Constitutional Rights and Individual Liability of Public Officials

Constitutional Rights and Individual Liberty

The Fifth Amendment, in part, provides that no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Article 1 § 4 of the Louisiana Constitution mirrors the just compensation language of the Fifth Amendment and provides that “Property shall not be taken or damaged by the state or its political subdivisions except for public purposes and with just compensation paid to the owner or into court for his benefit.”

Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment provides, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Article 1 § 3 of the Louisiana Constitution provides, “No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws. No law shall discriminate against a person because of race or religious ideas, beliefs, or affiliations. No law shall arbitrarily, capriciously, or unreasonably discriminate against a person because of birth, age, sex, culture, physical condition, or political ideas or affiliations. Slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited, except in the latter case as punishment for crime.”

The United States Congress, in enacting 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983, created a federal cause of action against public officials, individually, who deprive persons of their constitutional rights, under color of state law. 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 provides:

As a general rule on a Section 1983 action, the state and state agencies may not be sued directly in state or federal court because they are not considered a “person” under the statute (certain exceptions apply to that general rule). State officials, natural persons, acting under color of state law can be liable, personally, for their actions. Such claims may be brought in either state or federal court.

Further, Section 1983 provides for remedies, in addition to contract or tort claims against the state, state agencies, and public officials under state law.

This is a complex area of the law. Broad statements about “good form” in selecting defendants cannot be supported or generalized. The intentional, willful, or grossly negligent deprivation of constitutional rights has serious consequences to those individuals who act under color of state law to harm private persons. State officials are not immune from claims individually, whether the deprivation of one’s fundamental rights is carried out by state officials which imperil one’s life, or by the acts of a bureaucrat infringing liberty and property rights with a pen.


This article is a product of Russel W. Wray (attorney). Russel W. Wray is a partner in the firm of Wray & Pierce, L.L.P., in St. Francisville, Louisiana. Questions or comments can be directed to Mr. Wray at

This article is informational, and should not be used as legal advise. You should consult with our attorney before you rely on this information.

Russel. W. Wray, Wray & Pierce, L.L.P. (c) 2017