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Fidtler v. Rundle

decided as amended may 24 1974.: May 13, 1974.



Adams, Hunter and Weis, Circuit Judges

Author: Adams


ADAMS, Circuit Judge

The issue presented in this appeal is whether the district court erred in holding, on the basis of the record before it, that the superintendent of the State Correctional Institution at Graterford (Graterford), cannot be held liable for damages in a suit brought by a prisoner under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. The district court's conclusion that appellee Alfred T. Rundle, the superintendent, could not be held personally liable for damages prompted it to grant Rundle's motion to dismiss and also to dismiss appellant Joseph Fidtler's action against appellee Edward T. Hendricks, former superintendent of the Philadelphia County Jail (Holmesburg). The district court held no hearing and made no findings with respect to the nature of the duties of Rundle and Hendricks, "nor did it conduct evidentiary proceedings with respect to the good faith defense."

The following facts concerning Fidtler's confinement may be extracted from the various submissions constituting the record in the case. Sometime in 1968, Fidtler was charged with the state crime of aggravated robbery. Because he was unable to post the bond necessary to secure release pending a determination of guilt or innocence, he was incarcerated at Holmesburg. Fidtler objected to being required to perform work while unconvicted and unsentenced, and instituted a civil rights action against Hendricks. On October 31, 1968, the district court, with the consent of the parties, entered a preliminary injunction which, by its terms, "restrained [Hendricks] from compelling [Fidtler] to work until such time as he may have been sentenced."

In December, 1968, Fidtler was convicted of aggravated robbery. Pending sentence, bail was set at $10,000 and since Fidtler was unable to post this amount his confinement at Holmesburg continued. On June 12, 1969, however, Fidtler, still unsentenced, was transferred to Graterford in order to relieve the overcrowded conditions at Holmesburg. Rundle, the superintendent at Graterford, assigned Fidtler to work in the prison laundry.*fn1 Fidtler worked in the Graterford laundry until April 3, 1970, when he was returned to Holmesburg. On May 1, 1970, Fidtler was sentenced to a term of not less than four years nor more than ten years.

The gravamen of Fidtler's complaint centers upon his enforced toil in the Graterford laundry between June 12, 1969 and April 3, 1970. He seeks compensatory damages, computed on the basis of the prevailing hourly wage rate for laundry-type labor in the Philadelphia area, and also punitive damages.

Fidtler asserts that compelling him to perform labor in the prison while he remained unsentenced constituted "involuntary servitude," which is proscribed by the thirteenth amendment. Furthermore, intertwined with Fidtler's contentions with respect to the thirteenth amendment seems to be a postulate, as yet undeveloped, that Rundle, in requiring Fidtler to work while unsentenced, was performing an exclusively judicial function, i.e., sentencing persons convicted of crimes, in violation of the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment.*fn2 It is on the basis of these alleged violations of his civil rights that Fidtler invokes section 1983.

The district court did not reach the merits of Fidtler's constitutional claims in granting the pretrial motions of Rundle and Hendricks. Instead, the district court held that since Rundle, in requiring Fidtler to work, was heeding the command of a Pennsylvania statute which had not been held invalid,*fn3 he was insulated, apparently because of the good faith defense, from damage liability under the language of the Supreme Court's decision in Pierson v. Ray*fn4 for acts transgressing the constitutional rights of Fidtler. Further, the district court concluded that Hendricks' failure to notify Rundle, on the occasion of Fidtler's transfer to Graterford, that an injunction was outstanding forbidding Hendricks to compel Fidtler to toil until he had been sentenced, was "of no moment." Rundle, the district court reasoned, could not be ordered by a court, assuming that the injunction would run against Rundle, to disregard his statutory duties.

On appeal, Fidtler reiterates his constitutional claims. As already indicated, the district court did not reach the merits of these constitutional claims, and for reasons set forth infra we also do not address them. For the purposes of this appeal, two additional contentions of Fidtler are to be considered. First, he asserts that the district court erred in reading the Pennsylvania statute to obligate Rundle to require him to work while incarcerated, although still unsentenced. Second, he contends that, apparently in response to the claims of the appellees, the district court did not correctly discern and apply the standards relating to immunities and defenses available to state officers in section 1983 actions.

Rundle, on the other hand, asserts that, on the basis of Pierson, he "was immune from suit," and, in effect, maintains that the district court properly dismissed the complaint without further proceedings.

At oral argument, counsel for Fidtler stated that Fidtler sought reversal of the district court judgment only insofar as it resulted in dismissal of the complaint against Rundle and that he was not pressing his claim against Hendricks. We, therefore, need only decide whether the district court was warranted in dismissing the complaint as to Rundle.

Further, we shall deal only with Fidtler's contention that the district court erred with respect to its treatment of Rundle's claim that common law immunities and defenses foreclose Fidtler's section 1983 suit; for, as will be shown, the district court did not treat correctly ...

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