JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
In January 1973, a judge of the 229th District Court of Duval County, Tex., enjoined the production of minerals from certain oil leases owned by respondents. In June 1975, the injunction was dissolved by an appellate court as having been illegally issued. Respondents then filed a complaint in the United States District Court purporting to state a cause of action for damages under 42 U. S. C. § 1983.
All defendants moved to dismiss, the judge asserting judicial immunity and the other defendants urging dismissal for failure to allege action "under color" of state law, a necessary component of a § 1983 cause of action. The District Court concluded that because the injunction was a judicial act within the jurisdiction of the state court, the judge was immune from liability in a § 1983 suit, whether or not the injunction had issued as the result of a corrupt conspiracy. Relying on Haldane v. Chagnon, 345 F.2d 601 (CA9 1965), the District Court also ruled that with the dismissal of the judge the remaining defendants could not be said to have conspired under color of state law within the meaning of § 1983. The action against them was accordingly dismissed "for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted."
In a per curiam opinion, a panel of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed, agreeing that the judge was immune from suit and that because "the remaining defendants, who are all private citizens, did not conspire with any person against whom a valid § 1983 suit can be stated," Sparks v. Duval County Ranch Co., 588 F.2d 124, 126 (1979), existing authorities in the Circuit required dismissal of the claims against these defendants as well.
Based on the doctrine expressed in Bradley v. Fisher, 13 Wall. 335 (1872), this Court has consistently adhered to the rule that "judges defending against § 1983 actions enjoy absolute immunity from damages liability for acts performed in their judicial capacities. Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547 (1967); Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349 (1978)." Supreme Court of Virginia v. Consumers Union, 446 U.S. 719, 734-735 (1980). The courts below concluded that the judicial immunity doctrine required dismissal of the § 1983 action against the judge who issued the challenged injunction, and as the case comes to us, the judge has been properly dismissed from the suit on immunity grounds. It does not follow, however, that the action against the private parties accused of conspiring with the judge must also be dismissed.
As the Court of Appeals correctly understood our cases to hold, to act "under color of" state law for § 1983 purposes does not require that the defendant be an officer of the State. It is enough that he is a willful participant in joint action with the State or its agents. Private persons, jointly engaged
Petitioner nevertheless insists that unless he is held to have an immunity derived from that of the judge, the latter's official immunity will be seriously eroded. We are unpersuaded. The immunities of state officials that we have recognized for purposes of § 1983 are the equivalents of those that were recognized at common law, Owen v. City of Independence, 445 U.S. 622, 637-638 (1980); Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 417 (1976); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967), and the burden is on the official claiming immunity to demonstrate his entitlement. Cf. Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 506 (1978). Thus, in Owen v. City of Independence, supra, a municipality's claim that it could assert the immunity of its officers and agents in a § 1983 damages action was rejected since there was no basis for such a right at common law. Here, petitioner has pointed to nothing indicating that, historically, judicial immunity insulated from damages liability those private persons who corruptly conspire with the judge.
In Gravel v. United States, 408 U.S. 606 (1972), we recognized that the Speech or Debate Clause conferred immunity
It is urged that if petitioner and other private co-conspirators of the judge are to be subject to § 1983 damages actions and if a case such as this is to go to trial, the charge of conspiracy and judicial corruption will necessarily be aired and decided, the consequence being that the judge, though not a party and immune from liability, will be heavily involved, very likely as a witness forced to testify about and defend his judicial conduct. It is true that, based on the Speech or Debate Clause, we have held that Members of Congress need not respond to questions about their legislative acts, Gravel v. United States, supra, at 616-617; and, in general, the scope of state legislative immunity for purposes of § 1983 has been patterned after immunity under the Speech or Debate Clause. Supreme Court of Virginia v. Consumers Union, 446 U. S., at 732-734. But there is no similar constitutionally based privilege immunizing judges from being required to testify about their judicial conduct in third-party litigation. Nor has any demonstration been made that historically the doctrine of judicial immunity not only protected the judge from liability but also excused him from responding as a witness when his co-conspirators are sued. Even if the judge were excused from testifying, it would not follow that actions against private parties must be dismissed.
Of course, testifying takes time and energy that otherwise might be devoted to judicial duties; and, if cases such as this
Judicial immunity arose because it was in the public interest to have judges who were at liberty to exercise their independent judgment about the merits of a case without fear of being mulcted for damages should an unsatisfied litigant be able to convince another tribunal that the judge acted not only mistakenly but with malice and corruption. Pierson v. Ray, supra, at 554; Bradley v. Fisher, 13 Wall., at 349, 350, n. ††. In terms of undermining a judge's independence and his judicial performance, the concern that his conduct will be examined in a collateral proceeding against those with whom he allegedly conspired, a proceeding in which he cannot be held liable for damages and which he need not defend, is not of the same order of magnitude as the prospects of being a defendant in a damages action from complaint to verdict with the attendant possibility of being held liable for damages if the factfinder mistakenly upholds the charge of malice or of a corrupt conspiracy with others. These concerns are not insubstantial, either for the judge or for the public, but we agree with the Court of Appeals that the potential harm to the public from denying immunity to private co-conspirators
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is
"Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress."
"The involvement of a state official in such a conspiracy plainly provides the state action essential to show a direct violation of petitioner's Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights, whether or not the actions of the police were officially authorized, or lawful; Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167 (1961); see United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 326 (1941); Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, 107-111 (1945); Williams v. United States, 341 U.S. 97, 99-100 (1951). Moreover, a private party involved in such a conspiracy, even though not an official of the State, can be liable under § 1983. `Private persons, jointly engaged with state officials in the prohibited action, are acting "under color" of law for purposes of the statute. To act "under color" of law does not require that the accused be an officer of the State. It is enough that he is a willful participant in joint activity with the State or its agents,' United States v. Price, 383 U.S. 787, 794 (1966)." 398 U. S., at 152. (Footnote omitted.)