Law & Courts News in Brief

Supreme Court Decision Limits Municipal Liability

By Mark Walsh — December 07, 2010 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In a decision with implications for school districts, the U.S. Supreme Court last week strengthened protections against municipal liability in federal civil rights lawsuits.

The justices ruled 8-0 in Los Angeles County v. Humphries that a 1978 high court decision about municipal liability for civil rights violations applies even when a plaintiff is seeking only an injunction or a declaratory judgment, in contrast to monetary damages.

The Nov. 30 decision comes in the case of a California teacher and her husband who were wrongfully accused of child abuse and discovered after they were exonerated that they had no way to remove their names from a state child-abuse registry. They sued Los Angeles County and its sheriff, as well as the state, alleging a violation of their 14th Amendment right to due process of law.

The older Supreme Court decision, Monell v. New York City Department of Social Services, held that cities, counties, and school districts could only be found liable when a civil rights plaintiff could show that a violation stemmed from a municipal policy or custom, as opposed to the government agency simply being the employer of the rights violator. School districts, for example, are often sued over the actions of their employees, but the plaintiffs often find it difficult to prove an action was the result of a district policy or custom. The new decision applies the Monell standard to a broader category of claims.

The Monell case involved monetary damages, and the issue in the Humphries case was whether the policy or custom requirement also extended to when plaintiffs sought only prospective relief, such as an injunction or other court order.

Writing for every member of the court except Justice Elena Kagan, who was recused, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said that it “would undermine Monell’s logic” if the policy or custom requirement was not also applied to the broader category of civil rights cases.

The case arose from what a lower court called a “parents’ nightmare,” in which Craig and Wendy Humphries found that there was no procedure for removing their names from the state child-abuse index, despite a court declaration that cleared them of the abuse charges. Among the difficulties the couple faced, court papers said, was that Ms. Humphries’ inclusion on the child-abuse index threatened her ability to remain licensed as a special education teacher.

The high courts ruling appeared to leave undisturbed part of a lower courts decision that required the state of California to develop some form of hearing for those who seek to challenge their inclusion on the state child-abuse registry.

Related Tags:

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
Challenging the Stigma: Emotions and STEM
STEM isn't just equations and logic. Join this webinar and discover how emotions fuel innovation, creativity, & problem-solving in STEM!
Content provided by Project Lead The Way

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts School District Lawsuits Against Social Media Companies Are Piling Up
More than 200 school districts are now suing the major social media companies over the youth mental health crisis.
7 min read
A close up of a statue of the blindfolded lady justice against a light blue background with a ghosted image of a hands holding a cellphone with Facebook "Like" and "Love" icons hovering above it.
iStock/Getty
Law & Courts In 1974, the Supreme Court Recognized English Learners' Rights. The Story Behind That Case
The Lau v. Nichols ruling said students have a right to a "meaningful opportunity" to participate in school, but its legacy is complex.
12 min read
Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court William O. Douglas is shown in an undated photo.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, shown in an undated photo, wrote the opinion in <i>Lau</i> v. <i>Nichols</i>, the 1974 decision holding that the San Francisco school system had denied Chinese-speaking schoolchildren a meaningful opportunity to participate in their education.
AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court Declines to Hear School District's Transgender Restroom Case
The case asked whether federal law protects transgender students on the use of school facilities that correspond to their gender identity.
4 min read
People stand on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 11, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
People stand on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 11, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
Mariam Zuhaib/AP
Law & Courts What a Proposed Ban on AI-Assisted ‘Deep Fakes’ Would Mean for Cyberbullying
Students who create AI-generated, intimate images of their classmates would be breaking federal law, if a new bill is enacted.
2 min read
AI Education concept in blue: A robot hand holding a pencil.
iStock/Getty