Civil Rights Act Jurisdiction.

Perhaps the most important of the special federal question jurisdictional statutes is that conferring jurisdiction on federal district courts to hear suits challenging the deprivation under color of state law or custom of any right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or by any act of Congress providing for equal rights.844 Because it contains no jurisdictional amount provision845 (while the general federal question statute at one time did)846 and because the Court has held inapplicable the judicially created requirement that a litigant exhaust his state remedies before bringing federal action,847 the statute has been heavily used, resulting in a formidable caseload, by plaintiffs attacking racial discrimination, malapportionment and suffrage restrictions, illegal and unconstitutional police practices, state restrictions on access to welfare and other public assistance, and a variety of other state and local governmental practices.848 Congress has encouraged use of the two statutes by providing for attorneys’ fees under § 1983,849 and by enacting related and specialized complementary statutes.850 The Court in recent years has generally interpreted § 1983 and its jurisdictional statute broadly, but it has also sought to restrict the kinds of claims that may be brought in federal courts.851 Note that § 1983 and § 1343(3) need not always go together, as § 1983 actions may be brought in state courts.852

Footnotes

844
28 U.S.C. § 1343(3). The cause of action to which this jurisdictional grant applies is 42 U.S.C. § 1983, making liable and subject to other redress any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives any person of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States. For discussion of the history and development of these two statutes, see Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167 (1961); Lynch v. Household Finance Corp., 405 U.S. 538 (1972); Monell v. New York City Dep’t of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Org., 441 U.S. 600 (1979); Maine v. Thiboutot, 448 U.S. 1 (1980). Although the two statutes originally had the same wording in respect to “the Constitution and laws of the United States,” when the substantive and jurisdictional aspects were separated and codified, § 1983 retained the all-inclusive “laws” provision, while § 1343(3) read “any Act of Congress providing for equal rights.” The Court has interpreted the language of the two statutes literally, so that while claims under laws of the United States need not relate to equal rights but may encompass welfare and regulatory laws, Maine v. Thiboutot; but see Middlesex County Sewerage Auth. v. National Sea Clammers Assn., 453 U.S. 1 (1981), such suits if they do not spring from an act providing for equal rights may not be brought under § 1343(3). Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Org., supra. This was important when there was a jurisdictional amount provision in the federal question statute but is of little significance today. [Back to text]
845
See Hague v. CIO, 307 U.S. 496 (1939). Following Hague, it was argued that only cases involving personal rights, that could not be valued in dollars, could be brought under § 1343(3), and that cases involving property rights, which could be so valued, had to be brought under the federal question statute. This attempted distinction was rejected in Lynch v. Household Finance Corp., 405 U.S. 538, 546–48 (1972). On the valuation of constitutional rights, see Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247 (1978). See also Memphis Community School Dist. v. Stachura, 477 U.S. 299 (1986) (compensatory damages must be based on injury to the plaintiff, not on some abstract valuation of constitutional rights). [Back to text]
846
28 U.S.C. § 1331 was amended in 1976 and 1980 to eliminate the jurisdictional amount requirement. Pub. L. 94–574, 90 Stat. 2721; Pub. L. 96–486, 94 Stat. 2369. [Back to text]
847
Patsy v. Florida Board of Regents, 457 U.S. 496 (1982). This had been the rule since at least McNeese v. Cahokia Bd. of Educ., 373 U.S. 668 (1963). See also Felder v. Casey, 487 U.S. 131 (1988) (state notice of claim statute, requiring notice and waiting period before bringing suit in state court under § 1983, is preempted). [Back to text]
848
Thus, such notable cases as Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), and Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962), arose under the statutes. [Back to text]
849
Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Awards Act of 1976, Pub. L. 94–559, 90 Stat. 2641, amending 42 U.S.C. § 1988. See Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678 (1978); Maine v. Thiboutot, 448 U.S. 1 (1980). [Back to text]
850
E.g., Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, Pub. L. 96–247, 94 Stat. 349 (1980), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1997et seq. [Back to text]
851
E.g., Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981); Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651 (1977). [Back to text]
852
Maine v. Thiboutot, 448 U.S. 1 (1980). [Back to text]