Questioner asks about suing the United States

Full Question:

I understand that you can't sue the state but is there anything preventing a citizen of the United States from filing a civil lawsuit against the FBI?
08/02/2009   |   Category: Civil Actions   |   State: South Carolina   |   #17901


The doctrine of sovereign immunity is not absolute, and in the United States is a qualified and limited immunity in both federal and state courts. A citizen of the United States may sue the U.S. government or any of it's departments or agencies in the United States District Courts. A citizen of a state may sue any state in the courts of that state, but many states have adopted statutes that limit the state's monetary liability under tort-claims statutes and other legislation. It follows that a citizen may sue the FBI, the IRS, the EPA, the Veterans Administration, etc.

Sovereign Immunity Law & Legal Definition

Sovereign immunity traces its origins from early English law. Generally, it is the doctrine that the sovereign or government cannot commit a legal wrong and is immune from civil suit or criminal prosecution. For a person individually to be immune to suit, they must be acting as an arm of the government. In many cases, the government has waived this immunity to allow for suits. Federal sovereign immunity is a defense to liability rather than a right to be free from trial. The Supreme Court has ruled that in a case involving the government's sovereign immunity the statute in question must be strictly construed in favor of the sovereign and may not be enlarged beyond the waiver its language expressly requires.

Absent "consent," the federal government, its departments and agencies are immune from suit. Sovereign immunity extends to Indian nations, government officials acting in their official capacity. and, to the extent that Congress has cloaked them with immunity, federal corporations. The 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that, "The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

Sovereign immunity does not prevent an injured private party from suing a state officer and obtaining an order that the officer cease conduct that violates federal law. Another important exception is that states have no immunity from suits brought by other states or by the United States. There is an exception for cases in which a state consents to suit or in some other way waives its sovereign immunity. Also, Congress can abrogate state sovereign immunity by passing a statute that expressly provides for private damage suits against states.

Court Law & Legal Definition

A court is a governmental body consisting of one or more judges who adjudicate disputes and administer justice in accordance with law. The room in which a law court sits is called a court room. A court must have both personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction.

Each State will have a court system for the territory under its control. Each State will have a Supreme Court which is the highest court of appeal in that State. Apart from Supreme Court there appellate courts, District courts, Probate courts, Juvenile courts, Family courts etc. The lowest courts in a State are the courts of inferior jurisdiction like the court of common pleas, small claims court etc. Usually litigation begins at the trial courts which are usually the District courts.

Apart from the state courts there are federal courts also. The federal courts are comprised of: the U.S. Supreme Court; U.S. Courts of Appeals; U.S. District Courts: U.S. Bankruptcy Courts. There are also several Article I or legislative courts that do not have full judicial power. Article I courts are U.S. Court of Military Appeals, U.S. Tax Court, and U.S. Court of Veterans' Appeals were established under Article I of the Constitution.

Constitutional Law Law & Legal Definition

The broad topic of constitutional law deals with the interpretation and implementation of the United States Constitution. Constitutional law deals with some of the fundamental relationships within our society, including the relationships among the states, the states and the federal government, the three branches (The Executive, Legislature, Judiciary) of the federal government, and the rights of the individual in relation to both federal and state government. The Supreme Court plays an important role in interpreting the Constitution. States have constitutions of their own, but the case of Marbury v. Madison (1803) firmly established the power of the Supreme Court to strike down federal statutes it found unconstitutional, making the Supreme Court the final arbiter of constitutional interpretation. The "equal rights" provision of the 14th Amendment established that the rights in the first ten amendments ("Bill of Rights") applied to state governments.

The Constitution establishes the three branches of the federal government and enumerates their powers. Article I establishes the House of Representatives and the Senate. See U.S. Const. art. I. Section 8 enumerates the powers of Congress. Congress has specifically used its power under the commerce clause to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the states by passing broad and powerful legislation throughout the nation. The sixteenth Amendment gives Congress the power to collect a national income tax without apportioning it among the states. Section 9 of Article I prohibits Congress from taking certain actions.

Article II of the Constitution establishes the presidency and the executive branch of government. The role of the Supreme Court and the rest of the judicial branch of the federal government is covered by Article III. Article V of the Constitution provides the procedures to be followed to amend the Constitution. There have been 27 amendments to the Constitution to date (including the Bill of Rights).

Article VI, the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, states that the "Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all treaties made or shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the Supreme Law of the Land." The first section of the fourth article of the Constitution contains the "full faith and credit clause", requiring that each state must recognize the public acts (laws), records, and judicial proceeding of the other states. The Fourth Article also guarantees that a citizen of a state be entitled to the "privileges and immunities" in every other state.

The first ten amendments, called the Bill of Rights, were enacted in 1791 to provide a check on the new federal government. These rights include some of the fundamental rights on individuals, such as freedom of speech and due process in application of the laws. Other rights granted in the Constitution include: writ of habeas corpus, no bill of attainder, no duties or taxes on transporting goods from one state to another (Article I, Section 9); jury trials (Article III, Section 1); freedom of religion, speech, press (which includes all media), assembly and petition (First Amendment); state militia to bear arms (Second Amendment); no quartering of troops in homes (Third Amendment); no unreasonable search and seizure (Fourth Amendment); major ("capital and infamous") crimes require indictment, no double jeopardy (more than one prosecution) for the same crime, no self-incrimination, right to due process, right to just compensation for property taken by eminent domain (Fifth Amendment); in criminal law, right to a speedy trial, to confront witnesses against one, and to counsel (Sixth Amendment); trial by jury (Seventh Amendment); right to bail, no excessive fines, and no cruel and unusual punishments (Eighth Amendment); unenumerated rights are reserved to the people (Ninth Amendment); equal protection of the laws (14th Amendment); no racial bars to voting (15th Amendment); no sex bar to voting (19th Amendment); and no poll tax (24th Amendment).