Justice Souter, delivered the opinion of the Court.
The issue is whether a state wide association incorporated to regulate interscholastic athletic competition among public and private secondary schools may be regarded as engaging in state action when it enforces a rule against a member school. The association in question here includes most public schools located within the State, acts through their representatives, draws its officers from them, is largely funded
Respondent Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (Association) is a not-for-profit membership corporation organized to regulate interscholastic sport among the public and private high schools in Tennessee that belong to it. No school is forced to join, but without any other authority actually regulating interscholastic athletics, it enjoys the memberships of almost all the State's public high schools (some 290 of them or 84% of the Association's voting membership), far outnumbering the 55 private schools that belong. A member school's team may play or scrimmage only against the team of another member, absent a dispensation.
The Association's rulemaking arm is its legislative council, while its board of control tends to administration. The voting membership of each of these nine-person committees is limited under the Association's bylaws to high school principals, assistant principals, and superintendents elected by the member schools, and the public school administrators who so serve typically attend meetings during regular school hours. Although the Association's staff members are not paid by the State, they are eligible to join the State's public retirement system for its employees. Member schools pay dues to the Association, though the bulk of its revenue is gate receipts at member teams' football and basketball tournaments, many of them held in public arenas rented by the Association.
The constitution, bylaws, and rules of the Association set standards of school membership and the eligibility of students to play in interscholastic games. Each school, for
Ever since the Association was incorporated in 1925, Tennessee's State Board of Education (State Board) has (to use its own words) acknowledged the corporation's functions "in providing standards, rules and regulations for interscholastic competition in the public schools of Tennessee," id., at 211. More recently, the State Board cited its statutory authority, Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-1—302 (1996) (App. 220), when it adopted language expressing the relationship between the Association and the State Board. Specifically, in 1972, it went so far as to adopt a rule expressly "designat[ing]" the Association as "the organization to supervise and regulate the athletic activities in which the public junior and senior high schools in Tennessee participate on an interscholastic basis." Tennessee State Board of Education, Administrative Rules and Regulations, Rule 0520-1—2—.26 (1972) (later moved to Rule 0520-1—2—.08). The Rule provided that "the authority granted herein shall remain in effect until revoked" and instructed the State Board's chairman to "designate a person or persons to serve in an ex-officio capacity on the [Association's governing bodies]." App. 211. That same year, the State Board specifically approved the Association's rules and regulations, while reserving the right to review future changes. Thus, on several occasions over the next 20 years, the State Board reviewed, approved, or reaffirmed its approval of the recruiting Rule at issue in this case. In 1996, however, the State Board dropped the original Rule 0520-1—2—.08 expressly designating the Association
The action before us responds to a 1997 regulatory enforcement proceeding brought against petitioner, Brentwood Academy, a private parochial high school member of the Association. The Association's board of control found that Brentwood violated a rule prohibiting "undue influence" in recruiting athletes, when it wrote to incoming students and their parents about spring football practice. The Association accordingly placed Brentwood's athletic program on probation for four years, declared its football and boys' basketball teams ineligible to compete in play-offs for two years, and imposed a $3,000 fine. When these penalties were imposed, all the voting members of the board of control and legislative council were public school administrators.
Brentwood sued the Association and its executive director in federal court under Rev. Stat. § 1979, 42 U. S. C. § 1983, claiming that enforcement of the Rule was state action and a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court entered summary judgment for Brentwood and enjoined the Association from enforcing the Rule. 13 F.Supp.2d 670 (MD Tenn. 1998). In holding the Association to be a state actor under § 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment, the District Court found that the State had delegated authority over high school athletics to the Association, characterized the relationship between the Association and its public school members as symbiotic, and emphasized the predominantly public character of the Association's membership and leadership. The court relied on language in National Collegiate Athletic Assn. v. Tarkanian, 488 U.S. 179, 193, n. 13 (1988), suggesting that state wide interscholastic athletic associations are state actors, and on other federal cases
The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed. 180 F.3d 758 (1999). It recognized that there is no single test to identify state actions and state actors but applied three criteria derived from Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991 (1982), Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922 (1982), and Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830 (1982), and found no state action under any of them. It said the District Court was mistaken in seeing a symbiotic relationship between the State and the Association, it emphasized that the Association was neither engaging in a traditional and exclusive public function nor responding to state compulsion, and it gave short shrift to the language from Tarkanian on which the District Court relied. Rehearing en banc was later denied over the dissent of two judges, who criticized the panel decision for creating a conflict among state and federal courts, for being inconsistent with Tarkanian, and for lacking support in the "functional" analysis of private activity required by West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42 (1988), for assessing the significance of cooperation between public officials and a private actor. 190 F.3d 705 (CA6 1999) (Merritt, J., dissenting from denial of rehearing en banc).
We granted certiorari, 528 U.S. 1153 (2000), to resolve the conflict
Our cases try to plot a line between state action subject to Fourteenth Amendment scrutiny and private conduct (however exceptionable) that is not. Tarkanian, supra, at 191; Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 349 (1974). The judicial obligation is not only to "`preserv[e] an area of individual freedom by limiting the reach of federal law' and avoi[d] the imposition of responsibility on a State for conduct it could not control," Tarkanian, supra, at 191 (quoting Lugar, supra, at 936-937), but also to assure that constitutional standards are invoked "when it can be said that the State is responsible for the specific conduct of which the plaintiff complains," Blum, supra, at 1004 (emphasis in original). If the Fourteenth Amendment is not to be displaced, therefore, its ambit cannot be a simple line between States and people operating outside formally governmental organizations, and the deed of an ostensibly private organization or individual is to be treated sometimes as if a State had caused it to be performed. Thus, we say that state action may be found if, though only if, there is such a "close nexus between the State and the challenged action" that seemingly private behavior "may be fairly treated as that of the State itself." Jackson, supra, at 351.
What is fairly attributable is a matter of normative judgment, and the criteria lack rigid simplicity. From the range of circumstances that could point toward the State behind an individual face, no one fact can function as a necessary condition across the board for finding state action; nor is any set of circumstances absolutely sufficient, for there may be some
Our cases have identified a host of facts that can bear on the fairness of such an attribution. We have, for example, held that a challenged activity may be state action when it results from the State's exercise of "coercive power," Blum, 457 U. S., at 1004, when the State provides "significant encouragement, either overt or covert," ibid., or when a private actor operates as a "willful participant in joint activity with the State or its agents," Lugar, supra, at 941 (internal quotation marks omitted). We have treated a nominally private entity as a state actor when it is controlled by an "agency of the State," Pennsylvania v. Board of Directors of City Trusts of Philadelphia, 353 U.S. 230, 231 (1957) (per curiam), when it has been delegated a public function by the State, cf., e. g., West v. Atkins, supra, at 56; Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., 500 U.S. 614, 627-628 (1991), when it is "entwined with governmental policies," or when government is "entwined in [its] management or control," Evans v. Newton, 382 U.S. 296, 299, 301 (1966).
Amidst such variety, examples may be the best teachers, and examples from our cases are unequivocal in showing that the character of a legal entity is determined neither by its expressly private characterization in statutory law, nor by the failure of the law to acknowledge the entity's inseparability from recognized government officials or agencies. Lebron v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation, 513 U.S. 374 (1995), held that Amtrak was the Government for constitutional purposes, regardless of its congressional designation as private; it was organized under federal law to attain governmental objectives and was directed and controlled by federal appointees. Pennsylvania v. Board of Directors of City Trusts of Philadelphia, supra, held the privately endowed Girard College to be a state actor and enforcement of its private founder's limitation of admission
These examples of public entwinement in the management and control of ostensibly separate trusts or corporations foreshadow this case, as this Court itself anticipated in Tarkanian. Tarkanian arose when an undoubtedly state actor, the University of Nevada, suspended its basketball coach, Tarkanian, in order to comply with rules and recommendations of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The coach charged the NCAA with state action, arguing that the state university had delegated its own functions to the NCAA, clothing the latter with authority to make and apply the university's rules, the result being joint action making the NCAA a state actor.
To be sure, it is not the strict holding in Tarkanian that points to our view of this case, for we found no state action on the part of the NCAA. We could see, on the one hand, that the university had some part in setting the NCAA's rules, and the Supreme Court of Nevada had gone so far as to hold that the NCAA had been delegated the university's traditionally exclusive public authority over personnel. 488 U. S., at 190. But on the other side, the NCAA's policies were shaped not by the University of Nevada alone, but by several hundred member institutions, most of them having no connection with Nevada, and exhibiting no color of Nevada law. Id., at 193. Since it was difficult to see the NCAA, not as a collective membership, but as surrogate for the one State, we held the organization's connection with Nevada
But dictum in Tarkanian pointed to a contrary result on facts like ours, with an organization whose member public schools are all within a single State. "The situation would, of course, be different if the [Association's] membership consisted entirely of institutions located within the same State, many of them public institutions created by the same sovereign." Id., at 193, n. 13. To support our surmise, we approvingly cited two cases: Clark v. Arizona Interscholastic Assn., 695 F.2d 1126 (CA9 1982), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 818 (1983), a challenge to a state high school athletic association that kept boys from playing on girls' interscholastic volleyball teams in Arizona; and Louisiana High School Athletic Assn. v. St. Augustine High School, 396 F.2d 224 (CA5 1968), a parochial school's attack on the racially segregated system of interscholastic high school athletics maintained by the athletic association. In each instance, the Court of Appeals treated the athletic association as a state actor.
Just as we foresaw in Tarkanian, the "necessarily factbound inquiry," Lugar, 457 U. S., at 939, leads to the conclusion of state action here. The nominally private character of the Association is overborne by the pervasive entwinement of public institutions and public officials in its composition and workings, and there is no substantial reason to claim unfairness in applying constitutional standards to it.
The Association is not an organization of natural persons acting on their own, but of schools, and of public schools to the extent of 84% of the total. Under the Association's bylaws, each member school is represented by its principal or a faculty member, who has a vote in selecting members of the governing legislative council and board of control from eligible principals, assistant principals, and superintendents.
In sum, to the extent of 84% of its membership, the Association is an organization of public schools represented by their
To complement the entwinement of public school officials with the Association from the bottom up, the State of Tennessee has provided for entwinement from top down. State Board members are assigned ex officio to serve as members of the board of control and legislative council, and the Association's ministerial employees are treated as state employees to the extent of being eligible for membership in the state retirement system.
It is, of course, true that the time is long past when the close relationship between the surrogate association and its public members and public officials acting as such was attested frankly. As mentioned, the terms of the State Board's Rule expressly designating the Association as regulator of interscholastic athletics in public schools were deleted in 1996, the year after a Federal District Court held that the Association was a state actor because its rules were "caused, directed and controlled by the Tennessee Board of Education," Graham v. TSSAA, No. 1:95—CV-044, 1995 WL 115890, *5 (ED Tenn., Feb. 20, 1995).
The entwinement down from the State Board is therefore unmistakable, just as the entwinement up from the member public schools is overwhelming. Entwinement will support a conclusion that an ostensibly private organization ought to be charged with a public character and judged by constitutional standards; entwinement to the degree shown here requires it.
Entwinement is also the answer to the Association's several arguments offered to persuade us that the facts would not support a finding of state action under various criteria applied in other cases. These arguments are beside the point, simply because the facts justify a conclusion of state action under the criterion of entwinement, a conclusion in no sense unsettled merely because other criteria of state action may not be satisfied by the same facts.
The Association places great stress, for example, on the application of a public function test, as exemplified in Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830 (1982). There, an apparently private school provided education for students whose special needs made it difficult for them to finish high school. The record, however, failed to show any tradition of providing public special education to students unable to cope with a regular school, who had historically been cared for (or ignored) according to private choice. It was true that various public school districts had adopted the practice of referring students to the school and paying their tuition, and no one disputed that providing the instruction aimed at a proper public objective and conferred a public benefit. But we held that the performance of such a public function did not permit a finding of state action on the part of the school unless the function performed was exclusively and traditionally
For the same reason, it avails the Association nothing to stress that the State neither coerced nor encouraged the actions complained of. "Coercion" and "encouragement" are like "entwinement" in referring to kinds of facts that can justify characterizing an ostensibly private action as public instead. Facts that address any of these criteria are significant, but no one criterion must necessarily be applied. When, therefore, the relevant facts show pervasive entwinement to the point of largely overlapping identity, the implication of state action is not affected by pointing out that the facts might not loom large under a different test.
This is not to say that all of the Association's arguments are rendered beside the point by the public officials' involvement in the Association, for after application of the entwinement criterion, or any other, there is a further potential issue, and the Association raises it. Even facts that suffice to show public action (or, standing alone, would require such a finding) may be outweighed in the name of some value at odds with finding public accountability in the circumstances. In Polk County, 454 U. S., at 322, a defense lawyer's actions were deemed private even though she was employed by the county and was acting within the scope of her duty as a public defender. Full-time public employment would be conclusive of state action for some purposes, see West v. Atkins, 487 U. S., at 50, accord, Lugar, 457 U. S., at 935, n. 18, but not when the employee is doing a defense lawyer's primary job; then, the public defender does "not ac[t] on behalf of the State; he is the State's adversary." Polk County, supra, at
The assertion of such a countervailing value is the nub of each of the Association's two remaining arguments, neither of which, however, persuades us. The Association suggests, first, that reversing the judgment here will somehow trigger an epidemic of unprecedented federal litigation. Brief for Respondents 35. Even if that might be counted as a good reason for a Polk County decision to call the Association's action private, the record raises no reason for alarm here. Save for the Sixth Circuit, every Court of Appeals to consider a state wide athletic association like the one here has found it a state actor. This majority view began taking shape even before Tarkanian, which cited two such decisions approvingly, see supra, at 298 (and this was six years after Blum, Rendell-Baker, and Lugar, on which the Sixth Circuit relied here). No one, however, has pointed to any explosion of § 1983 cases against interscholastic athletic associations in the affected jurisdictions. Not to put too fine a point on it, two District Courts in Tennessee have previously held the Association itself to be a state actor, see Graham, 1995 WL 115890, at *5; Crocker v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Assn., 735 F.Supp. 753 (MD Tenn. 1990), affirmance order, 908 F.2d 972, 973 (CA6 1990), but there is no evident wave of litigation working its way across the State. A reversal of the judgment here portends nothing more than the harmony of an outlying Circuit with precedent otherwise uniform.
Nor do we think there is anything to be said for the Association's contention that there is no need to treat it as a state actor since any public school applying the Association's rules is itself subject to suit under § 1983 or Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 86 Stat. 373, 20 U. S. C. §§ 1681— 1688. Brief for Respondents 30. If Brentwood's claim were pushing at the edge of the class of possible defendant state actors, an argument about the social utility of expanding
The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
Justice Thomas, with whom The Chief Justice, Justice Scalia, and Justice Kennedy join, dissenting.
We have never found state action based upon mere "entwinement." Until today, we have found a private organization's acts to constitute state action only when the organization performed a public function; was created, coerced, or encouraged by the government; or acted in a symbiotic relationship with the government. The majority's holding— that the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association's (TSSAA) enforcement of its recruiting rule is state action— not only extends state-action doctrine beyond its permissible limits but also encroaches upon the realm of individual freedom that the doctrine was meant to protect. I respectfully dissent.
Like the state-action requirement of the Fourteenth Amendment, the state-action element of 42 U. S. C. § 1983 excludes from its coverage "merely private conduct, however
Regardless of these various tests for state action, common sense dictates that the TSSAA's actions cannot fairly be attributed to the State, and thus cannot constitute state action. The TSSAA was formed in 1925 as a private corporation to organize interscholastic athletics and to sponsor tournaments among its member schools. Any private or public secondary school may join the TSSAA by signing a contract agreeing to comply with its rules and decisions. Although public schools currently compose 84% of the TSSAA's membership, the TSSAA does not require that public schools constitute a set percentage of its membership, and, indeed, no public school need join the TSSAA. The TSSAA's rules are enforced not by a state agency but by its own board of control, which comprises high school principals, assistant principals, and superintendents, none of whom must work at a public school. Of course, at the time the recruiting rule was enforced in this case, all of the board members happened to be public school officials. However, each board member acts in
The State of Tennessee did not create the TSSAA. The State does not fund the TSSAA and does not pay its employees.
Moreover, the State of Tennessee has never had any involvement in the particular action taken by the TSSAA in this case: the enforcement of the TSSAA's recruiting rule prohibiting members from using "undue influence" on students or their parents or guardians "to secure or to retain a student for athletic purposes." App. 115. There is no indication that the State has ever had any interest in how schools choose to regulate recruiting.
Even approaching the issue in terms of any of the Court's specific state-action tests, the conclusion is the same: The TSSAA's enforcement of its recruiting rule against Brentwood Academy is not state action. In applying these tests,
The TSSAA has not performed a function that has been "traditionally exclusively reserved to the State." Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 352 (1974). The organization of interscholastic sports is neither a traditional nor an exclusive public function of the States. Widespread organization and administration of interscholastic contests by schools did not begin until the 20th century. See M. Lee, A History of Physical Education and Sports in the U. S. A. 73 (1983) (explaining that what little interscholastic athletics there was in the 19th century "came almost entirely in the closing decade of the century and was largely pupil inspired, pupil controlled, and pupil coached"); id., at 68, 146 (stating that no control of high school sports occurred until 1896, when a group of teachers in Wisconsin set up a committee to control such contests, and pointing out that "[i]t was several years before the idea caught on in other states"). Certainly, in Tennessee, the State did not even show an interest in interscholastic athletics until 47 years after the TSSAA had been in existence and had been orchestrating athletic contests throughout the State. Even then, the State Board of Education merely acquiesced in the TSSAA's actions and did not assume the role of regulating interscholastic athletics. Cf. Blum, 457 U. S., at 1004-1005 ("Mere approval of or acquiescence in the initiatives of a private party is not sufficient to justify holding the State responsible for those initiatives . . ."); see also Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 164-165 (1978). The TSSAA no doubt serves the public, particularly the public schools, but the mere provision of a service to the public does not render such provision a traditional and exclusive public function. See RendellBaker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830, 842 (1982).
In addition, the State of Tennessee has not "exercised coercive power or . . . provided such significant encouragement [to the TSSAA], either overt or covert," Blum, 457 U. S., at 1004, that the TSSAA's regulatory activities must in law be deemed to be those of the State. The State has not promulgated any regulations of interscholastic sports, and nothing in the record suggests that the State has encouraged or coerced the TSSAA in enforcing its recruiting rule. To be sure, public schools do provide a small portion of the TSSAA's funding through their membership dues, but no one argues that these dues are somehow conditioned on the TSSAA's enactment and enforcement of recruiting rules.
Finally, there is no "symbiotic relationship" between the State and the TSSAA. Moose Lodge, supra, at 175; cf. Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority, 365 U.S. 715 (1961). Contrary to the majority's assertion, see ante, at 299-300, the TSSAA's "fiscal relationship with the State is not different from that of many contractors performing services for the government." Rendell-Baker, supra, at 843. The TSSAA provides a service—the organization of athletic tournaments—in exchange for membership dues and gate fees, just as a vendor could contract with public schools to sell refreshments at school events. Certainly the public school could sell its own refreshments, yet the existence of that option does not transform the service performed by the contractor into a state action. Also, there is no suggestion in this case that, as was the case in Burton, the State profits from the TSSAA's decision to enforce its recruiting rule.
Although the TSSAA's enforcement activities cannot be considered state action as a matter of common sense or under any of this Court's existing theories of state action, the majority presents a new theory. Under this theory, the majority holds that the combination of factors it identifies evidences "entwinement" of the State with the TSSAA, and that such entwinement converts private action into state action. Ante, at 296-297. The majority does not define "entwinement," and the meaning of the term is not altogether clear. But whatever this new "entwinement" theory may entail, it lacks any support in our state-action jurisprudence. Although the majority asserts that there are three examples of entwinement analysis in our cases, there is no case in which we have rested a finding of state action on entwinement alone.
Two of the cases on which the majority relies do not even use the word "entwinement." See Lebron v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation, supra; Pennsylvania v. Board of Directors of City Trusts of Philadelphia, supra. Lebron concerned the status of Amtrak, a corporation that Congress created and placed under Government control for the specific purpose of achieving a governmental objective (namely, to avert the threatened extinction of passenger train service in the United States). 513 U. S., at 383, 386. Without discussing any notion of entwinement, we simply held that, when "the Government creates a corporation by special law, for the furtherance of governmental objectives, and retains for itself permanent authority to appoint a majority of the directors of that corporation, the corporation is part of the Government for purposes of the First Amendment." Id., at 400. Similarly, in
The majority's third example, Evans v. Newton, 382 U.S. 296 (1966), lends no more support to an "entwinement" theory than do Lebron and City Trusts. Although Evans at least uses the word "entwined," 382 U. S., at 299 ("Conduct that is formally `private' may become so entwined with governmental policies or so impregnated with a governmental character as to become subject to the constitutional limitations placed upon state action"), we did not discuss entwinement as a distinct concept, let alone one sufficient to transform a private entity into a state actor when traditional theories of state action do not. On the contrary, our analysis rested on the recognition that the subject of the dispute, a park, served a "public function," much like a fire department or a police department. Id., at 302. A park, we noted, is a "public facility" that "serves the community." Id., at 301— 302. Even if the city severed all ties to the park and placed its operation in private hands, the park still would be "municipal in nature," analogous to other public facilities that have given rise to a finding of state action: the streets of a company town in Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501 (1946), the elective process in Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461 (1953), and the transit system in Public Util. Comm'n of D. C. v. Pollak, 343 U.S. 451 (1952). 382 U. S., at 301-302. Because the park served public functions, the private trustees operating the park were considered to be state actors.
* * *
Because the majority never defines "entwinement," the scope of its holding is unclear. If we are fortunate, the majority's fact-specific analysis will have little bearing beyond this case. But if the majority's new entwinement test develops in future years, it could affect many organizations that foster activities, enforce rules, and sponsor extracurricular competition among high schools—not just in athletics, but in such diverse areas as agriculture, mathematics, music, marching bands, forensics, and cheerleading. Indeed, this entwinement test may extend to other organizations that are composed of, or controlled by, public officials or public entities, such as firefighters, policemen, teachers, cities, or counties.
I respectfully dissent.
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the Florida High School Activities Association, Inc., by Leonard E. Ireland, Jr.; for the Interscholastic Associations by Wayne F. Plaza, Daniel M. Noland, Mallory V. Mayse, and Edmund J. Sikorski, Jr.; and for the Kentucky High School Athletic Association by Danny C. Reeves and David A. French.
David A. Wilson, John C. Bonifaz, and Brenda Wright filed a brief for the National Voting Rights Institute as amicus curiae.
The majority also cites this resolution to support its assertion that "[e]ver since the Association was incorporated in 1925, Tennessee's State Board of Education . . . has acknowledged the corporation's function `in providing standards, rules and regulations for interscholastic competition in the public schools of Tennessee.' " Ante, at 292. However, there is no evidence in the record that suggests that the State of Tennessee or the State Board of Education had any involvement or interest in the TSSAA prior to 1972.