West v. Atkins

LOCATION:Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation

DOCKET NO.: 87-5096
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 487 US 42 (1988)
ARGUED: Mar 28, 1988
DECIDED: Jun 20, 1988

Adam Stein – on behalf of the petitioner
Jacob L. Safron – on behalf of the respondent

Facts of the case


Media for West v. Atkins

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 28, 1988 in West v. Atkins

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 20, 1988 in West v. Atkins

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court, No.87-5096, West against Atkins will be announced by Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Well, this case comes to us from the Fourth Circuit.

The respondent, Atkins, is a private physician under contract with the State of North Carolina to provide orthopedic services at a state prison hospital on a part-time basis and he treated the petitioner for a leg injury sustained while the petitioner was an inmate in the prison.

The petitioner, alleging that he was given inadequate treatment, sued the doctor in federal court under a statute we call Section 1983 for violation of his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

The Court entered summary judgment for the physician holding that he was not acting under color of state law.

And the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed.

In an opinion filed with the clerk today, we reverse that judgment and remand the case.

A physician who is under contract with the State to provide medical services to inmates at a state prison hospital acts under color of state law when he treats an inmate.

This result is not affected by the fact that this respondent was paid by contract rather than by salary, nor by the fact that he was not required to work exclusively for the prison.

It is the physician?s function within the state system and not the precise terms of his employment that is determinative.

Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.