Nahmod Law

Section 1983 and the Intracorporate Conspiracy Doctrine

The Intracorporate Conspiracy Doctrine

What is the intracorporate conspiracy doctrine and what role, if any, does it play in the § 1983 conspiracy setting?

In the words of the Eleventh Circuit in a § 1985(3) case, “under the doctrine, a corporation cannot conspire with its employees, and its employees, when acting within the scope of their employment, cannot conspire among themselves.”McAndrew v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 206 F.3d 1031, 1036 (11th Cir. 2000)(en banc).

(Mis?)Applying the Doctrine in a § 1983 Case: The Eleventh Circuit in Grider v. City of Auburn

Subsequently, in another Eleventh Circuit case, Grider v. City of Auburn, 618 F.3d 1240 (11th Cir. 2010), the plaintiff sued various city officials, including law enforcement officers, under § 1983, alleging that they maliciously conspired to prosecute him falsely for bribery. Even though the evidence showed that one of the officers was involved in the other’s bribery charge against the plaintiff, the court ruled that both officers could not be sued for an alleged § 1983 conspiracy because of the intracorporate conspiracy doctrine.

It observed that both were law enforcement officers with the same city police department, no outsiders were involved and the subject of the alleged conspiracy—prosecuting the plaintiff by bringing a false bribery charge–involved job-related functions within the scope of defendants’ employment. The Eleventh Circuit rejected the contention that violating constitutional rights was never a job-related function or within the scope of a law enforcement officer’s employment.

Finally, the court determined that the case before it did not fit within any of the three exceptions to the intracorporate conspiracy doctrine as described in yet another Eleventh Circuit case (this one involving § 1985(3)): (1) for “convictions involving criminal charges of conspiracy,” (2) where an employee has an “independent personal stake” in his unconstitutional acts or (3) where the employees “engage in a series of discriminatory acts as opposed to a single action” over a significant period. Dickerson v. Alachua County Comm’n, 200 F.3d 761, 768-70 & n. 9 (11th Cir. 2000)(collecting and analyzing cases from other circuits), discussed in Grider, 618 F.3d at 1262.

One wonders why this doctrine has any place at all in § 1983 litigation, especially when such litigation involves § 1983 conspiracy claims against police officers accused of violating a plaintiff’s constitutional rights. After all, § 1983 conspiracy doctrine, which focuses on wrongful state of mind, is a species of § 1983 joint and several liability doctrine governed by the federal law of § 1983.

Written by snahmod

October 8, 2012 at 1:24 pm

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