Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. No. 91-cv-05582
Before: Mansmann, Alito, and Rosenn, Circuit Judges.
This appeal raises a novel question whether a writ of habeas corpus can be expanded in its use to produce a prison paralegal inmate to assist a fellow prisoner in his civil rights action for damages. The issue arises out of a § 1983 lawsuit filed by Michael Jones, a prisoner at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton (TSP), against Captain Louis Hagler, a corrections officer at TSP and the sole remaining defendant, in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. Jones alleged that he was sexually assaulted by his two cellmates and that, in placing him in a multiple-lock housing unit reputed to contain homosexual inmates who "prey on other inmates for sex," Hagler acted with deliberate indifference to plaintiff's personal safety.
The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, which the district court denied. Additionally, Jones filed a motion seeking the appointment of counsel to prosecute his civil suit, which the court also denied. The court concluded that, in light of Jones' likelihood of success and the type and complexity of the case, appointment of counsel was not warranted. Moreover, based upon his prior submissions, the court determined that Jones was capable of adequately representing himself.
Subsequently, after the court's refusal to appoint counsel, Jones requested of the court that Thomas L. Hill, an inmate paralegal at TSP, be allowed to assist him at trial. The district court consented and ordered that a writ of habeas corpus be directed to the warden of TSP. Hagler moved for a stay pending appeal, which the district court denied. Hagler then filed a motion with this court for an emergency stay pending appeal, which we granted. This court also directed the clerk to appoint counsel for Jones for this appeal. Thereafter, Hagler timely appealed the district court's order issuing a writ of habeas corpus. We vacate the order authorizing the writ.
Before we address the propriety of the district court's order issuing a writ of habeas corpus to produce a prisoner who will act as a lay assistant at a civil trial, we must first decide whether we have jurisdiction to hear this appeal at this stage of the district court proceedings. Hagler asserts that we have jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine. See Cohen v. Beneficial Indus. Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541, 93 L. Ed. 1528, 69 S. Ct. 1221 (1949).
Under the doctrine, an interlocutory order is immediately appealable if it conclusively determines the matter in issue, resolves an important issue completely separate from the merits of the action, and is effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment. Powers v. Southland Corp., 4 F.3d 223, 231 (3d Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). If an order fails to satisfy either of these conditions, it is not immediately appealable. Id. Although the collateral order doctrine is a narrow exception, see Yakowicz v. Pennsylvania, 683 F.2d 778, 783 n.10 (3d Cir. 1982), we are convinced that the three requirements are met here.
First, the conclusiveness prong of the test is satisfied because the district court issued its order in the expectation that it will be the final word on the subject. See Praxis Properties Inc. v. Colonial Sav. Bank S.L.A., 947 F.2d 49, 55 (3d Cir. 1991). Next, whether a court has authority to issue a habeas corpus writ so that a prisoner can provide lay assistance at trial is an important issue completely divorced from the merits of the underlying civil rights action.
Finally, without immediate review of the district court's order, the legal and practical value of the right asserted on appeal would be destroyed. Praxis, 947 F.2d at 58 (citation omitted). A review of the propriety of the writ after final judgment cannot erase the burden, risk, and expense placed upon the state of New Jersey (the State) for transporting and maintaining secure custody over the paralegal prisoner. Although courts have consistently rejected claims that the time and expense of litigating a suit that may later be reversed are sufficient to warrant an immediate appeal, Powers, 4 F.3d at 232, the case sub judice is factually distinguishable. In addition to the costs associated with transporting Hill to Jones' civil trial, the State will have to bear the real risk, one that we have unfortunately experienced in this circuit on more than one occasion with other prisoners, that Hill will escape from its custody during his temporary respite from prison. See Price v. Johnston, 159 F.2d 234, 237 (9th Cir. 1947) ("Temporary relief from prison confinement is always an alluring prospect, and to the hardened criminal the possibility of escape lurks in every excursion beyond prison walls."), rev'd, 334 U.S. 266, 92 L. Ed. 1356, 68 S. Ct. 1049 (1948).
Moreover, the State's entitlement, in the absence of exigent circumstances, to run its prisons efficiently and effectively without outside federal interference will have been compromised, absent an immediate appeal. Thus, because in the case sub judice "review postponed will, in effect, be review denied," Zosky v. Boyer, 856 F.2d 554, 561 (3d Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 1042, 102 L. Ed. 2d 992, 109 S. Ct. 868 (1989), we conclude that the district court's order issuing a writ of habeas corpus is effectively unreviewable on final appeal. Id. See also Lynk v. La Porte Superior Court No. 2, 789 F.2d 554, 561 (7th Cir. 1986) (holding that the grant or denial of a writ of habeas corpus ad testificandum is appealable under the collateral order doctrine); Garland v. Sullivan, 737 F.2d 1283, 1285 (3d Cir. 1984) ...