Law School Case Brief
Rossignol v. Voorhaar - 316 F.3d 516 (4th Cir. 2003)
If a defendant's purportedly private actions are linked to events which arose out of his official status, the nexus between the two can play a role in establishing that he acted under color of state law for purposes of 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983.
The newspaper had reported extensively and often critically on local government and public officials. Several sheriff's deputies anticipated that the election day issue of the newspaper would be critical of them and their favored candidates, so the deputies conspired to buy out the stock of the election day newspaper at vending locations throughout the county. Plaintiff Kenneth Rossignol brought suit against defendants for their organized efforts to suppress the distribution of the election day issue of plaintiff Island Publishing Company's newspaper, St. Mary's Today. Plaintiffs sought damages and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, the Maryland Constitution, and Maryland common law. The district court granted summary judgment for the deputies on the grounds that the mass purchase constituted private conduct not executed under color of state law as required by § 1983. It then dismissed plaintiffs' remaining state claims without prejudice.
Did the district court err in granting summary judgment for the deputies on the grounds that the mass purchase constituted private conduct not executed under color of state law as required by 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983?
The court of appeals held that because the deputies sought to censor the publisher's criticism of them in their official roles, their official positions were an intimidating asset in the execution of their plan; therefore, this sort of quasi-private conspiracy by public officials was precisely the target of § 1983, the court reversed the judgment and remanded for further proceedings. Notably, the court found that the deputies' actions bore a "sufficiently close nexus" with the State to be fairly treated as that of the State itself.
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