One of the joys of reading and working on section 1983 cases is the high creativity factor. The smartest lawyers I've ever met either had a broad anti-trust or 1983 practice. (A lot of bozos take 1983 cases, screw them up, and make bad law, but that's a topic for another day). Anyhow, here's the latest example of a creative effort to hold a city liable. It was a sure loser from the outset (in my opinion), but it was a damned good try. Affirming dismissal, Judge Heaney wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel:
Delroy C. and Rhonda L. Scheeler (the Scheelers) brought a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of St. Cloud, Stearns County, and various city and county officials (the defendants) after the death of their son, Craig Scheeler. Craig Scheeler died after suffering a gunshot wound to his head. The police investigation concluded that the wound was accidentally self-inflicted when Craig Scheeler was playing Russian Roulette. The Scheelers maintain that someone else shot Craig, and that the defendants’ failure to properly investigate the circumstances of Craig’s death impeded their ability to bring a wrongful death claim against the assailant, denying them their constitutional right to access the courts.
Scheeler v. City of St. Cloud, No. 04-2800 (8th Cir. Mar. 31, 2005). Pages 5-10 have an excellent discussion of what standards will govern 1983 actions brought under a denial of access to the courts theory.