Ask the County Law Librarian – Suing the Government
I want to sue the State of California, the County of Sacramento, the City of Sacramento, and any other state or local government entity that was involved in depriving me of my civil rights in an incident last March. I was talking about my plans with my cousin, and she told me the statue of limitations was six months. I thought the statues were longer than that–years, not months. Irregardless, I’d better get started–so how do I sue the State?
Thanks for your question. Bringing an action against a public agency or its employee presents special procedural requirements. Before a lawsuit or complaint can be filed with the court, the injured party must first file a claim with the government agency. The agency will typically conduct an investigation and either agrees with your allegations and settles the matter with you or disagrees, and rejects your claim. Once the claim is rejected, you will be notified in writing that you can pursue the matter in court. This is often called your “right to sue letter”. According to the California Government Code section 945.6, you will need to sue within 6 months of receiving the letter, but other “statute of limitation” sections may apply, particularly if you do not receive the written letter.
For your claim, the California Government Code section 910 sets forth the requirements for the required contents of the claim. However, in order to help people comply with this section, “fill in the blank” claim forms are provided by many government agencies and are often available on the internet. For example, claim forms for the State of California, the City of Sacramento, and the County of Sacramento are all available online. For other local government agencies, the law library has put together some information on finding other Government and Police claims.
If the agency you are hoping to sue does not have a claim form available, you can always draft your own using samples here at the law library. I would suggest looking at book called California Government Tort Liability, a practice guide published by CEB. It is a great place to start your research into this area of law, particularly since there are specific time limitations for filing a claim and many immunities within the act which you will want to take a look at. Finally, once you get your right to sue letter, you are ready for the next step: to file a lawsuit in court.
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