Legal Memorandum: Vicarious Liability for the Actions of Subordinate

Issue: Under federal law, can a defendant be held vicariously liable for the actions of a subordinate?

Area of Law: Constitutional Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Vicarious liability; Actions of a subordinate; Supervisor or supervising entity
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 423 U.S. 362; 950 F. Supp. 1365
Cited Statutes: § 1983
Date: 12/01/2000

This issue is well-settled.  Under federal civil rights law a supervisor or supervising entity does not face vicarious liability for the actions of its subordinate.  Luckett v. Turner, 18 F. Supp. 2d 835, 838 (W.D. Tenn. 1998).  [T]he Supreme Court rejected the idea that supervisory liability under § 1983 can attach on the basis of respondeat superior, holding that the mere failure to act is not a sufficient basis for liability.  Id. at 838 (citing Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 371 (1976)).  Accord

Orange v. County of Grundy, 950 F. Supp. 1365, 1373-74 (E.D. Tenn. 1996).

Thus, the individual employee faces liability for his or her actions, and the plaintiff can seek to hold the supervisor liable only for its direct misconduct.  Luckett, 18 F. Supp. 2d at 838.  The supervisor faces liability only if the plaintiff can prove an affirmative, causal link between the constitutional deprivation and the supervisor=s adoption of a plan or policy, such that the supervisor encouraged, authorized or approved of the action, at least implicitly.  Id.  See also Orange, 950 F. Supp. at 1374 (finding that the board of education faced liability as the Amoving force@ behind the civil rights violations).


Subscribe to Litigation Pathfinder

To get the full-text of this Legal Memorandum ... and more!

(Month-to-month and annual subscriptions available)