How Do You File a Civil Rights Lawsuit from Prison?

How Do You File a Civil Rights Lawsuit from Prison?

If a Bureau of Prisons employee violates your civil rights in federal prison, you can file a lawsuit. You do not lose your civil rights because you are in prison. But the process can feel different from suing outside of prison.

Can You File a Civil Rights Lawsuit From a Federal Prison?

Yes. You can file a civil rights lawsuit against prison officials from federal prison. To do so, you can file what’s called a “Bivens claim.” A Bivens claim, also called a Bivens action, allows you to sue individual federal employees. But, to win a Bivens claim, you must be able to prove several different things.

If you want to file a civil rights lawsuit from prison, you need to know the law.
Image courtesy of James Sutton on Unsplash,

What qualifies for a civil rights lawsuit In prison?

To successfully file a Bivens claim, you must be able to prove that a federal employee violated your civil rights. Common examples of civil rights violations include

  • interfering with your right to practice religion in violation of the First Amendment rights,
  • violating your right to remain silent in violation of your Fifth Amendment rights, and
  • denying you the right to adequate medical care in violation o your Eighth Amendment rights.

Who can file a Bivens claim?

While there are numerous officials you can sue, common examples include employees from the Bureau of Prisons and federal lawmakers. You can only file a Bivens claim against federal officials, though. This means you can’t file one against state officials, although you do have other options.

Where can you file a civil rights lawsuit?

You can file a Bivens claim in federal district court. In general, you should file your lawsuit in the district where the incident happened or the defendants live. You cannot file a Bivens claim against federal employees in a state court. So, in a state like North Carolina, you could file in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. But you could not file the claim in a county district or superior court.

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How do you file a civil rights lawsuit from prison?

The U.S. Courts website has a form you can use to file your civil rights lawsuit from prison. You should be able to get this form from your institution. You do not have to use this form. But, if you file the lawsuit on your own, it may help make sure you do so correctly.

You must name the individuals or the agencies you want to sue as defendants. If you don’t know their names, you can name them as John or Jane Doe. Then, during discovery, you can learn their names. But you do have to sue specific individuals or agencies.
To successfully allege a Bivens claim, you must assert the following:

  • that you have a right protected by the U.S. Constitution,
  • that a federal employee violated that right acting within their authority,
  • that you have no other legal options available, and
  • that the court can grant you relief, such as money damages.

Without these allegations, courts can dismiss your case immediately.

The Takeaway:

You can file a civil rights lawsuit from federal prison. This lawsuit, often called a Bivens claim or action, must be against a federal employee and allege a violation of your rights. These lawsuits are not easy, and you must comply with several different requirements.

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