Civil Litigation Information & Resources

Filing civil suits is a way for us to hold the state accountable for what they did to us in the streets during the RNC. For more information on notice of claim forms and civil suits, visit the Civil Litigation Working Group’s page.

If you are interested in small group or class action lawsuits, or if you are interested in being part of a political campaign in support of civil litigation, please fill out a Civil Litigation Intake Form. These forms will help us coordinate communication between potential plaintiffs and their attorneys to facilitate small group and class action lawsuits. We’re here for you, so we need to know who you are!

Mail your intake form to:

CRASS Civil Litigation
C/O Coldsnap Legal Collective
P.O. Box 50514
Minneapolis, MN 55405

If you have any questions, email us at RNCcivillit@riseup.net.

Also, please join our announcement-only listserv: RNCcivillit@googlegroups.com. Go to http://groups.google.com, search for “RNCcivillit,” then click on the “Join this group” link and follow the instructions. If you don’t have a Google account, you’ll need to create one, but you can use any email address you want (i.e., you don’t have to create a gmail account just to get these announcements!).

CIVIL LITIGATION INFORMATION (it rhymes!)
What You Need To Know To Make Them Pay

Please note that this page is a work in progress and does not constitute legal advice.

1. What is a Civil Suit?
2. Why Should I File a Civil Suit?
3. Do I Need to Have Been Arrested to File a Civil Suit?
4. What if I am Facing Criminal Charges from the RNC or Got Arrested and Haven’t Been Charged?
5. What is a Notice of Claim and Do I Need to File One?
6. What is the Timeline of Civil Litigation?
7. How Does Civil Litigation Connect to the Larger Anti-Oppression Movement?
8. How Do I Know if I Have a Claim?
9. How Do I Get an Attorney?
10. What About Class Actions and Group Claims?
11. So, What is the Intake Form?
12. Is There a Time Limit to File a Civil Suit?
13. What are My Responsibilities as a Plaintiff?
14
. What is Going to Happen to Support RNC Plaintiffs?
15. How Can I Get Involved?


1. What is a Civil Suit?

A civil suit is basically when one person or party sues another person or party (e.g., a government agency) for alleged harm committed against them. The person who is suing is called the plaintiff. The person who is getting sued (e.g., the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department) is called the defendant. Your suit against the state is called your claim. There are a variety of different types of claims that can be brought against the state, and you and your attorney will choose one based on the type of harm committed, the disposition of your criminal case, and your political and legal goals. You can also choose to represent yourself, which is called going pro se. We have a handy Civil Litigation Glossary related to civil suits to help you understand the terms we’re using.

There are different types of damages that can be awarded from a successful civil suit, but basically it comes down to either money or this thing called injunctive relief. Getting monetary damages can help fund the movement in the future, and it achieves the goal of “making them pay.” But don’t worry! Unless your settlement is huge, it won’t be taking any money from city agencies or social services because the Republican National Committee took out an insurance policy to cover $10 million worth of civil suit damages coming out of the RNC. Injunctive relief is a type of resolution to a civil suit in which the court instructs the defendant to do something or stop doing something. For example, the court could instruct the city to stop using pepper spray or to provide someone to negotiate with the coordinators of unpermitted marches.

2. Why Should I File a Civil Suit?

So many good reasons! You should file a civil suit if you suffered emotional or psychological trauma at the hands of the police during the RNC, were wrongfully arrested, were beaten or attacked with chemical or projectile weapons, were prevented from exercising your constitutional rights, lost property during or after your arrest, or incurred medical expenses as a result of the cops’ actions. This list is not exhaustive, so speak with a civil litigation lawyer to determine whether you have a potential claim. Civil litigation is a good way of holding people, corporations, and the government accountable for the wrongs they have done to others.

However, there are some pretty good reasons not to file a suit or to wait to file until later. If you are facing criminal charges stemming from the RNC, you should consult an attorney before filing a notice of claim or an actual civil suit (more info below). Also, if your criminal case was resolved and you were found guilty, plead guilty, or took another type of plea deal, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to successfully sue the state in civil court. This can be true even if what the cops did to you was not connected with the crime that you allegedly committed, although there is no magic formula to determine in advance how likely you will be to win your suit. Given these uncertainties, this is another good reason to engage in court solidarity and fight your charges by refusing plea deals! Talk to a civil attorney if you want to know if the specifics of your deal would inhibit you from pursuing a successful civil claim.

3. Do I Need to Have Been Arrested to File a Civil Suit?

No! There are lots of reasons you might sue even if you weren’t arrested. For example, police restricted your freedom of movement; your first amendment rights were restricted; you were beaten, pepper sprayed, tased, shot with projectiles, bombed, etc. by a police officer or Sheriff’s deputy; or your person or home was searched unreasonably. An attorney can tell you if your claim is likely to be successful, but that shouldn’t stop you from becoming involved in political support for RNC civil litigation. Also, if you don’t have to worry about criminal charges, then you are in a privileged position to help us with our Notices of Claim Mardi Gras campaign (see below).

4. What if I am Facing Criminal Charges from the RNC or Got Arrested and Haven’t Been Charged?

Then you are a badass and we love you! We also urge you to be cautious about civil litigation until your criminal case is resolved. If you have an open criminal case, any statements you make about the circumstances of your arrest or what you were doing when you got arrested, even if you are making a statement in preparation for a civil suit, can be used against you in your criminal case. However, you can start talking to a civil attorney about your case under the safety of attorney-client privilege.

If you were arrested but haven’t been charged yet (say, at the Marion Street Bridge mass arrest), there is the potential for retaliatory criminal charges to be filed once the state knows that you are planning on suing them. Of course, this would be unethical and against the rules, but then again, so is illegally arresting a bunch of folks for exercising their First Amendment rights. You can learn more about this in the Notices of Claim section.

5. What is a Notice of Claim and Do I Need to File One?

[Note: The deadlines for notice of claim forms for RNC incidents have passed. But that likely won’t disqualify you from filing suit!]

A notice of claim (NOC) is a form that notifies the government or a state agency that you might sue them in the future. It is not a commitment to filing a civil suit in the future, but simply a statement that you might sue. Basically, this form ensures that the government doesn’t destroy any evidence (such as police records) that might relate to your claim.In Minnesota, the deadline for filing a notice of claim is 180 days from the date of the incident.

In the case of lawsuits stemming from the RNC, you might not need to (and probably do not need to) file a NOC relating to your future civil suit since the state already knows what they did to you that week. But filing one can help mitigate against the potential future argument that the state did not receive adequate notice and thus the lawsuit should be dismissed.

Another consideration is that you might not want to file a NOC if you were arrested and haven’t been charged yet since your notice could trigger retaliatory criminal charges from the state. However, filing a notice of claim can make a strong political statement of refusal about standing silent in the face of police brutality and political repression. We believe in informed consent, so if you are comfortable filing a notice of claim, we would love for you to join us in doing so at our upcoming Mardi Gras action (see below). But we understand that not everyone is in a position to do so. The choice is yours.

Also remember that you can file a NOC even if you weren’t arrested, aren’t sure if you want to file a suit in the future, or simply want to provide support to the political campaign supporting RNC civil litigation. In fact, it would be awesome if non-arrestees filed a bunch of notices of claim with us at the Mardi Gras action because it would advance the solidarity campaign and support the arrestees who are unable to do so.

A few more notes on NOCs: you do not have to identify the name of a specific law enforcement officer on your form. You also do not need to say if you are planning on filing a class action or small group claim. Once filed, notices of claim are public record and can be accessed by other state agencies. If you don’t know how much you want to claim for potential damages, either talk to a lawyer or pick a really high number. It doesn’t matter if you plan to file in state or federal criminal court at this stage. If you have evidence of damages (e.g., hospital bills or medical documentation), you might want to include the total amount in the nOC and attach copies of your evidence. If you leave this information out, the agency that receives the NOC can demand that you show them evidence. You’ll have 15 days to respond to their demand, and your NOC will become invalidated if you miss this deadline.

6. What is the Timeline of Civil Litigation?

Civil litigation is unfortunately a very long and drawn out process. We are talking years and years. Most of the suits from the last RNC in New York in 2004 are still underway and the civil litigation from Seattle’s WTO protest in 1999 took 8 years to resolve. So, we have a long road ahead of us. We want to make the road less bumpy, though, so let us know what CRASS can do to support you for the long haul. One of the nice things about civil litigation is that, as a plaintiff, you can back out at any time and drop your suit. Similarly, the defendant can choose to settle the case at any time and pay you off to prevent the case from going to trial. In fact, the first civil suit from RNC-related incidents has already been resolved with a $5,000 settlement from the city of St. Paul. We are already winning and we’ve barely gotten started!

7. How Does Civil Litigation Connect to the Larger Anti-Oppression Movement?

Great question! Civil litigation is one of many ways that you can contribute to anti-oppression work because civil claims force the state to take responsibility for the cops’ messed-up actions. Hopefully, civil cases can be a deterrent to police brutality and the terrorizing of dissent in the future. The tasers, tear gas, crowd control devices, and riot gear that the St. Paul police department bought in anticipation of the RNC haven’t gone away. They are being used daily in the streets against low-income communities, and especially against communities of color. Successful civil suits are one avenue towards mitigating the effects and impact of the police state, and they can contribute to keeping all of our communities safer from police violence.

8. How Do I Know if I Have a Claim?

In our non-legal opinion, everyone who was affected by the RNC has a claim against the city of St. Paul, the Ramsey County Sheriff (Bob Fletcher), the Minneapolis police department, the Republican National Committee, etc. Unfortunately, the courts probably don’t share our opinion, and so at some point you are going to have to decide if your claim is worth pursuing in civil court. Talking to a lawyer is probably the best way of determining this.

9. How Do I Get an Attorney?

Hiring a civil attorney can be expensive, and you need to select one you think will represent you well. You may need to pay for all the work they do throughout the course of your suit, or a portion of the work at the outset. Sometimes, you can get a civil attorney to take on your case “on contingency.” That’s when you don’t pay them until you win a settlement, and if you don’t win, then you don’t pay them at all. Also, you can join your suit with other people into a small group claim or class action, which can spread the costs across a number of people.

If you are looking for politically conscious counsel, you could try hitting up the radical lawyers around town, perhaps those that did pro-bono criminal defense. We’re working on creating a list of rad civil litigation lawyers, so check back here for more information in the future. Also remember that your lawyer works for you. If you are not satisfied with your lawyer’s performance, you can fire them and hire someone else to represent you.

10. What About Class Actions and Group Claims?

First, some definitions: Class actions suits are when a group of people suffered similar harm at the hands of the same defendant(s) and when it would be too complicated and time-consuming for each plaintiff to prove their case individually, or when all the potential plaintiffs cannot be immediately known. In these cases, a few plaintiffs can stand in for a larger group of people making the complaint. These people are called the “named plaintiffs” or “lead plaintiffs.” In order for this to happen, a judge must “certify the class,” which means approving the group as co-plaintiffs. A group claim is sort of like a smaller, more-specific class action wherein there are several plaintiffs in one lawsuit, but each has to prove their own case against the defendant(s).

Class action and small group claims can be an especially effective way of using civil suits to achieve political objectives, and we are excited about helping facilitate this process. Some potential class actions we have identified include the Marion St. Bridge mass arrest, the Shepard’s Road mass arrest, the bombing and gassing near Mickey’s Diner, the mass arrests after the Rage Against the Machine concert in Minneapolis, the bombings and gassing in the Sears parking lot, and the convergence center raid. Without doubt, there are many more potential class action or group claims out there. Let us know if you have ideas about group claims or want to join up with a larger civil suit. The best way you can do that is to fill out the intake form on our Civil Litigation Information and Forms page.

11. So, What is the Intake Form?

The intake form is a document created by CRASS to help coordinate communication between and among potential plaintiffs and lawyers. We are going to use the form to keep track of plaintiffs and civil cases so that we are best able to assist you with your suit. The form will also allow us to get potential co-plaintiffs in touch with each other for class actions or group claims. Pretty please, fill out an intake form on our Civil Litigation Information and Forms page.

12. Is There a Time Limit to File a Civil Suit?

Yes, there is! It’s called the statute of limitations for civil claims. In Minnesota, the statute of limitations is 2 years unless you are making a claim against the sheriff, in which case it is 3 years. Double check with an attorney depending on the type of claim you are making. Also, remember the notice of claim deadline is 180 calendar days from the incident for which you might sue.

13. What are My Responsibilities as a Plaintiff?

First, you have to tell the truth to your lawyer about the circumstances of your claim. Second, you may need to help your lawyer find evidence and/or witnesses to help prove your case. Third, you need to stay in contact with your lawyer and always update them with your contact information when it changes. Fourth, you will need to make yourself available for testimony in many different stages of the lawsuit. That could mean traveling to Minnesota multiple times to give statements before you ever get to trial. Obviously, this is a huge inconvenience and financial burden–especially for out-of-towners. CRASS is committed to helping alleviate this burden through moral support and available couches, but at this time we don’t have funds available for civil litigation travel expenses.

The financial cost of pursuing a civil suit means that many people in our communities wont be able to go forward with their claims. If you have the privilege of being able to follow through on a civil suit, consider it an opportunity to stand in solidarity with those who are unable to do so.

14. What is Going to Happen to Support RNC Plaintiffs?

As always, CRASS is committed to having your back through the whole messy post-RNC legal process. We’ll let you sleep on our couches, answer your questions, come with you to court, and put up lots of information online for you to peruse. We’ve set up a listserv that is going to have announcements and information sent out about civil litigation: RNCcivillit@googlegroups.com. You can add yourself to the list by going to http://groups.google.com, searching for “RNCcivillit”, clicking on “Join this group,” and following the instructions. We are also interested in helping to coordinate class action and small group claims, so submit an intake form to let us know you are interested in these suits.

Most importantly, we are going to coordinate a political support campaign for civil litigation. The RNC has taught us that community organizing and solidarity are the most effective ways to achieve legal victories. We’ll be behind you every step of the way. Check back here for info about upcoming actions and events.

15. How Can I Get Involved?

Lots and lots of ways!! You can file a notice of claim, prepare to file a civil suit, spread the word, give us your money, come to an action, fill out an intake form, or join the CRASS Sue the Bastards! working group. All these things would be greatly appreciated, but in particular if you can take on some of the work or share financial resources with us, we will be forever indebted. You can donate through the PayPal button on our home page or get involved by emailing us at RNCcivillit@riseup.net. Also, consider putting a link to our website up on your blog, facebook, whatever. We are trying to get the word out as far as possible!


As a reminder, this is not legal advice. We tried hard, but make no promises that the information presented here is 100% accurate. You should check with an attorney about the specifics of your case. And get involved with us! You can help us spread the word so that we can create a powerful and radical movement that takes the offensive against the offenses of the police state in St. Paul!

One Response to Civil Litigation Information & Resources

  1. John Waters says:

    I will be filing these forms for my arrest on Sept.1. I will not get them to U by the 24th but will get them to U ASAP.

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