Chapter Two: Your Legal Options

This chapter describes the different types of lawsuits you can bring to challenge conditions or treatment in prison or detention, including Section 1983, state actions, the Federal Tort Claims Act and Bivens actions. We also discuss international law and explain the impact of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).

FTCA claims can only be brought for torts, not constitutional violations. If a federal prisoner wants to make a constitutional claim for money damages, they must do so through a “Bivens action.” The name comes from a lawsuit, Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), in which […]

Section 1983 allows you to bring federal claims in federal court. But you can also bring federal claims in state court. One reason you might want to sue in state court, rather than federal court, is the Prison Litigation Reform Act, or “PLRA.” The PLRA is a federal law that makes it difficult for a […]

Along with the United States Constitution, your state constitution, and federal and state laws, another potential source of protection for prisoners is international law. Using international law in United States courts can be complicated and controversial so you may not want to attempt it without a lawyer. This section will outline some basic facts about […]

The PLRA, an anti-prisoner statute which became law in 1996, has made it much harder for prisoners to gain relief in the federal courts. While you will learn more about the PLRA in the following chapters, we have included a brief outline of its major parts, or “provisions,” here so that you keep them in […]

As we explained in Chapter One, if you are a prisoner in a state prison or jail you can use Section 1983 to sue over violations of your rights. If you are a federal prisoner, or a pretrial or immigration detainee in a federal facility you cannot use Section 1983, but you have other options: […]

The main way to understand what kind of suit you can bring under Section 1983 is to look at the words of that law: 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 […]