An Unexpected Application of 42 U.S.C. § 14141: Using Investigative Findings for § 1983 Litigation


Police misconduct is a sadly recurring phenomenon in the United States, frequently commented upon by mass media, legislators, the courts, and legal scholars. Incremental steps have been taken to remedy persistent police misconduct, most notably and recently by Congress' passage of 42 U.S.C. § 14141. Section 14141 grants the Department of Justice (DOJ) the authority to pursue relief against law enforcement officials engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives persons of their constitutional rights. The DOJ has utilized its § 14141 power to enter into private settlements with police departments and increasingly provides for the confidentiality of all documents discovered during its preceding investigations of those police departments. While § 14141 has made important strides in reforming law enforcement agencies and deterring pervasive police misconduct, it has been administered without regard to the underlying victims of police abuse. In this Comment, the author suggests that victims of police abuse attempt to harness the fact-finding unearthed during § 14141 investigations to pursue § 1983 actions seeking 3 compensatory damages from their abusers. This strategy of follow-on litigation, using government fact-finding to aid private claims, would adopt techniques already utilized in such diverse areas as antitrust, corporate malfeasance, and products liability. By learning from these other notable areas of follow-on litigation, victims of police abuse could potentially increase the likelihood of damage recovery, and help to effectuate the dual remedial goals of compensation and deterrence. This Comment proposes that the DOJ alter its administration of § 14141 to increase transparency and allow broader access to the documents and findings stemming from its § 14141 investigations.

About the Author

Chief Articles Editor, UCLA Law Review, Volume 52. J.D. candidate, UCLA School of Law, 2005; B.A., San Francisco State University, 2002.

By uclalaw