You are here

9.3 Section 1983 Claim Against Defendant in Individual Capacity—Elements and Burden of Proof

Printer-friendly version


In order to prevail on [his] [her] § 1983 claim against the defendant [name of individual defendant], the plaintiff must prove each of the following elements by a preponderance of the evidence: 

1. the defendant acted under color of state law; and

2. the [act[s]] [failure to act] of the defendant deprived the plaintiff of [his] [her] particular rights under [the laws of the United States] [the United States Constitution] as explained in later instructions. 

A person acts "under color of state law" when the person acts or purports to act in the performance of official duties under any state, county, or municipal law, ordinance or regulation. [[The parties have stipulated] [I instruct you] that the defendant acted under color of state law.] 

If you find the plaintiff has proved each of these elements, and if you find that the plaintiff has proved all the elements [he] [she] is required to prove under Instruction[s] [specify the instruction[s] that deal with the particular right[s]], your verdict should be for the plaintiff. If, on the other hand, you find that the plaintiff has failed to prove any one or more of these elements, your verdict should be for the defendant. 


Use this instruction only in conjunction with an applicable "particular rights" instruction, such as Instructions 9.9–9.33. Such an instruction should set forth the additional elements a plaintiff must establish to prove the violation of the particular constitutional right or federal law at issue. 

The elements of a § 1983 claim are (1) the action occurred "under color of state law" and (2) the action resulted in the deprivation of a constitutional right or federal statutory right. Long v. County of Los Angeles, 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir.2006) (citing West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988)). In order to be individually liable under § 1983, an individual must personally participate in an alleged rights deprivation. Avalos v. Baca, 596 F.3d 583, 587 (9th Cir.2010). 

"In a § 1983 action, the plaintiff must also demonstrate that the defendant’s conduct was the actionable cause of the claimed injury." Harper v. City of Los Angeles, 533 F.3d 1010, 1026 (9th Cir.2008). "To meet this causation requirement, the plaintiff must establish both causation-in-fact and proximate causation." Id.

In Reynaga Hernandez v. Skinner, 969 F.3d 930, 941-42 (9th Cir. 2020), the Ninth Circuit discussed, for the first time, the minimum level of involvement needed for § 1983 liability under the integral-participant doctrine.  When liability is alleged against a defendant on this basis, the model instruction stated above will need to be modified.  

Revised Sept. 2020