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Weaver v. Wilcox

decided: May 29, 1981.

WEAVER, FRANCIS EUGENE, AND THE INMATES OF TIOGA COUNTY PRISON, ET AL.
v.
WILCOX, JOHN R., (JACK), SHERIFF, SHERIFF'S DEPT., TIOGA COUNTY, PA., BARTLETT, O. RICHARD, COMMISSIONER, TIOGA COUNTY, PA., EMMONS, VAN, COMMISSIONER, TIOGA CTY. MOORE, JERMIT H., COMMISSIONER, TIOGA CTY., PA. APPELLEES FRANCIS E. WEAVER APPELLANT



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA D.C. Civil No. 80-0593

Before Hunter, Sloviter, Circuit Judges, and Stapleton,*fn* District Judge.

Author: Hunter

Opinion OF THE COURT

Plaintiff, Francis E. Weaver, appeals from a final judgment of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania dismissing his claim for failure to exhaust state administrative and judicial remedies. Appellant, a temporary inmate at Tioga County jail, filed a pro se complaint alleging numerous constitutional violations at the facility. The district judge, acting upon the recommendation of a magistrate, construed appellant's complaint as alleging a cause of action under the federal Declaratory Relief and Mandamus Acts,*fn1 he therefore held that appellant was barred by exhaustion principles from bringing his claims. We hold that appellant's complaint may state, if proper standing is demonstrated, a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1976). Such an action would not be subject to the exhaustion doctrine. Therefore, we will reverse the lower court's judgment and remand for proceedings in accordance with this opinion.

I.

On June 10, 1980, appellant filed a complaint in district court alleging numerous constitutional violations at the Tioga County Prison. Appellant was temporarily confined to the Tioga prison during April, 1980, while he testified at a trial in Tioga County, Pennsylvania.*fn2 He asserted in his form complaint that during his brief incarceration he witnessed and was subject to unconstitutional conditions at the prison, including the denial of an adequate law library for prisoner use, prohibitions on prisoners' collaboration in legal research and writing tasks, denial of out-of-doors exercise periods, deprivation of sanitary facilities for bathing and washing clothes, and denial of a written request or grievance procedures. Appellant's Appendix at 6-7. Appellant sought a preliminary injunction and declaratory judgment against the defendants to remedy these conditions.*fn3

Upon receiving the complaint, the trial judge referred appellant's case to a federal magistrate. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) (1976) (federal Magistrate's Act). The magistrate, in a brief report, recommended that appellant's complaint be dismissed for failure to exhaust his state judicial and administrative remedies. The report stated:

While Plaintiff's complaint is written on a form designating his action as one raised under the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in actuality the jurisdictional bases for Plaintiff's action are 28 U.S.C. § 1361 and 28 U.S.C. § 2201 and 2202, since the sole remedies sought by Plaintiff are mandamus, declaratory and injunctive in nature.

In cases of this nature it is clear that a state inmate, just as a federal inmate, must exhaust all of his available state judicial and administrative remedies before he presents his case on the merits to a federal district court. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 490-492 (93 S. Ct. 1827, 1836-37, 36 L. Ed. 2d 439) (1973); Pitchess v. Davis, 421 U.S. 482 (95 S. Ct. 1748, 44 L. Ed. 2d 317) (1975); Waddell v. Alldredge, 480 F.2d 1078 (3d Cir. 1973).

Magistrates Report at 1, reprinted in Appellant's Appendix at 15. The district court, in a separate order on June 30, 1980, adopted the Magistrate's recommendation.

II.

The district court erred in construing appellant's pro se complaint as one brought under the federal Declaratory Relief and Mandamus Acts. While a litigant might seek a declaration that the conditions at a prison facility are in violation of constitutional standards, the Declaratory Relief Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202 (1976),*fn4 does not provide the jurisdictional basis for such actions. Skelly Oil Co. v. Phillips Co., 339 U.S. 667, 671, 70 S. Ct. 876, 878-79, 94 L. Ed. 1194 (1949). Rather, the Act empowers a federal court to grant the remedy only when there is already an actual controversy, based upon independent jurisdictional grounds, before the court. See Wells v. United States, 280 F.2d 275, 277 (9th Cir. 1960) ("It is well settled that said Act does not of itself create jurisdiction; it merely adds an additional remedy where the district court already has jurisdiction to entertain the suit."). In the instant case, it appears to us that appellant intended to bring his claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See text accompanying notes 7-11 infra. The jurisdictional basis for his action would therefore be 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) and (4) (1976), not the Declaratory Relief Act. The district court erred in assuming that a plaintiff who seeks as one of his remedies a declaratory judgment brings his action under sections 2201 and 2202. Many litigants, including appellant, touch upon these provisions only to secure a specific remedy, not to provide the vehicle for their cause of action or jurisdiction. See, e. g., Educational Equality League, 333 F. Supp. 1202 (E.D.Pa.1971). We hold that appellant in this case did not bring his cause of action under the Declaratory Relief Act and therefore was not subject to the exhaustion principles that may be attendant to that Act.*fn5

Similarly, we hold that the district court erred in interpreting appellant's section 1983 action as one brought under the federal Mandamus Act. Even if appellant had wanted to state a cause of action under 28 U.S.C. § 1361 (1976),*fn6 he could not have done so. Section 1361, by its terms, applies only to writs issued against an "officer or employee of the United States." Appellant brought his action against state officials at the Tioga County prison only, not against federal officers.

As this court reads it, and as appellees' counsel candidly admitted at oral argument, appellant's complaint, both on its face and in content, alleges a cause of action under ...


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