ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA (D.C. Civil No. 79-2607)
Before Adams, Hunter and Sloviter, Circuit Judges.
Plaintiff-appellant filed two actions in the district court while in confinement awaiting trial before a state court. One action sought a writ of habeas corpus on the ground that plaintiff's continued confinement without trial violated his speedy trial right under Pennsylvania and federal law. That action was dismissed by the district court on the ground that plaintiff failed to exhaust his state remedies. The other action, a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleged a variety of claims arising out of his confinement for which plaintiff sought damages and injunctive relief. The § 1983 action was dismissed by the district court which concluded that it should abstain because of the pending criminal proceeding.
Both dismissals were appealed to this court. Thereafter plaintiff pleaded nolo contendere in the state criminal proceeding. This court then affirmed the dismissal of the habeas corpus action. Davis v. Kelly, -- - F.2d -- (3d Cir. 1981). This appeal concerns the dismissal of the § 1983 suit.
At the time plaintiff originally filed this action in July 1979, he had been confined to Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia since his arrest in October 1978 on a variety of state criminal offenses, including rape and kidnapping. The amended civil rights complaint, filed in March 1980 after the appointment of counsel,*fn1 alleged that the continued detention of plaintiff violated his constitutional rights and sought damages and injunctive relief, including release. It appears that the delay in trying plaintiff was caused partly by the involvement of his criminal trial counsel in other court proceedings but primarily by questions as to plaintiff's competency to stand trial. It is undisputed that for at least part of the period of plaintiff's detention he had been declared incompetent to stand trial, and that he periodically refused to participate in psychiatric examinations.
The amended § 1983 complaint alleged that plaintiff had been denied a speedy trial; that further state criminal proceedings would violate his protection against double jeopardy; that delay in trying him because he was allegedly incompetent to stand trial violated his right to equal protection; and that the state's alleged failure to give him the medication necessary to render him competent constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Additionally, plaintiff alleged that the failure to provide medication constituted a violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (1976). Named as defendants were Edward Rendell, the District Attorney for the City of Philadelphia; Edmund Lyons, the Superintendent of Philadelphia Prisons; Thomas J. Kelly, the Warden at Holmesburg Prison; The Hahnemann Medical College & Hospital of Philadelphia which provides mental health services at Philadelphia prisons; and the City of Philadelphia.
The district court dismissed the action, holding that abstention was required under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S. Ct. 746, 27 L. Ed. 2d 669 (1971), because granting the requested relief would interfere with the ongoing state criminal proceeding. The court received affidavits on plaintiff's claim that the facts fell within the bad faith or harassment exception to Younger but found no such bad faith in this case. The Rehabilitation Act claim was dismissed on the ground that that Act "simply does not apply to the case at bar."
While the case was on appeal, plaintiff pleaded nolo contendere to four counts of the state indictment against him, two counts of corrupting the morals of a minor and two counts of indecent assault. The other counts of the indictment were dismissed and plaintiff was placed on probation for fourteen years. In light of this development the issues raised as to the procedure followed by the district court in ruling on the abstention claim and the correctness of that ruling itself are concededly moot, and a remand would appear to be appropriate.
Defendants, however, argue that since we may affirm the district court's action on any ground which finds support in the record, an affirmance of the dismissal is warranted for two reasons. First they argue that plaintiff's civil rights complaint alleging a violation of speedy trial rights really challenges the fact or duration of his confinement. They claim it is therefore governed by the ruling in Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 93 S. Ct. 1827, 36 L. Ed. 2d 439 (1973), that such challenges go to the core of a habeas corpus action and that the same requirement for exhaustion in habeas actions is applicable. Their second argument, which appears to be an alternate argument applicable only to defendant Rendell, is that the § 1983 suit should be dismissed on the ground that as District Attorney, Rendell enjoys absolute immunity as a matter of law under Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 96 S. Ct. 984, 47 L. Ed. 2d 128 (1976) and its progeny.*fn2
We believe this is not an appropriate case to dispose of the action on grounds not considered by the district court. In the first place, it is not clear what action the defendants believe plaintiff is obliged to take to satisfy what they view as his exhaustion requirement. If they believe he must have appealed the nolo contendere plea, the time for such appeal has probably expired.*fn3 Furthermore, Pennsylvania law generally does not permit an appeal following a plea of guilty or nolo contendere.*fn4 It is unclear whether plaintiff reserved the ...