 2012) (en banc); Ewing v. City of Stockton, 588 F.3d 1218, 1232–33 (9th Cir. 2009); Kalina, 522 U.S. at 124–26; Botello v. Gammick, 413 F.3d 971, 975 (9th Cir. 2005); Genzler v. Longanbach, 410 F.3d 630, 636–37 (9th Cir. 2005); KRL v. Moore, 384 F.3d 1105, 1110 (9th Cir. 2004); Broam v. Bogan, 320 F.3d 1023, 1028 (9th Cir. 2003).

“[T]he functional nature of the activities being performed, not the status of the person performing them, is the key to whether absolute immunity attaches.” Stapley v. Pestalozzi, 733 F.3d 804, 810 (9th Cir. 2013).  As such, prosecutorial immunity does not extend to those actions of a prosecutor which are “administrative” or “investigative” in nature.  See Van de Kamp, 555 U.S. at 342–43 (explaining that prosecutorial immunity does not apply, for example, when prosecutor gives advice to police during a criminal investigation, makes statements to the press, or acts as a complaining witness in support of a warrant application); Hartman v. Moore, 547 U.S. 250, 261–62 n.8 (2006); Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 271–73 (1993); Waggy v. Spokane Cty. Wash., 594 F.3d 707, 710–11 (9th Cir. 2010); Cousins v. Lockyer, 568 F.3d 1063, 1068 (9th Cir. 2009); Botello, 413 F.3d at 975–76; Genzler, 410 F.3d at 636.  When performing  “administrative functions,” or “investigative functions normally performed by a detective or police officer,” qualified immunity, rather than absolute immunity, applies.  Garmon, 828 F.3d at 843.  Note, application of the functional approach means that absolute immunity may extend to some acts but not to others, “even though all of plaintiffs’ claims are predicated on the same constitutional violation.”  Torres v. Goddard, 793 F.3d 1046, 1056 (9th Cir. 2015).

The following activities are intimately connected with the judicial phase of the criminal process:

  • seeking a grand jury indictment, dismissing claims, deciding whether and when to prosecute, deciding what witnesses and what evidence to present, see Hartman, 547 U.S. at 261–62; Imbler, 424 U.S. at 431 n.33; Milstein v. Cooley, 257 F.3d 1004, 1012 (9th Cir. 2001); Morley v. Walker, 175 F.3d 756, 760 (9th Cir. 1999); Herb Hallman Chevrolet, Inc. v. Nash-Holmes, 169 F.3d 636, 643 (9th Cir. 1999) (grand jury); see also Van de Kamp, 555 U.S. at 342–43 (absolute immunity applies when a prosecutor prepares to initiate a judicial proceeding or appears in court to present evidence in support of a search warrant application);
  • deciding not to prosecute a defendant, see Botello, 413 F.3d at 977; Roe v. City of San Francisco, 109 F.3d 578, 583 (9th Cir. 1997);
  • making statements that are alleged misrepresentations and mischaracterizations during hearings, during discovery, and in court papers, see Fry v. Melaragno, 939 F.2d 832, 837–38 (9th Cir. 1991); conferring with witnesses and allegedly inducing them to testify falsely, see Demery v. Kupperman, 735 F.2d 1139, 1144 (9th Cir. 1984);
  • preparing a case for trial, see KRL, 384 F.3d at 1112–13; Milstein, 257 F.3d at 1008; Gobel v. Maricopa Cty., 867 F.2d 1201, 1204 (9th Cir. 1989), abrogated on other grounds by City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378 (1989);
  • appearing and testifying at a hearing to obtain a search warrant, see Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 487, 491–92 (1991);
  • deciding to release previously secured evidence, see Ybarra v. Reno Thunderbird Mobile Home Vill., 723 F.2d 675, 678–79 (9th Cir. 1984);
  • selecting a special prosecutor, see Lacey, 693 F.3d at 931 (“Decisions related to appointments and removals in a particular matter will generally fall within the exercise of the judge’s or prosecutor’s judicial and quasi-judicial roles and are shielded from suit by absolute immunity.”);
  • supervising attorneys in their obligations to disclose evidence, where the decisions are linked to the prosecution of the plaintiff and necessarily require legal knowledge and the exercise of related discretion, see Van de Kamp, 555 U.S. at 341–43; Cousins, 568 F.3d at 1068–69;
  • submitting a motion for a bench warrant to court for arrestee’s failure to progress in court-imposed treatment program, see Waggy, 594 F.3d at 709–13;
  • making parole recommendations, because parole decisions are a continuation of the sentencing process, see Brown v. Cal. Dep’t of Corr., 554 F.3d 747, 750–51 (9th Cir. 2009);
  • preparing warrants, warrant applications and factual affidavits, see Torres, 793 F.3d at 1053–54; and
  • issuing subpoena duces tecum, where “it was issued in preparation for evaluating and countering a defense witness’s testimony,” and it was clear the subpoena “subpoena was directed at obtaining evidence in preparation for trial. Garmon, 828 F.3d at 844.

The following activities fall outside of the official role of the prosecutor:

  • performing acts which are generally considered functions of the police, see Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 274–76 (1993); Torres, 793 F.3d at 1055–56 (serving and executing seizure warrants); Genzler, 410 F.3d at 638–43; Milstein, 257 F.3d at 1011; Herb Hallman Chevrolet, 169 F.3d at 642; Gobel, 867 F.2d at 1204;
  • advising police officers during the investigative phase of a criminal case, see Burns, 500 U.S. at 493; Ewing, 588 F.3d at 1232–34; Botello, 413 F.3d at 977–78;
  • acting prior to having probable cause to arrest, see Buckley, 509 U.S. at 274; Morley, 175 F.3d at 760–61; Herb Hallman Chevrolet, 169 F.3d at 643;
  • preparing a declaration to support an arrest warrant, see Kalina, 522 U.S. at 129–31; Morley, 175 F.3d at 760; Herb Hallman Chevrolet, 169 F.3d at 642–43, or bail revocation motion, see Cruz v. Kauai Cty., 279 F.3d 1064, 1067 (9th Cir. 2002); see also Garmon, 828 F.3d at 844–45 (not entitled to absolute immunity for presenting a false statement in a declaration supporting application for the subpoena duces tecum);
  • holding arrestees in detention facilities where the conditions of confinement are constitutionally infirm, see Gobel, 867 F.2d at 1206;
  • making statements to the public concerning criminal proceedings, see Buckley, 509 U.S. at 277–78; Milstein, 257 F.3d at 1013; Gobel, 867 F.2d at 1205;
  • directing police officers to obtain a search warrant, serving a search warrant, and being present during the search, see Gabbert v. Conn, 131 F.3d 793, 800 (9th Cir. 1997), rev’d on other grounds by Conn v. Gabbert, 526 U.S. 286 (1999); see also KRL, 384 F.3d at 1113–14; and
  • acquiring false statements from witnesses for use in a prosecution, Milstein, 257 F.3d at 1011.

Prosecutorial immunity extends to actions during both the pre-trial and post-trial phase of a case.  See Demery, 735 F.2d at 1144.

“[A]bsolute immunity is available to prosecutors in the context of civil forfeiture proceedings.” Torres v. Goddard, 793 F.3d 1046, 1052 (9th Cir. 2015).

“Prosecutorial immunity only protects the defendants from [§] 1983 damage claims; it does not protect them from suits for injunctive relief.”  Gobel, 867 F.2d at 1203 n.6.

“An attorney supervising a trial prosecutor who is absolutely immune is also absolutely immune. … So are prosecutors who conducted general office supervision or office training.”  Garmon, 828 F.3d at 845.  However, the supervising attorney will only be immune to the same extent as those he is supervising.  Id. (explaining that nothing permits the court to grant a supervising prosecutor absolute immunity for supervising an activity that’s not  protected by absolute immunity).

(2)     Eligibility
(a)     Attorneys

State prosecutors are entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity for acts taken in their official capacity.  See Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, 555 U.S. 335, 342–43 (2009); Kalina v. Fletcher, 522 U.S. 118, 123–25 (1997); Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 269–70 (1993); Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 427, 430–31 (1976); Waggy v. Spokane Cty. Wash., 594 F.3d 707, 710–11 (9th Cir. 2010); Ewing v. City of Stockton, 588 F.3d 1218, 1232–33 (9th Cir. 2009); Botello v. Gammick, 413 F.3d 971, 975 (9th Cir. 2005); Genzler v. Longanbach, 410 F.3d 630, 636 (9th Cir. 2005); KRL v. Moore, 384 F.3d 1105, 1110 (9th Cir. 2004); Broam v. Bogan, 320 F.3d 1023, 1028 (9th Cir. 2003).  Government civil attorneys are also entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity.  See Fry v. Melaragno, 939 F.2d 832, 837–38 (9th Cir. 1991).

“Prosecutors enjoy immunity when they take ‘action that only a legal representative of the government could take.’” Burton v. Infinity Capital Mgmt., 862 F.3d 740, 748 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Stapley v. Pestalozzi, 733 F.3d 804, 812 (9th Cir. 2013)).  Note the Supreme Court has not extended immunity beyond the prosecutorial function.  Burton, 862 F.3d at 748.  For example, “[e]ven court-appointed defense attorneys do not enjoy immunity because, despite being ‘officers’ of the court, ‘attorneys [are not] in the same category as marshals, bailiffs, court clerks or judges.’”  Burton, 762 F.3d at 748 (quoting Ferri v. Ackerman, 444 U.S. 193, 202 n.19 (1979)).  See also Tennison v. City & Cty. of San Francisco, 570 F.3d 1078, 1092 (9th Cir. 2009) (holding that homicide inspectors who were not acting as prosecutors or even directly assisting with the presentation of evidence, were not engaged in conduct “intimately associated with the judicial phase” and thus were not entitled to absolute immunity).

(b)     Agency Officials

Agency officials who perform functions analogous to those of a prosecutor are entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity.  See Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 515, 516–17 (1978); Olsen v. Idaho State Bd. of Med., 363 F.3d 916, 925–26 (9th Cir. 2004); Hirsh v. Justices of Supreme Court of State of Cal., 67 F.3d 708, 715 (9th Cir. 1995) (per curiam); Fry v. Melaragno, 939 F.2d 832, 837–38 (9th Cir. 1991).

(c)      Social Workers

“[S]ocial workers have absolute immunity when they make ‘discretionary, quasi-prosecutorial decisions to institute court dependency proceedings to take custody away from parents.’”  Beltran v. Santa Clara Cty., 514 F.3d 906, 908 (9th Cir. 2008) (en banc) (per curiam) (quoting Miller v. Gammie, 335 F.3d 889, 896 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc)); see also Costanich v. Dep’t of Soc. & Health Servs., 627 F.3d 1101, 1108–09 (9th Cir. 2010) (concluding social workers were absolutely immune from suit for their involvement in foster care license revocation proceedings); Meyers v. Contra Costa Cty. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 812 F.2d 1154, 1157 (9th Cir. 1987).  “To the extent, however, that social workers also make discretionary decisions and recommendations that are not functionally similar to prosecutorial or judicial functions, only qualified, not absolute immunity, is available.”  Miller, 335 F.3d at 898; see also Hardwick v. Cty. of Orange, 844 F.3d 1112, 1116 (9th Cir. 2017) (concluding that social workers were not entitled to absolute immunity); Costanich, 627 F.3d at 1109 (concluding that state social worker not entitled to absolute immunity for investigating charges or for filing declaration in support of guardianship termination proceedings); Beltran, 514 F.3d at 908–09 (concluding that social workers are not entitled to absolute immunity for their investigatory conduct).

d.      Presidential Immunity

The President is absolutely immune from suit for damages for conduct that is part of the President’s official duties.  See Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 225 (1988); Nixon v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 731, 756–58 (1982); Fry v. Melaragno, 939 F.2d 832, 836 (9th Cir. 1991); cf. Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 694–95 (1997) (holding no immunity from suit for conduct not taken in official capacity).

e.       Legislative Immunity

Legislators are absolutely immune from suit for damages for conduct that is part of their official duties.  See Bogan v. Scott-Harris, 523 U.S. 44, 48–49 (1998); Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367, 378–79 (1951); Norse v. City of Santa Cruz, 629 F.3d 966, 976–77 (9th Cir. 2010) (en banc) (explaining, “[l]ocal legislators are absolutely immune from liability under § 1983 for their legislative acts[,]” but concluding that defendants were not entitled to absolute immunity where decisions were administrative, not legislative.); Schmidt v. Contra Costa Cty., 693 F.3d 1122, 1132 (9th Cir. 2012); Cmty. House, Inc. v. City of Boise, Idaho, 623 F.3d 945, 959 (9th Cir. 2010); Thornton v. City of St. Helens, 425 F.3d 1158, 1163 (9th Cir. 2005); Kaahumanu v. Cty. of Maui, 315 F.3d 1215, 1219 (9th Cir. 2003); Bechard v. Rappold, 287 F.3d 827, 829 (9th Cir. 2002); Chateaubriand v. Gaspard, 97 F.3d 1218, 1220–21 (9th Cir. 1996); Trevino v. Gates, 23 F.3d 1480, 1482 (9th Cir. 1994).  This immunity extends both to suits for damages and suits for prospective relief.  See Supreme Court of Va. v. Consumers Union of the U.S., Inc., 446 U.S. 719, 732–33 (1980); Cmty. House, Inc., 623 F.3d at 959.

f.       Witness Immunity

Both private individuals and government officials who serve as witnesses are absolutely immune from suit for damages with respect to their testimony.  See Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325, 326 (1983); Paine v. City of Lompoc, 265 F.3d 975, 980 (9th Cir. 2001); Franklin v. Terr, 201 F.3d 1098, 1101–02 (9th Cir. 2000); Meyers v. Contra Costa Cty. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 812 F.2d 1154, 1156 (9th Cir. 1987); see also Lisker v. City of Los Angeles, 780 F.3d 1237, 1241 (9th Cir. 2015).  This immunity extends to testimony given at pre-trial hearings, see Holt v. Castaneda, 832 F.2d 123, 127 (9th Cir. 1987), to testimony submitted in an affidavit, see Burns v. Cty. of King, 883 F.2d 819, 823 (9th Cir. 1989) (per curiam), and to testimony before a grand jury, see Little v. City of Seattle, 863 F.2d 681, 684 (9th Cir. 1988).  “Absolute witness immunity also extends to preparatory activities ‘inextricably tied’ to testimony, such as conspiracies to testify falsely.” Lisker, 780 F.3d at 1241 (citation omitted).  This immunity is limited to participation as a witness in adversarial hearings.  Cruz v. Kauai Cty., 279 F.3d 1064, 1068 (9th Cir. 2002); see also Paine, 265 F.3d at 981–83; Harris v. Roderick, 126 F.3d 1189, 1198–99 (9th Cir. 1997).

g.       Ineligibility

(1)     Local Governmental Units

Local governmental units are not entitled to absolute immunity.  See Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 166 (1993); Owen v. City of Independence, 445 U.S. 622, 657 (1980); Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 701 (1978); Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 679 n.6 (9th Cir. 2001); Bateson v. Geisse, 857 F.2d 1300, 1304 (9th Cir. 1988).

(2)     Prison Officials

          [T]he Supreme Court has emphasized [the] functional approach for determining when public officials may claim absolute immunity under § 1983. An official must be “performing a duty functionally comparable to one for which officials were rendered immune at common law,” and “it is only the specific function performed, and not the role or title of the official, that is the touchstone of absolute immunity.

Engebretson v. Mahoney, 724 F.3d 1034, 1039 (9th Cir. 2013) (as amended).  In Engebretson, the court held that “prison officials charged with executing facially valid court orders enjoy absolute immunity from § 1983 liability for conduct prescribed by those orders.”  Id.  In contrast, absolute immunity has not been extended to prison officials acting in non-judicial capacities, acting outside his or her authority, or to those who failed to strictly comply with court orders. See Procunier v. Navarette, 434 U.S. 555, 561 (1978); Garcia v. Cty. of Riverside, 817 F.3d 635, 644 (9th Cir.), cert. denied sub nom. Baca v. Garcia, 137 S. Ct. 344 (2016); Engebretson, 724 F.3d at 1038 n.2 (identifying cases where the court has declined to extend absolute immunity to judges and prison, school, and executive officials).  Members of prison disciplinary committees are also not entitled to absolute immunity.  See Cleavinger v. Saxner, 474 U.S. 193, 206 (1985).  For a discussion of prison officials acting under color of state law for purposes of § 1983, see supra I.A.2.b.(2).

(3)     Defense Counsel

Defense counsel, even if court-appointed and compensated, are not entitled to absolute immunity.  See Tower v. Glover, 467 U.S. 914, 923 (1984); Sellars v. Procunier, 641 F.2d 1295, 1299 n.7 (9th Cir. 1981). See also Burton v. Infinity Capital Mgmt., 862 F.3d 740, 748 (9th Cir. 2017) (explaining that “[e]ven court-appointed defense attorneys do not enjoy immunity because, despite being ‘officers’ of the court, ‘attorneys [are not] in the same category as marshals, bailiffs, court clerks or judges.’” (Ferri v. Ackerman, 444 U.S. 193, 202 n.19 (1979)).  For a discussion of public defenders not acting under color of state law for purposes of § 1983, see supra I.A.2.b.(4).

(4)     Police Officers

Police officers are not entitled to absolute immunity.  See Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 418–19 (1976); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 555 (1967); Elliot-Park v. Manglona, 592 F.3d 1003, 1006 (9th Cir. 2010) (stating police officers are entitled only to qualified immunity in § 1983 cases, unlike prosecutors who enjoy absolute immunity).  Cf. Tennison v. City & Cty. of San Francisco, 570 F.3d 1078, 1092 (9th Cir. 2009) (analyzing (and ultimately rejecting) investigative law enforcement officers’ contention that they were entitled to absolute immunity under the functional approach; although doubting the officers would ever be entitled to absolute immunity, the court assumed the application of absolute immunity was not barred as a matter of law).

(5)     Court Reporters

Because court reporters – unlike other judicial officers who have been afforded absolute immunity – do not exercise discretion in fulfilling their official duties, but “are required by statute to ‘record verbatim’ court proceedings,” they are not entitled to absolute immunity.  Antoine v. Byers & Anderson, Inc., 508 U.S. 429, 436–37 (1993) (citation omitted); cf. Duvall v. Cty. of Kitsap, 260 F.3d 1124, 1134–35 (9th Cir. 2001) (concluding that there was a genuine issue concerning the amount of discretion in the job of the coordinator of accommodations for litigants and witnesses with disabilities).

(6)     Executive Officials

Governors and other high-level state executive officials are not entitled to absolute immunity.  See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 247–49 (1974), abrogated on other grounds by Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982); but cf. Miller v. Davis, 521 F.3d 1142, 1145 (9th Cir. 2008) (holding that governor’s review of parole decisions regarding prisoners convicted of murder pursuant to Article V, § 8(b) of the California Constitution was “functionally comparable” to a judge’s role and was therefore entitled to absolute immunity).

The United States Attorney General is not entitled to absolute immunity for official functions that are not actions taken in her or his role as an attorney.  See Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 520–21 (1985).

Employees of executive branch agencies may also not be entitled to absolute immunity.  See Fry v. Melaragno, 939 F.2d 832, 838 (9th Cir. 1991) (holding that IRS agents are not entitled to absolute immunity).

2.       Qualified Immunity

“[G]overnment officials performing discretionary functions [are entitled to] a qualified immunity, shielding them from civil damages liability as long as their actions could reasonably have been thought consistent with the rights they are alleged to have violated.”  Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 638 (1987) (citations omitted); see also Wood v. Moss, 572 U.S. 744, 757 (2014) (“The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages … .”); Hernandez v. City of San Jose, 897 F.3d 1125, 1132 (9th Cir. 2018); Krainski v. Nevada ex. Rel. Bd. of Regents, 616 F.3d 963, 968 (9th Cir. 2010); Richardson v. McKnight, 521 U.S. 399, 407–08 (1997); Sorrels v. McKee, 290 F.3d 965, 969 (9th Cir. 2002). “Qualified immunity attaches when an official’s conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”  Kisela v. Hughes, 138 S. Ct. 1148, 1152 (2018) (per curiam) (quoting White v. Pauly, 137 S. Ct. 548, 551 (2017) (per curiam)); Foster v. City of Indio, 908 F.3d 1204, 1210 (9th Cir. 2018) (per curiam); Reese v. Cty. of Sacramento, 888 F.3d 1030, 1037 (9th Cir. 2018).  The reasonableness of the officer’s conduct is “judged against the backdrop of the law at the time of the conduct.” Kisela, 138 S. Ct. at 1152 (quotation marks and citation omitted).

“Qualified immunity, however, is a defense available only to government officials sued in their individual capacities. It is not available to those sued only in their official capacities.”  Cmty. House, Inc. v. City of Boise, Idaho, 623 F.3d 945, 965 (9th Cir. 2010).

Qualified immunity is only an immunity from suit for damages, it is not an immunity from suit for declaratory or injunctive relief.  See Hydrick v. Hunter, 669 F.3d 937, 940–41 (9th Cir. 2012); L.A. Police Protective League v. Gates, 995 F.2d 1469, 1472 (9th Cir. 1993); Am. Fire, Theft & Collision Managers, Inc. v. Gillespie, 932 F.2d 816, 818 (9th Cir. 1991).

a.       Basic Principles

(1)     Eligibility

“Qualified immunity balances two important interests—the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009); see also Ioane v. Hodges, 903 F.3d 929, 933 (9th Cir. 2018).  The Supreme Court has set forth a two-part analysis for resolving government officials’ qualified immunity claims. See Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001), overruled in part on other grounds by Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236.

First, the court must consider whether the facts “[t]aken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury … show [that] the [defendant’s] conduct violated a constitutional right[.]”  Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201; see also Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 377 (2007); Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 197 (2004) (per curiam); Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 736 (2002); Ioane, 903 F.3d at 933; Inouye v. Kemna, 504 F.3d 705, 712 (9th Cir. 2007); Kennedy v. City of Ridgefield, 439 F.3d 1055, 1060 (9th Cir. 2006); Estate of Ford v. Ramirez-Palmer, 301 F.3d 1043, 1050 (9th Cir. 2002); Sorrels v. McKee, 290 F.3d 965, 969 (9th Cir. 2002).  “If there is no constitutional violation, the inquiry ends and the officer is entitled to qualified immunity.”  Ioane, 903 F.3d at 933.

Second, the court must determine whether the right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation.  Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201; Wood v. Moss, 572 U.S. 744, 757 (2014) (“The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages ‘unless a plaintiff pleads facts showing (1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was ‘clearly established’ at the time of the challenged conduct.’”) (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 735 (2011)); Brosseau, 543 U.S. at 199–201; Hope, 536 U.S. at 739; Rodriguez v. Swartz, 899 F.3d 719, 728 (9th Cir. 2018); Hernandez v. City of San Jose, 897 F.3d 1125, 1132 (9th Cir. 2018); Garcia v. Cty. of Merced, 639 F.3d 1206, 1208 (9th Cir. 2011); Rodis v. City & Cty. of San Francisco, 558 F.3d 964, 968 (9th Cir. 2009); Inouye, 504 F.3d at 712; Kennedy, 439 F.3d at 1060; Estate of Ford, 301 F.3d at 1050; Sorrels, 290 F.3d at 969.  “When this test is properly applied, it protects ‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.’” Hernandez, 897 F.3d at 1132–33 (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. at 743); see also Reese v. Cty. of Sacramento, 888 F.3d 1030, 1037 (9th Cir. 2018).  Even if the violated right was clearly established at the time of the violation, it may be “difficult for [the defendant] to determine how the relevant legal doctrine … will apply to the factual situation the [defendant] confronts… . [Therefore, i]f the [defendant’s] mistake as to what the law requires is reasonable … the [defendant] is entitled to the immunity defense.”  Saucier, 533 U.S. at 205; Kennedy, 439 F.3d at 1061; Estate of Ford, 301 F.3d at 1050; cf. Inouye, 504 F.3d at 712 n.6 (explaining that the inquiry into the reasonableness of the defendant’s mistake is not the “third” step in the Saucier analysis, but rather, is part of the second step of Saucier’s two-step analysis).

Note that Saucier’s framework should not be regarded as an inflexible requirement.  Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236 (explaining the sequence, while “often appropriate,” “should no longer be regarded as mandatory”).  Rather, the “judges of the district courts and the courts of appeals should be permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand.”  Id.  However,

the Saucier procedure “is often beneficial” because it “promotes the development of constitutional precedent and is especially valuable with respect to questions that do not frequently arise in cases in which a qualified immunity defense is unavailable.” 555 U.S. at 236, 129 S. Ct. 808.  Pearson concluded that courts “have the discretion to decide whether that [Saucier] procedure is worthwhile in particular cases.” Id. at 242, 129 S. Ct. 808.

Plumhoff v. Rickard, 572 U.S. 765, 774 (2014); Ioane, 903 F.3d at 933 (“While we have discretion to begin our analysis with either part of the test, Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236, [ ], it is nevertheless beneficial to begin with the first part of the test … .”); Scott v. Cty. of San Bernardino, 903 F.3d 943, 948 (9th Cir. 2018) (“‘These two prongs of the analysis need not be considered in any particular order, and both prongs must be satisfied for a plaintiff to overcome a qualified immunity defense.’” (quoting Shafer v. Cty. of Santa Barbara, 868 F.3d 1110, 1115 (9th Cir. 2017)); Bardzik v. Cty. of Orange, 635 F.3d 1138, 1145 n.6 (9th Cir. 2011) (recognizing option to address only the clearly-established step, but concluding that addressing whether there was a constitutional violation was proper under the circumstances); Liberal v. Estrada, 632 F.3d 1064, 1076 (9th Cir. 2011) (explaining that the court may exercise its discretion in deciding which of the two prongs should be addressed first in light of the particular case’s circumstances); Dunn v. Castro, 621 F.3d 1196, 1199 (9th Cir. 2010) (recognizing Pearson and addressing only the second prong of the qualified immunity analysis, which was dispositive).

“[W]hether a constitutional right was violated … is a question of fact.”  Tortu v. Las Vegas Metro. Police Dep’t, 556 F.3d 1075, 1085 (9th Cir. 2009).

“[T]he ‘clearly established’ inquiry is a question of law that only a judge can decide.”  Morales v. Fry, 873 F.3d 817, 821 (9th Cir. 2017); see also Reese v. Cty. of Sacramento, 888 F.3d 1030, 1037 (9th Cir. 2018); Tortu, 556 F.3d at 1085 (explaining that “whether a constitutional right was violated … is a question of fact” for the jury, while “whether the right was clearly established … is a question of law” for the judge); Serrano v. Francis, 345 F.3d 1071, 1080 (9th Cir. 2003) (whether the law at the time of the alleged constitutional violation was clearly established is a “purely legal” issue). However, a “bifurcation of duties is unavoidable: only the jury can decide the disputed factual issues, while only the judge can decide whether the right was clearly established once the factual issues are resolved.” Reese, 888 F.3d at 1037 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

The reasonableness inquiry is objective: “the question is whether the officers’ actions are ‘objectively reasonable’ in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989).  See also Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S. Ct. 1843, 1866 (2017) (“Whether qualified immunity can be invoked turns on the ‘objective legal reasonableness’ of the official’s acts.”); Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S. Ct. 2466, 2473 (2015) (stating objective reasonableness turns on the “facts and circumstances of each particular case.); Plumhoff, 572 U.S. at 775–76.

(a)     Identifying the Right

When identifying the right that was allegedly violated, a court must define the right more narrowly than the constitutional provision guaranteeing the right, but more broadly than all of the factual circumstances surrounding the alleged violation.  See Watkins v. City of Oakland, Cal., 145 F.3d 1087, 1092–93 (9th Cir. 1998); Kelley v. Borg, 60 F.3d 664, 667 (9th Cir. 1995); Camarillo v. McCarthy, 998 F.2d 638, 640 (9th Cir. 1993).  For example, the statement that the Eighth Amendment guarantees medical care without deliberate indifference to serious medical needs is a sufficiently narrow statement of the right for conducting the clearly established inquiry.  See Kelley, 60 F.3d at 667; see also Newell v. Sauser, 79 F.3d 115, 117 (9th Cir. 1996).

(b)     Clearly Established Right

A government official “cannot be expected to predict the future course of constitutional law, but [the official] will not be shielded from liability” for acts that violate clearly established constitutional rights.  Procunier v. Navarette, 434 U.S. 555, 562 (1978) (citations omitted); see also Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982).  This inquiry must be “‘undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general proposition.’” Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S. Ct. 305, 308 (2015) (per curiam) (quoting Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 198 (2004) (per curiam) (quoting Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001), overruled in part on other grounds by Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009))).  See also S.B. v. Cty. of San Diego, 864 F.3d 1010, 1015 (9th Cir. 2017); Nelson v. City of Davis, 685 F.3d 867, 883 (9th Cir. 2012).  To be clearly established, “[t]he contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what [the official] is doing violates that right.”  Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987); see also Mullenix, 136 S. Ct. at 308; City & Cty. of San Francisco, Cal. v. Sheehan, 135 S. Ct. 1765, 1774 (2015); Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739 (2002); Ioane v. Hodges, 903 F.3d 929, 937 (9th Cir. 2018); Rodriguez v. Swartz, 899 F.3d 719, 728 (9th Cir. 2018) (“A constitutional right is clearly established if every reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right.” (quotation marks and citation omitted)); Rodis v. City & Cty. of San Francisco, 558 F.3d 964, 969 (9th Cir. 2009); Eng v. Cooley, 552 F.3d 1062, 1075 (9th Cir. 2009); CarePartners, LLC v. Lashway, 545 F.3d 867, 876 (9th Cir. 2008); Fogel v. Collins, 531 F.3d 824, 833 (9th Cir. 2008); Inouye v. Kemna, 504 F.3d 705, 712 (9th Cir. 2007); Kennedy v. City of Ridgefield, 439 F.3d 1055, 1060–61 (9th Cir. 2006); Estate of Ford v. Ramirez-Palmer, 301 F.3d 1043, 1050 (9th Cir. 2002); Sorrels v. McKee, 290 F.3d 965, 970 (9th Cir. 2002).  The court has stressed that “the right allegedly violated must be defined at the appropriate level of specificity before a court can determine if it was clearly established.”  Dunn v. Castro, 621 F.3d 1196, 1201 (9th Cir. 2010); see also Ioane, 903 F.3d at 937.  “Whether the law was clearly established is an objective standard; the defendant’s subjective understanding of the constitutionality of his or her conduct is irrelevant.”  Clairmont v. Sound Mental Health, 632 F.3d 1091, 1109 (9th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

To conclude that the right is clearly established, the court need not identify an identical prior action.  See Anderson, 483 U.S. at 640; see also Hope, 536 U.S. at 739; Ioane, 903 F.3d at 937 (the court “need not identify a prior identical action to conclude that the right is clearly established”); Scott v. Cty. of San Bernardino, 903 F.3d 943, 951 (9th Cir. 2018) (explaining that although the constitutional right must be clearly established, there need not be a case dealing with the particular facts to find the officer’s conduct unreasonable); Rodis, 558 F.3d at 969; Fogel v. Collins, 531 F.3d 824, 833 (9th Cir. 2008); Kennedy, 439 F.3d at 1065–66; Sorrels, 290 F.3d at 970; Malik v. Brown, 71 F.3d 724, 727 (9th Cir. 1995); Browning v. Vernon, 44 F.3d 818, 823 (9th Cir. 1995).

First, the court should “‘look to … binding precedent.’”  Chappell v. Mandeville, 706 F.3d 1052, 1056 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Osolinski v. Kane, 92 F.3d 934, 936 (9th Cir. 1996)); see also Ioane, 903 F.3d at 937.  Absent binding precedent, the court should consider all relevant precedents, including decisions from the Supreme Court, all federal circuits, federal district courts, and state courts; in addition, the court should consider the likelihood that the Supreme Court or the Ninth Circuit would decide the issue in favor of the person asserting the right.  See Elder v. Holloway, 510 U.S. 510, 512, 516 (1994); see also Tarabochia v. Adkins, 766 F.3d 1115, 1125 (9th Cir. 2014); Chappell, 706 F.3d at 1056; Hope, 536 U.S. at 739–46; Dunn, 621 F.3d at 1203 (stating that court may look to precedent from other circuits); Inouye, 504 F.3d at 714–17; Boyd v. Benton Cty., 374 F.3d 773, 781 (9th Cir. 2004); Osolinski, 92 F.3d at 936, 938 n.2.  For guidance as to when prior law clearly establishes a right, see Saucier, 533 U.S. at 202 (“facts not distinguishable in a fair way from facts presented in the case at hand”).  Compare Doe v. Petaluma City Sch. Dist., 54 F.3d 1447, 1450–51 (9th Cir. 1995) (concluding that Title VII employment-discrimination law concerning sexual harassment could not serve as the basis for a clearly established right for purposes of a sexual-harassment claim brought under a similarly worded provision of Title IX, which seeks to prohibit sex discrimination in education), with Bator v. Hawaii, 39 F.3d 1021, 1028 n.7 (9th Cir. 1994) (finding Title VII case law relevant to determination of clearly established rights under Equal Protection Clause because both are directed at ending gender discrimination).  See also Watkins v. City of Oakland, Cal., 145 F.3d 1087, 1092 n.1 (9th Cir. 1998) (stating that a single district court opinion from out of the circuit is insufficient to demonstrate a clearly established right).

Although there need not be “a case directly on point for a right to be clearly established, existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.” Foster v. City of Indio, 908 F.3d 1204, 1210 (9th Cir. 2018) (per curiam) (quoting Kisela v. Hughes, 138 S. Ct. 1148, 1152 (2018)).  The court may not “define clearly established law at a high level of generality.”  Kisela, 138 S. Ct. at 1152.  “Rather, the clearly established law at issue ‘must be particularized to the facts of the case.’” Foster, 908 F.3d at 1210 (quoting White v. Pauly, 137 S. Ct. 548, 551 (2017) (per curiam)); see also Ioane, 903 F.3d at 937  (explaining that the right must be established in a “more particularized” and “more relevant” sense).  The “high standard is intended to give officers breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions.”  Ioane, 903 F.3d at 937 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Once a court determines that “the law was clearly established, the immunity defense ordinarily should fail, since a reasonably competent public official should know the law governing [the official’s] conduct.”  Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818–19.

Even if the plaintiff has alleged violations of a clearly established right, the government official is entitled to qualified immunity if he or she made a reasonable mistake as to what the law requires.  See Saucier, 533 U.S. at 205; Kennedy, 439 F.3d at 1061; Wilkins v. City of Oakland, 350 F.3d 949, 955 (9th Cir. 2003); Estate of Ford, 301 F.3d at 1050; Newell v. Sauser, 79 F.3d 115, 118 (9th Cir. 1996); Schroeder v. McDonald, 55 F.3d 454, 461–62 (9th Cir. 1995).

The “existence of a statute or ordinance authorizing particular conduct is a factor which militates in favor of the conclusion that a reasonable officer would find that conduct constitutional.”  Grossman v. City of Portland, 33 F.3d 1200, 1209 (9th Cir. 1994).  Such a statute will not shield the official where it “authorizes official conduct which is patently violative of fundamental constitutional principles[.]”  Id.see also Cmty. House, Inc. v. City of Boise, Idaho, 623 F.3d 945, 965 (9th Cir. 2010) (recognizing Grossman rule, but choosing to examine the immunity issue according to Saucier’s second prong instead).  Moreover, unlawful enforcement of an otherwise valid statute demonstrates unreasonable behavior depriving the government official of qualified immunity.  See Pierce v. Multnomah Cty., Or., 76 F.3d 1032, 1037 (9th Cir. 1996); Chew v. Gates, 27 F.3d 1432, 1450 (9th Cir. 1994).

          [T]he “clearly established” prong of the qualified immunity analysis is a matter of law to be decided by a judge. Morales v. Fry, 873 F.3d 817, 824–25 (9th Cir. 2017). In Morales, we recognized that “the question of whether a particular constitutional right is ‘clearly established’ is one that the Supreme Court has increasingly emphasized is within the province of the judge.” Id. at 822. “[C]omparing a given case with existing statutory or constitutional precedent is quintessentially a question of law for the judge, not the jury.” Id. at 823. We recognized, however, that “[a] bifurcation of duties is unavoidable: only the jury can decide the disputed factual issues, while only the judge can decide whether the right was clearly established once the factual issues are resolved.”

Reese v. Cty. of Sacramento, 888 F.3d 1030, 1037 (9th Cir. 2018).

(2)     Ineligibility

(a)     Local Governmental Units

Local governmental units are not entitled to a qualified-immunity defense to § 1983 liability.  See Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 473 (1985); Owen v. City of Independence, Mo., 445 U.S. 622, 638 (1980); Hallstrom v. City of Garden City, 991 F.2d 1473, 1482 (9th Cir. 1992); L.A. Police Protective League v. Gates, 907 F.2d 879, 889 (9th Cir. 1990).  Local governmental units are also unable to rely on the qualified-immunity defense available to municipal employees as a defense to § 1983 claims.  See Hervey v. Estes, 65 F.3d 784, 791 (9th Cir. 1995).

For a discussion of theories of liability applicable to local governmental units, see supra I.A.1.c.(2).

(b)     Municipal Employees

“[Q]ualified immunity covers only defendants in their individual capacities.”  Cmty. House, Inc. v. City of Boise, Idaho, 623 F.3d 945, 966 (9th Cir. 2010).  As such, municipal employees sued in their official capacity are not entitled to qualified immunity.  See Eng v. Cooley, 552 F.3d 1062, 1064 n.1 (9th Cir. 2009); Hallstrom v. City of Garden City, 991 F.2d 1473, 1482 (9th Cir. 1992).

(c)      Private Individuals

The Ninth Circuit has concluded that private individuals are not entitled to qualified immunity in either § 1983 or Bivens actions.  See Clement v. City of Glendale, 518 F.3d 1090, 1096 (9th Cir. 2008); Franklin v. Fox, 312 F.3d 423, 444 (9th Cir. 2002); Conner v. City of Santa Ana, 897 F.2d 1487, 1492 n.9 (9th Cir. 1990); F.E. Trotter, Inc. v. Watkins, 869 F.2d 1312, 1318 (9th Cir. 1989).

The Supreme Court has concluded that employees of a private prison management company are not entitled to qualified immunity, but declined to express an opinion as to whether they may have a “good faith” defense.  See Richardson v. McKnight, 521 U.S. 399, 401, 413–14 (1997); see also Jensen v. Lane Cty., 222 F.3d 570, 580 (9th Cir. 2000) +570″ Jensen v. Lane County, 222 F.3d 570, 580 (9th Cir.(concluding that private psychiatrist not entitled to qualified immunity); Halvorsen v. Baird, 146 F.3d 680, 685–86 (9th Cir. 1998) (applying Richardson and holding that private detoxification center not entitled to qualified immunity); Ace Beverage Co. v. Lockheed Info. Mgmt. Servs., 144 F.3d 1218, 1219–20 (9th Cir. 1998) (per curiam) (applying Richardson and holding that private firm with minimal government oversight is not entitled to qualified immunity); cf. Clement, 518 F.3d at 1096–97 (concluding that private towing company entitled to invoke “good faith” defense).

Qualified immunity is not generally available to off-duty police officers acting as private security guards.  See Bracken v. Okura, 869 F.3d 771, 775, 777–78 (9th Cir. 2017) (applying Richardson, and holding that qualified immunity was not available to off-duty police officer who was hired and paid by hotel to provide security, because he was not serving a public, governmental function while being paid by the hotel to provide private security).

 The Supreme Court has concluded that private individuals who conspire with state officials to violate others’ constitutional rights are not entitled to qualified immunity in § 1983 actions.  Wyatt v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 168–69 (1992) (noting in dicta that private defendants could be entitled to a “good faith” defense).

 For a discussion of when private individuals are acting under color of state law for purposes of § 1983, see supra I.A.2.b.(5).

b.

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