JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case presents the question whether a physician who is under contract with the State to provide medical services to inmates at a state-prison hospital on a part-time basis acts "under color of state law," within the meaning of 42 U. S. C. § 1983, when he treats an inmate.
Petitioner, Quincy West, tore his left Achilles tendon in 1983 while playing volleyball at Odom Correctional Center, the Jackson, N. C., state prison in which he was incarcerated. A physician under contract to provide medical care to Odom inmates examined petitioner and directed that he be
Respondent, Samuel Atkins, M. D., a private physician, provided orthopedic services to inmates pursuant to one such contract. Under it, Doctor Atkins was paid approximately $52,000 annually to operate two "clinics" each week at Central Prison Hospital, with additional amounts for surgery.
Relying on a decision of its controlling court in Calvert v. Sharp, 748 F.2d 861 (CA4 1984), cert. denied, 471 U.S. 1132 (1985), the District Court granted Doctor Atkins' motion for summary judgment. In Calvert, the Fourth Circuit held that a private orthopedic specialist, employed by a nonprofit professional corporation which provided services under contract to the inmates at the Maryland House of Corrections
A panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated the District Court's judgment. 799 F.2d 923 (1986). Rather than considering if Calvert could be distinguished, the panel remanded the case to the District Court for an assessment whether the record permitted a finding of deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, a showing necessary for West ultimately to prevail on his Eighth Amendment claim. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976).
On en banc rehearing, however, a divided Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's dismissal of West's complaint. 815 F.2d 993 (1987). In declining to overrule its decision in Calvert, the majority concluded:
The Court of Appeals acknowledged that this rule limits "the range of professionals subject to an Estelle action." Ibid.
The Fourth Circuit's ruling conflicts with decisions of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Ancata v. Prison Health Services, Inc., 769 F.2d 700 (1985), and Ort v. Pinchback, 786 F.2d 1105 (1986), which are to the effect that a physician who contracts with the State to provide medical care to prison inmates, even if employed by a private entity, acts under color of state law for purposes of § 1983.
To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981) (overruled in part on other grounds, Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-331 (1986)); Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 155 (1978). Petitioner West sought to fulfill the first requirement by alleging a violation of his rights secured by the Eighth Amendment under Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). There the Court held that deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious medical needs, whether by a prison doctor or a prison guard, is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. Id., at 104-105. The adequacy of West's allegation and the sufficiency of his showing on this element of his § 1983 cause of action are not contested here.
The traditional definition of acting under color of state law requires that the defendant in a § 1983 action have exercised power "possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law." United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 326 (1941). Accord, Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 187 (1961) (adopting Classic standard for purposes of § 1983) (overruled in part on other grounds, Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 695-701 (1978)); Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 317-318 (1981); id., at 329 (dissenting opinion). In Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., supra, the Court made clear that if a defendant's conduct satisfies the state-action requirement of the Fourteenth Amendment, "that conduct [is] also action under color of state law and will support a suit under § 1983." Id., at 935. Accord, Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830, 838 (1982); United States v. Price, 383 U. S., at 794, n. 7. In such circumstances, the defendant's alleged infringement of the plaintiff's federal rights is "fairly attributable to the State." Lugar, 457 U. S., at 937.
To constitute state action, "the deprivation must be caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State . . . or by a person for whom the State is responsible," and "the party charged with the deprivation must be a person who may fairly be said to be a state actor." Ibid. "[S]tate employment is generally sufficient to render the defendant a state actor." Id., at 936, n. 18; see id., at 937. It is firmly
Indeed, Polk County v. Dodson, relied upon by the Court of Appeals, is the only case in which this Court has determined that a person who is employed by the State and who is sued under § 1983 for abusing his position in the performance of his assigned tasks was not acting under color of state law. The Court held that "a public defender does not act under color of state law when performing a lawyer's traditional functions as counsel to a defendant in a criminal proceeding." 454 U. S., at 325. In this capacity, the Court noted, a public defender differs from the typical government employee and state actor. While performing his duties, the public defender retains all of the essential attributes of a private attorney, including, most importantly, his "professional independence," which the State is constitutionally obliged to respect. Id., at 321-322. A criminal lawyer's professional and ethical obligations require him to act in a role independent of and in opposition to the State. Id., at 318-319, 320. The Court accordingly concluded that when representing an indigent defendant in a state criminal proceeding, the public defender does not act under color of state law for purposes of § 1983 because he "is not acting on behalf of the State; he is the State's adversary." Id., at 323, n. 13. See also Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U. S., at 936, n. 18.
We disagree with the Court of Appeals and respondent that Polk County dictates a conclusion that respondent did
Of course, the Court of Appeals did not perceive the adversarial role the defense lawyer plays in our criminal justice system as the decisive factor in the Polk County decision. The court, instead, appears to have misread Polk County as establishing the general principle that professionals do not act under color of state law when they act in their professional capacities. The court considered a professional not to be subject to suit under § 1983 unless he was exercising "custodial or supervisory" authority. 815 F. 2d, at 995. To the extent this Court in Polk County relied on the fact that the public defender is a "professional" in concluding that he
We now make explicit what was implicit in our holding in Estelle: Respondent, as a physician employed by North Carolina to provide medical services to state prison inmates, acted under color of state law for purposes of § 1983 when undertaking his duties in treating petitioner's injury. Such conduct is fairly attributable to the State.
The Court recognized in Estelle: "An inmate must rely on prison authorities to treat his medical needs; if the authorities fail to do so, those needs will not be met." 429 U. S., at 103. In light of this, the Court held that the State has a constitutional obligation, under the Eighth Amendment, to provide adequate medical care to those whom it has incarcerated. Id., at 104. See also Spicer v. Williamson, 191 N.C. 487, 490, 132 S. E. 291, 293 (1926) (common law requires
The fact that the State employed respondent pursuant to a contractual arrangement that did not generate the same benefits or obligations applicable to other "state employees" does not alter the analysis. It is the physician's function within the state system, not the precise terms of his employment, that determines whether his actions can fairly be attributed
Nor does the fact that Doctor Atkins' employment contract did not require him to work exclusively for the prison make him any less a state actor than if he performed those duties as a full-time, permanent member of the state prison medical staff. It is the physician's function while working for the State, not the amount of time he spends in performance of those duties or the fact that he may be employed by others to perform similar duties, that determines whether he is acting under color of state law.
For the reasons stated above, we conclude that respondent's delivery of medical treatment to West was state action fairly attributable to the State, and that respondent therefore acted under color of state law for purposes of § 1983. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals
It is so ordered.
JUSTICE SCALIA, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.
I agree with the opinion of the Court that respondent acted under color of state law for purposes of § 1983. I do not believe that a doctor who lacks supervisory or other penological duties can inflict "punishment" within the meaning of that term in the Eighth Amendment. Cf. Johnson v. Glick, 481 F.2d 1028, 1031-1032 (CA2) (Friendly, J.), cert. denied sub nom. John v. Johnson, 414 U.S. 1033 (1973). I am also of the view, however, that a physician who acts on behalf of the State to provide needed medical attention to a person involuntarily in state custody (in prison or elsewhere) and prevented from otherwise obtaining it, and who causes physical harm to such a person by deliberate indifference, violates the Fourteenth Amendment's protection against the deprivation of liberty without due process. See Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 315, 324 (1982) (dictum); see generally Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 331 (1986); Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 672-674, and n. 41 (1977); Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165, 169-174 (1952); Johnson, supra, at 1032-1033. I note that petitioner's pro se complaint merely claimed violation of his rights, and it is the courts that have specified which constitutional provision confers those rights.
Apparently, respondent maintained a private practice apart from his work at the prison. Atkins' submissions on his motion for summary judgment, however, do not reflect the extent of his nonprison practice or the extent to which he depended upon the prison work for his livelihood.
"Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, 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."
This determination cannot be transformed into the proposition that no person acts under color of state law where he is exercising independent professional judgment. "[T]he exercise of . . . independent professional judgment," is not, as the Court of Appeals suggested, "the primary test." 815 F. 2d, at 995, n. 1. And Blum and Rendell-Baker provide no support for respondent's argument that a physician, employed by the State to fulfill the State's constitutional obligations, does not act under color of state law merely because he renders medical care in accordance with professional obligations.
Moreover, although the provision of medical services is a function traditionally performed by private individuals, the context in which respondent performs these services for the State (quite apart from the source of remuneration) distinguishes the relationship between respondent and West from the ordinary physician-patient relationship. Cf. Polk County, 454 U. S., at 318. Respondent carried out his duties at the state prison within the prison hospital. That correctional setting, specifically designed to be removed from the community, inevitably affects the exercise of professional judgment. Unlike the situation confronting free patients, the non-medical functions of prison life inevitably influence the nature, timing, and form of medical care provided to inmates such as West. By regulation, matters of medical health involving clinical judgment are the prison physician's "sole province." 5 N. C. Admin. Code § 02E.0204 (1987). These same regulations, however, require respondent to provide medical services "in keeping with the security regulations of the facility." Ibid. The record is undeveloped as to the specific limitations placed on respondent by the state prison system. But studies of prison health care, and simple common sense, suggest that his delivery of medical care was not unaffected by the fact that the State controlled the circumstances and sources of a prisoner's medical treatment. For one thing, the State's financial resources are limited. Further, prisons and jails are inherently coercive institutions that for security reasons must exercise nearly total control over their residents' lives and the activities within their confines; general schedules strictly regulate work, exercise, and diet. These factors can, and most often do, have a significant impact on the provision of medical services in prisons. See generally Neisser, Is There a Doctor in the Joint? The Search for Constitutional Standards for Prison Health Care, 63 Va. L. Rev. 921, 936-946 (1977) (describing the institutional effects on the delivery of health care services in prisons); M. Wishart & N. Dubler, Health Care in Prisons, Jails and Detention Centers: Some Legal and Ethical Dilemmas 4 (1983) ("[T]he delivery of medical services in the nation's prisons and jails is beset with problems and conflicts which are virtually unknown to other health care services").