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Bench Book - Official Capacity versus Individual Capacity

Plaintiffs can bring Section 1983 actions against defendants in their official capacity or in their individual capacity. Defendants sued in their official capacity will generally be immune from suits for money damages under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, but that immunity will not necessarily bar a suit seeking injunctive or declaratory relief. The Eleventh Amendment will not bar a Section 1983 suit for money damages against an official acting in his or her individual capacity, but officials may be able to raise qualified immunity defenses in those cases. Qualified immunity bars recovery from officials to the extent that their conduct did not violate clearly established rights of which a reasonable person would have been aware. Immunity issues are discussed in detail in section 5.3.