Question: Can you sue a state in federal court for its violation of your constitutional rights?
Answer: Not unless the state waives its immunity under the 11th Amendment.
The 8th Amendment, which applies to the states through the 14th Amendment, prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment and manifests an intention to limit the power of those entrusted with the government’s criminal-law function. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, persons deprived of federal constitutional rights may bring a private action for damages against individual officers and units of local government. However, the State of Indiana and its agencies are entitled to 11th Amendment immunity from a suit for damages in federal court. While states can waive this immunity, the state must expressly waive its 11th Amendment immunity for claims against it and the official capacity claims against the other state actors since the 11th Amendment divests the federal court of subject matter jurisdiction with regard to any such claims. Note, the Supreme Court has recognized when a plaintiff sues state agents in his or her official capacity for damages, the suit is not against the “person” but is against the official’s office. However, a plaintiff may sue these state acts in their individual capacity for a constitutional violation if the plaintiff can show they acted with deliberate indifference in causing the constitutional violation.