§ 1983 actions are brought against state officials to remedy the violation of
one's constitutional rights (constitutional torts). Since these violations are not
subject to tort claims acts, vicarious liability does not apply and officials can be
held personally liable. Therefore, the public official being sued must personally
have played a role in the disputed activity. The plaintiff must show that the
official (1) acted under color of state law and (2) violated a clearly established
constitutional right. Officials who retain absolute immunity are free from suit.
Fortunately for the public employee who receives only qualified immunity,
courts will uphold his or her immunity from suit if the employee acted in good
faith. This leaves much leeway for the public official who is untrained in the
finer aspects of constitutional law, and still allows liability for egregious
violations of one's civil rights. To defeat qualified immunity, a claimant must
show that the violated constitutional right was clearly established and the
official knew (or should have known) that his action would violate this right.