Filing Lawsuit for Damages Against the State for Violations of the Equal Protection Clause
In Brown v. State of New York, 89 N.Y.2d 172, 674 N.E.2d 1129, 652 N.Y.S.2d 223 (N.Y. 1996) the New York Court of Appeals held that a cause of action for damages may be filed against the state for violations of the equal protection and unreasonable searches and seizures clauses under article I, sections 11 and 12 of the New York constitution arising out of claims from unlawful stops, interrogation and searches by New York police and state university security of all Black male university students located in the area of an alleged early-morning attack against a white female.
The court considered Section 874A of the Restatement, which provides that a court may imply a civil remedy from legislative or constitutional provisions even when a remedy is not expressly provided for if the court determines that a remedy is appropriate to further the purpose of the provision and to assure its effectiveness, and it reasoned that the analysis in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S. Ct. 1999, 29 L. Ed. 2d 619 (1971) demonstrates the Restatement principle.
In addition, the court was keenly aware of the fact that a Section 1983 action is controlled by federal statutory and case law, which limit liability to actions taken "under color of state law" or as a matter of governmental policy or custom.
By contrast, a plaintiff seeking to recover under respondeat superior in a state constitutional claim does not fall within the Section 1983 limits.
In answering questions presented by the court's recognition of a state constitutional cause of action under the equal protection and unreasonable searches and seizures clauses of the New York constitution, regardless of the absence of statutory or common-law bases, the court reasoned in Brown as follows:
In Bivens, the Supreme Court implied a cause of action for damages against Federal officials who violated the search and seizure provisions of the Fourth Amendment.
The underlying rationale for the decision, in simplest terms, is that constitutional guarantees are worthy of protection on their own terms without being linked to some common-law or statutory tort, and that the courts have the obligation to enforce these rights by ensuring that each individual receives an adequate remedy for violation of a constitutional duty.
If the remedy is not forthcoming from the political branches of government, then the courts must provide it by recognizing a damage remedy against the violators much the same as the courts earlier recognized and developed equitable remedies to enjoin unconstitutional actions.
Implicit in this reasoning is the premise that the Constitution is a source of positive law, not merely a set of limitations on government.
The prohibition against unlawful searches and seizures originated in the Magna Carta and has been a part of our statutory law since 1828. ... the civil cause of action was fully developed in England and provided a damage remedy for the victims of unlawful searches at common law....
There is historical support for the claimants' contention that the rights guaranteed by these two provisions have common-law antecedents warranting a tort remedy for invasion of the rights they recognize.
Indeed, the availability of a civil suit for damages sustained as the result of a constitutional violation was contemplated by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1938.
They did not consider whether one was desirable - they assumed a civil remedy already existed....
Moreover, implying a damage remedy here is consistent with the purposes underlying the duties imposed by these provisions and is necessary and appropriate to ensure the full realization of the rights they state.... the analysis is not unlike that which the Supreme Court and this Court have used to find a private right of action based upon certain regulatory statutes and is consistent with the rule formulated by the Restatement....
These sections establish a duty sufficient to support causes of action to secure the liberty interests guaranteed to individuals by the State Constitution independent of any common-law tort rule. ... the harm they assert was visited on them was well within the contemplation of the framers when these provisions were enacted for fewer matters have caused greater concern throughout history than intrusions on personal liberty arising from the abuse of police power.
Manifestly, these sections were designed to prevent such abuses and protect those in claimants' position. a damage remedy in favor of those harmed by police abuses is appropriate and in furtherance of the purpose underlying the sections.
Nor should claimants' right to recover damages be dependent upon the availability of a common-law tort cause of action. Common-law tort rules are heavily influenced by overriding concerns of adjusting losses and allocating risks, matters that have little relevance when constitutional rights are at stake.
Moreover, the duties imposed upon government officers by these provisions address something far more serious than the private wrongs regulated by the common law.... ... by recognizing a narrow remedy for violations of sections 11 and 12 of article I of the State Constitution, we provide appropriate protection against official misconduct at the State level. Brown, 674 N.E.2d at 1138-1141 .
Essentially, to give any meaning to the state constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures the court allowed a cause of action under the state constitution to vindicate a violation of that right.