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Michael T. Brody, co-chair of Jenner & Block. Michael T. Brody, co-chair of Jenner & Block.

7th Circuit SpotlightUnder a federal statute, Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, individuals may sue state officials for violations of constitutional rights. As one example, pretrial detainees may assert jail officials acted with deliberate indifference to a serious risk of harm to their safety and well-being. Unlike under the common law, municipal employers cannot be held liable vicariously.  Instead, local governments are responsible for constitutional violations only when actions pursuant to municipal policy caused the deprivation of rights. Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691-92 (1978). A municipality may be held liable for constitutional torts resulting from the decisions of its legislative body or those supervisory officials whose acts are said to be those of the municipality. Liability can rest on an express policy or an established custom. Monell liability can also arise from inaction where the defendant was on notice that conduct was needed to avert a constitutional violation such that the failure to act is the equivalent of a decision to violate the constitution. A Monell plaintiff must also establish causation—the plaintiff must show the municipality’s policy or custom was the moving force behind the injury.

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