What is State, Local and Municipal Litigation Law?
Government missteps can be addressed in the legal system
on December 15, 2016
Updated on November 15, 2022
Local governments are highly involved in their communities, creating rules, ordinances, and systems, and running state and county services. When things go well, this proximity can be a benefit to the citizens of the local community. But, when there are problems with local officials, they can often hit close to home—literally.
Sometimes harm caused by your government’s missteps or intentional actions can be addressed in the legal system through municipal law. This overview discusses limitations you will need to keep in mind when considering whether you want to pursue legal action against your state or local government.
You are generally permitted to sue any person or business that is responsible for your injuries, and that includes city and state governments. That said, it is a little more complicated to bring a lawsuit against a government entity because of sovereign immunity.
Under the 11th Amendment to the constitution, governments and government actors are immune from liability unless the government consents to being sued. While that sounds straight forward, in practice is can be complicated. So, courts have developed tests to determine whether the state actor will be subject to liability.
One test looks at whether the government was performing a government function. If the state or state actor was doing something only the government can do, then it will usually be immune from liability. If, however, the government was engaging in activities that can be performed by private parties or things that are not historically government functions, it may be possible to hold the government or government actor liable for injuries that result.
Another test looks at whether the actions required discretion. If they did not, and they were purely operational, then it is unlikely you will be able to hold the government liable. If, however, the actions required some discretion, then the government actor may be liable for misusing that discretion.
Finally, if the government’s plan causes harm, then it is likely there is immunity. However, immunity likely does not apply where the government’s implementation of a plan is what caused the harm.
If it has been determined that your local government can be held liable for your injuries, there are still a couple other considerations that should be addressed before you file suit. While the specifics can vary by jurisdictions, you should generally be aware of notice requirements and statutes of limitations.
Some jurisdictions require you to file a “notice of claim,” which lays out the circumstances that led to your injuries, the nature of your injuries (including whether they are financial or physical) and the amount you are seeking in damages. There are also likely requirements about who you need to include and where the notice should be filed.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations sets the length of time you have to file a lawsuit after the events alleged occurred. If you miss this window, your case will be thrown out of court—even if it’s airtight. This is why it’s important to act quickly after an injury and speak with someone who understands what part of your experience kicked off the statute of limitations, and when it runs out. This time period can vary whether you are suing a city or a state, so you will want to make sure you know who you are suing and how long you have.
Below are some common questions you might want to consider when meeting with an attorney for the first time.
- Can you sue a city for not enforcing laws of public safety or land use?
- Can you sue a state for constitutional violations?
- How long do I have to sue my local government?
- Can I sue my city for negligence?
- Can I sue the government in small claims court?
Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs
It is important to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can help you through your entire case. To do so, you can visit the Super Lawyers directory, and use the search box to find a municipal lawyer based on your legal issue or location.
To help you get started, you may want to consider looking for a lawyer who has experience with state, local and municipal litigation.
Why Should I Talk to a Lawyer?
Even when your case seems straightforward, you will want an experienced lawyer by your side who can help you argue against immunity, and make sure you have taken every necessary step, so your case does not get thrown out of court on a technicality. Your lawyer will also have the know how to help you get the documentation you will need to prove your case and will be able to interview potential witnesses to strengthen you case. They can further help you determine whether you would like to seek a settlement.
A lawyer will be able to anticipate potential problems with your case and advise you on how to approach them and will keep track of deadlines and file all the paperwork with the necessary courts and agencies—giving you one less thing to worry about.