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25 Cardozo L. Rev. 793 (2003-2004)
Civil Rights Plaintiffs and John Doe Defendants: A Study in Section 1983 Procedure

handle is hein.journals/cdozo25 and id is 809 raw text is: CIVIL RIGHTS PLAINTIFFS AND JOHN DOE
Howard M Wasserman*
On May 10, Robert Hall was arrested in Baker County, Georgia on
a warrant charging him with theft of a tire. Deputy Sheriff Screws,
Special Deputy Kelley, and Police Officer Jones arrested Hall at his
home late in the evening, placing him in handcuffs and transporting him
by squad car to the county jail. As Hall emerged from the car,
apparently still with his hands cuffed behind his back, some or all of the
three officers began beating him with their fists and with an eight-inch,
two-pound blackjack. The beating continued after Hall had fallen to the
ground, for between fifteen and thirty minutes, until Hall lost
consciousness. Hall was dragged into the jail and left on the floor of the
cell. An ambulance later transported him to the hospital, where he died
within the hour, never regaining consciousness.'
Suppose that Hall left behind a wife, who wants to sue the
government and the public officials responsible for her husband's death
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.2 Section 1983 lacks its own limitations period;
* Assistant Professor, FIU College of Law. J.D., 1997, B.S., 1990, Northwestern University.
© 2003 Howard M. Wasserman. My thanks to Carol Rice Andrews, Edward Cooper, Larry
Garvin, Michael Gerhardt, Steven Gey, Harold Lewis, Greg Mitchell, Peter Oh, Benjamin
Priester, and Carl Tobias for their thoughts and reviews of earlier drafts. This paper was
presented to the faculties at Florida State University College of Law, Michigan State-DCL
College of Law, and Brooklyn Law School.
I The incident described is based on the facts of Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, 92-93
(1945), in which the Supreme Court upheld the convictions of three officers for criminal civil
rights violations, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 242. See Christopher A. Bracey, Truth and Legitimacy
in the American Criminal Process, 90 J. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 691, 711-12 (2000); Christina
Brooks Whitman, Emphasizing the Constitution in Constitutional Torts, 72 CHI.-KENT L. REV.
661, 671-72 (1997) [hereinafter Whitman, Constitutional Torts]. The one minor change made in
setting this scenario is making Screws a deputy, when in fact he was the County Sheriff. The
reasons for this change will become clear. See discussion infra notes 158-62, 254 and
accompanying text.
2 Section 1983 is the codification of§ 1 of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. It provides:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage,

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