Private Right of Action

Updated January 19, 2024
10 min read
Private Right of Action


If you or someone you know has ever gotten into trouble, received a ticket from an officer, or faced criminal charges, then you have faced legal action. This is when the state (or, in more extreme circumstances, the federal government) takes action against you. But what is a private right of action in this context?

What Is Private Right of Action?

According to Federal law, a private right of action meaning is when a regular person, a private citizen, is legally entitled to enforce their rights under a given statute. This differs from situations where a state or the federal government enforces something like legal violations under a statute. 

  • To break it down more effectively, the word “private,” in the private right of action definition, refers to a person or private persons — a regular citizen like yourself — as opposed to the state or federal government. 

  • The “action” part refers to a lawsuit in civil court. Again, this means that private persons have the right to initiate a lawsuit.

How Does It Work?

So, how does enforcement work for the courts? For starters, there can be legislative decisions by the courts that establish a statute passed by Congress. When this happens, it also explains when the government can prosecute someone for breaking the law. 

For example:

The Supreme Court has laws that prohibit people from defrauding others through securities sales or stock sales. If a criminal enterprise or person breaks these laws, the state has the power of enforcement for damages. 

By comparison, there are securities laws for a private plaintiff, which means that if a criminal enterprise or person defrauds a private citizen through stock sales, that private citizen has civil rights to seek punitive damages to compensate them for being defrauded. 

In this example, the state and the private citizen can enforce the statutory laws about fraudulent activity. 

Certainly, the enforcement mechanisms in the courts can be both public and private, as the examples illustrate. Regarding personal recourse in a scenario such as securities fraud, the private citizen has the right to seek damages.

One of the key steps they might choose to take is to send a letter of intent to sue the party they assert defrauded them. 

Types of Private Rights of Action

There are two types of rights: express right of action and implied right of action. 

  1. Express rights: These are explicitly stated in laws passed by legislative bodies such as Congress. An individual can directly reference these rights, as they are clearly defined and provide the individual with certain powers, such as the right to take legal action.

  2. Implied rights: These aren't outright stated in the law but are inferred from it. These rights, recognized by entities like the Supreme Court, give individuals certain freedoms, like the ability to sue when their rights have been violated, even though the law doesn't directly grant them that power.

Examples of Private Right of Action

That said, not every situation will give rise to a lawsuit. In order to use private action, you need legal grounds. This means the law must give you authorization expressly or implied. 

If a private citizen were to bring a case against another person or entity, that private citizen would be referred to as the “plaintiff,” and the person against whom they submitted a claim is the “defendant.” There are, however, some state-based examples where a citizen can take action against a company or other citizen under the private cause of action. 

Biometric laws

If you live in Illinois, you have protection as it relates to Biometric laws. These are situations that involve your biometrics, usually a fingerprint, like those scanners on your computer or smartphone. Here, you can utilize biometric laws to sue a company for invading your privacy.

Companies using biometric technology are under a legal obligation to keep information safe and secure. If they fail in that obligation, and you suffer damages as a result, then you can sue over the situation. 


In California, there is a law called the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA). This law does not contain information on how much compensation or what type of damages can be sought in a legal claim, but it does give people the right to sue companies if they have mismanaged personal data and the person suffered as a direct result of that mismanagement. It’s important to note that even this does not mean anyone can sue anyone else. 

If you are in California and Company A mismanages your personal data, you can use private right of action data privacy to sue IF you have suffered damages. So, IF the mismanagement in question resulted in your private data being made public, your identity stolen, and money lost, you can sue. However,  if it resulted in nothing, you can’t sue.  

7 U.S. Code § 25

Not all private right of action examples are at the state level; some are federal, like 7 U.S. Code § 25. This one is a bit more comprehensive than biometrics or personal data. Here, the law states that anyone who violates this law can be sued for any of the damages they cause. The laws in question relate namely to securities. 

This code states that you:

  1. Cannot give false trading advice for a fee;

  2. Cannot create a fake contract for options trading or commodity trading, nor can you take money, property, or securities from someone as payment for a fake contract; and

  3. Cannot sell fake stocks or commodities.

In effect, this entire securities chapter stipulates that you cannot register a fake entity and sell fake stocks or commodities to other people. This is fraudulent, and if you do it, then all the other people to whom you sold are allowed to sue you for damages. 


HIPAA is another federal example. With this law, also known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, health insurance companies and anyone who accesses your health information must adhere to stringent privacy regulations. 

For example, if somebody places a call to your family doctor pretending to be your family and asks for updates on your situation, and your doctor provides it to them without your consent, this could be grounds for a lawsuit. Your doctor is not permitted to provide private information to this person and, therefore, is in direct violation of federal law.


The Americans with Disabilities Act is another example of a federal act tied to private action decisions. Under this regulation, there are measures that companies and individuals must take and rules they must follow. 

For example, companies cannot discriminate against somebody based solely on a disability. Similarly, places of business must have ADA-compliant features, such as a ramp, so somebody in a wheelchair can access the place of business. In any situation where discrimination takes place or a business doesn’t comply with the law, an individual can sue that business or person. 

Examples of private citizens taking action against companies and suing them for damages because of a disability are among the most common uses of the private right of action laws.


The CAA, known as the Clayton Antitrust Act, is a set of laws to prevent unfair competition. This means that companies cannot prohibit labor unions, stop employees from striking, or prevent their employees from boycotting. 

Companies also cannot use price discrimination to drive other businesses out of an area and take over in the form of a monopoly. Businesses cannot use anti-competitive mergers in order to drive other companies out of business either. If a business violates antitrust laws, then private citizens can sue. In this case, it is likely that the person suing would be one of the companies victimized by the monopolistic measures of the wrong company.


Overall, a private right to action literally means that a private citizen has the right to take action. Action can be taken against another person or a criminal enterprise as Congress intended. Through the privacy act and the privacy clause, someone can exercise their rights successfully alongside a state or federal government case. 

For anyone navigating this legal landscape, it's recommended to contact a civil rights lawyer to guide you. Moreover, Lawrina, a reliable legaltech ecosystem, can further assist in streamlining the legal process, ensuring you understand and utilize your rights effectively.

Article by
Inna Chumachenko

Inna Chumachenko is the Content Lead at Lawrina. She is responsible for managing all the content found on the blog, guides, and other website pages. Inna has a degree in philology and a vast interest in law. In her role at Lawrina, Inna oversees the content team, establishes collaborations with writers, and curates content from various contributors.

If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the content for Lawrina, please feel free to contact Inna directly via email at or connect with her on LinkedIn.