§ 1983 does not apply to federal officials. Nor does it allow suits against a state
itself, which would violate the Eleventh Amendment. Instead, plaintiffs may
seek relief against state officials and also against municipalities and other intra-
state localities. Unfortunately, litigation often leads to unpredictable
determinations about whether a certain official is a state employee or not. For
example, the Supreme Court held in one case that a county sheriff was a state
employee for purposes of a § 1983 action because he represented the state of
Alabama, not the county in which he acted as law enforcement official, when
executing his law enforcement duties in the course of a criminal investigation.
McMillian v. Monroe County, 520 U.S. 781 (1997). This means that one must
look to the functional nature of the official’s action or determination instead of
the official’s title or the nature of the official’s employment. Whether an official
is acting for the state or a local government is therefore a determination made
on a case-by-case basis.