Lawsuit Against a Local Agency Under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983

In Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 98 S. Ct. 2018, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611 (1978), the Supreme Court, after reviewing relevant legislative history, first held a local agency may be sued directly under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for monetary damages where the alleged unconstitutional action is based on a deprivation of rights caused by a governmental custom, policy statement, ordinance, regulation or decision officially adopted and promulgated by the local agency's officers. In that same decision, however, the Court further determined a municipality cannot be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor. In other words, the Court concluded a municipality cannot be liable under 42 U.S.C. 1983 on a master-servant theory. See also Thomas v. City of Phila., 804 A.2d 97, 107 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002) ("Under Monell, it was also established that the local agency's policy must be the 'moving force behind the constitutional violation;' respondeat superior cannot serve as the basis for municipal liability under Section 1983."); Hennessy v. Santiago, 708 A.2d 1269 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1998).