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James Johnson v. George Etthmiou

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA


January 10, 2011

JAMES JOHNSON
PLAINTIFF,
v.
GEORGE ETTHMIOU, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge

: (Judge Munley) : : (Magistrate Judge Carlson)

MEMORANDUM ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on a request by the Plaintiff (Doc. 13) for an order: (1) appointing counsel for the Plaintiff, a pro se litigant; (2) directing that Johnson be separated from the prison staff named as Defendants in this complaint; and (3) ordering a psychiatric examination of the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff, an inmate, has asked the Court to grant him all of this relief at the outset of the case, before the complaint has been served, and before there has been any assessment of the merits of this matter. For the reasons set forth below we will deny these requests.

First with respect to Johnson's request for appointment of counsel, the Court recognizes that there is neither a constitutional nor a statutory right to counsel for civil litigants. Parham v. Johnson, 126 F.3d 454, 456-57 (3d Cir. 1997); Tabron v. Grace, 6 F.3d 147, 153 (3d Cir. 1993). Notwithstanding this lack of a constitutional or statutory right to appointed counsel, in a civil case, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1) provides that "[t]he court may request an attorney to represent any person unable to employ counsel." A district court's appointment of counsel pursuant to this statute is discretionary and must be made on a case-by-case basis. Tabron, 6 F.3d at 157-58. The exercise of this discretion, however, is guided by certain basic principles. Gordon v. Gonzalez, 232 F. App'x. 153, 156 (3d Cir. 2007), In Tabron, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit first outlined with specificity the applicable standards to be considered by courts upon an application to appoint counsel pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1). Id. at 155-57. In Parham, the Third Circuit identified the following guidelines for appointing counsel to indigent civil litigants:

As a preliminary matter, the plaintiff's claim must have some merit in fact and law. If the district court determines that the plaintiff's claim has some merit, then the district court should consider the following factors:

(1) the plaintiff's ability to present his or her own case;

(2) the complexity of the legal issues;

(3) the degree to which factual investigation will be necessary and the ability of the plaintiff to pursue such an investigation;

(4) the amount a case is likely to turn on credibility determinations;

(5) whether the case will require the testimony of expert witnesses;

(6) whether the plaintiff can attain and afford counsel on his own behalf.

Our analysis of these factors suggests that counsel should not be appointed in this case at the present time. At the outset, we believe that we should defer any such decision until after we have had the opportunity to assess the first benchmark standard we must address, the question of whether the Plaintiff's claims have arguable merit. In our view, it would be inappropriate to appoint counsel until we have the opportunity to conduct this threshold merits analysis.

Moreover, while the Plaintiff doubtless faces some obstacles in bringing this action, to date the Plaintiff has demonstrated an ability to effectively present his own case, advancing his claims in a clear, concise, and intelligent manner. In addition, this case does not appear to present difficult and complex legal issues. Furthermore, the actual investigation that the Plaintiff has to do is minimal, since the pleadings show that the Plaintiff is fully aware of the bases for these claims against the Defendants. Finally, while the case may, in part, turn on credibility determinations between Plaintiff and others, the case likely will not require extensive expert witness testimony. Taking all of these factors into account we believe that the application of these factors weighs against the appointment of counsel at this time.

Second, with respect Johnson's request that staff be separated from him, this request is, in essence, a demand for some form of preliminary injunction. Inmate Pro se pleadings, like those filed here, which seek extraordinary, or emergency relief, in the form of preliminary injunctions are governed by Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and are judged against exacting legal standards. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has explained: "Four factors govern a district court's decision whether to issue a preliminary injunction: (1) whether the movant has shown a reasonable probability of success on the merits; (2) whether the movant will be irreparably injured by denial of the relief, (3) whether granting preliminary relief will result in even greater harm to the nonmoving party; and (4) whether granting the preliminary relief will be in the public interest." Gerardi v. Pelullo, 16 F.3d 1363, 1373 (3d Cir. 1994) ( quoting SI Handling Systems, Inc. v. Heisley, 753 F.2d 1244, 1254 (3d Cir. 1985)). See also Highmark, Inc. v. UPMC Health Plan, Inc., 276 F.3d 160, 170-71 (3d Cir.2001); Emile v. SCI-Pittsburgh, No. 04-974, 2006 WL 2773261, *6 (W.D.Pa. Sept. 24, 2006)(denying inmate preliminary injunction).

A preliminary injunction is not granted as a matter of right. Kerschner v. Mazurkewicz, 670 F.2d 440, 443 (3d Cir. 1982)(affirming denial of prisoner motion for preliminary injunction seeking greater access to legal materials). It is an extraordinary remedy. Given the extraordinary nature of this form of relief, a motion for preliminary injunction places precise burdens on the moving party. As a threshold matter, "it is a movant's burden to show that the "preliminary injunction must be the only way of protecting the plaintiff from harm." Emile, 2006 WL 2773261, at * 6 (quoting Campbell Soup Co. v. ConAgra, Inc., 977 F .2d 86, 91 (3d Cir.1992)). Thus, when considering such requests, courts are cautioned that:

"[A] preliminary injunction is an extraordinary and drastic remedy, one that should not be granted unless the movant, by a clear showing, carries the burden of persuasion." Mazurek v. Armstrong, 520 U.S. 968, 972 (1997) (emphasis deleted). Furthermore, the Court must recognize that an "[i]njunction is an equitable remedy which should not be lightly indulged in, but used sparingly and only in a clear and plain case." Plain Dealer Publishing Co. v. Cleveland Typographical Union # 53, 520 F.2d 1220, 1230 (6th Cir.1975), cert. denied, 428 U.S. 909 (1977). As a corollary to the principle that preliminary injunctions should issue only in a clear and plain case, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has observed that "upon an application for a preliminary injunction to doubt is to deny." Madison Square Garden Corp. v. Braddock, 90 F.2d 924, 927 (3d Cir.1937).

Emile, 2006 WL 2773261, at *6.

Accordingly, for an inmate to sustain his burden of proof that he is entitled to a preliminary injunction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 65, he must demonstrate both a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits, and that he will be irreparably harmed if the requested relief is not granted. Abu-Jamal v. Price, 154 F.3d 128, 133 (3d Cir. 1998); Kershner, 670 F.2d at 443. If the movant fails to carry this burden on either of these elements, the motion should be denied since a party seeking such relief must "demonstrate both a likelihood of success on the merits and the probability of irreparable harm if relief is not granted." Hohe v. Casey, 868 F.2d 69, 72 (3d Cir. 1989)(emphasis in original), (quoting Morton v. Beyer, 822 F.2d 364 (3d Cir. 1987)).

In addition, with respect to the second benchmark standard for a preliminary injunction, whether the movant will be irreparably injured by denial of the relief, in this context it is clear that:

Irreparable injury is established by showing that Plaintiff will suffer harm that "cannot be redressed by a legal or an equitable remedy following trial." Instant Air Freight Co. v. C.F. Air Freight, Inc., 882 F.2d 797, 801 (3d Cir.1989) ("The preliminary injunction must be the only way of protecting the plaintiff from harm"). Plaintiff bears this burden of showing irreparable injury. Hohe v. Casey, 868 F.2d 69, 72 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 848, 110 S.Ct. 144, 107 L.Ed.2d 102 (1989). In fact, the Plaintiff must show immediate irreparable injury, which is more than merely serious or substantial harm. ECRI v. McGraw-Hill, Inc., 809 F.2d 223, 226 (3d Cir.1987). The case law provides some assistance in determining that injury which is irreparable under this standard. "The word irreparable connotes 'that which cannot be repaired, retrieved, put down again, atoned for ...'." Acierno v. New Castle County, 40 F.3d 645, 653 (3d Cir.1994) (citations omitted). Additionally, "the claimed injury cannot merely be possible, speculative or remote." Dice v. Clinicorp, Inc., 887 F.Supp. 803, 809 (W.D.Pa.1995). An injunction is not issued "simply to eliminate the possibility of a remote future injury ..." Acierno, 40 F.3d at 655 (citation omitted).

Messner, 2009 WL 1406986, at *4 .

Furthermore, in assessing a motion for preliminary injunction, the court must also consider the possible harm to other interested parties if the relief is granted.

Kershner,670 F.2d at 443. In addition, a request for injunctive relief in the prison context must be viewed with great caution because of the intractable problems of prison administration. Goff v. Harper, 60F.3d 518,520 (8th Cir. 1995). Finally, a party who seeks an injunction must show that the issuance of the injunctive relief would not be adverse to the public interest. Emile, 2006 WL 2773261, at * 6 (citing Dominion Video Satellite, Inc. v. Echostar Corp., 269 F.3d 1149, 1154 (10th Cir.2001)).

In the past, inmates have frequently sought preliminary injunctive relief compelling prison officials to take certain actions with respect to them during the pendency of a lawsuit. Yet, such, requests, while often made, are rarely embraced by the courts. Instead, courts have routinely held that prisoner-plaintiffs are not entitled to use a motion for preliminary injunction as a vehicle to compel prison officials to provide them with specific relief and services pending completion of their lawsuits. See, e.g., Messner v. Bunner, No. 07-112E, 2009 WL 1406986 (W.D.Pa. May 19, 2009)(denying inmate preliminary injunction);Brown v. Sobina, No. 08-128E, 2008 WL 4500482 (W.D.Pa. Oct. 7, 2008)(denying inmate preliminary injunction); Emile v. SCI-Pittsburgh, No. 04-974, 2006 WL 2773261, *6 (W.D.Pa.. Sept. 24, 2006) (denying inmate preliminary injunction).

In this case our review of the Plaintiff's motion leads us to conclude that Johnson has not made the demanding showing required by Rule 65 for this extraordinary form of relief. At the outset, we find that Johnson has not yet met his threshold obligation of showing reasonable probability of success on the merits. Indeed, this case has not yet been served on the Defendants and the merits of these claims have not yet been fully addressed by the Court.

Furthermore, while we do not in any way diminish Johnson's complaints, we find--as many other courts have found when presented with similar complaints-- that this inmate has not shown an immediate irreparable harm justifying a preliminary injunction. See e.g., Rivera v. Pennsylvania Dep't. Of Corrections, 346 F.App'x 749 (3d Cir. 2009)(denying inmate request for injunction); Rush v. Correctional Medical Services, Inc., 287 F.App'x 142 (3d Cir. 2008)(same). To prevail on this request Johnson must show an injury that is both immediate and irreparable. ECRI v. McGraw-Hill, Inc., 809 F.2d 223, 226 (3d Cir.1987). "The word irreparable connotes 'that which cannot be repaired, retrieved, put down again, atoned for ...'." Acierno v. New Castle County, 40 F.3d 645, 653 (3d Cir.1994) (citations omitted). Additionally, "the claimed injury cannot merely be possible, speculative or remote." Dice v. Clinicorp, Inc., 887 F.Supp. 803, 809 (W.D.Pa.1995). Thus, an injunction should not be issued "simply to eliminate the possibility of a remote future injury ..." Acierno, 40 F.3d at 655 (citation omitted). Therefore, where an inmate-plaintiff is alleging that damages may be an adequate remedy, a preliminary injunction often is not appropriate since the inmate has not shown that he faces immediate, irreparable harm. Rivera v. Pennsylvania Dep't. Of Corrections, 346 F.App'x 749 (3d Cir. 2009); Rush v. Correctional Medical Services, Inc., 287 F.App'x 142 (3d Cir. 2008). Morever, applying these legal standards in a case such as this, where the inmate-plaintiff's request for immediate relief in his motion for preliminary injunction necessarily seeks resolution of one of the ultimate issues presented in [the] . . . Complaint, . . . [the] Plaintiff cannot demonstrate that he will suffer irreparable harm if he is not granted a preliminary injunction, because the ultimate issue presented will be decided either by this Court, upon consideration of Defendants' motion to dismiss, or at trial. As a result, Plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction should be denied." Messner, 2009 WL 1406986, at *5.

In this case, as we view it, the gravamen of Johnson's claims on the merits are identical to the claims in this motion for preliminary injunction. Since the ultimate issues in this lawsuit are factually bound up with the assertions in this motion, a ruling on the motion might be perceived as speaking in some way to the ultimate issue in this case. In such instances we are cautioned to refrain from prematurely granting such relief where the evidence is still unclear and developing.

Finally, we note that granting this motion, which would effectively have the federal courts making ad hoc, and individual, decisions concerning the treatment of a single prisoner, could harm both the defendants' and the public's interest. In this prison context, the Defendants' interests and the public's interest in penological order could be adversely effected if the court began dictating the treatment for the plaintiff, one inmate out of many housed in the county prison.

Finally, we lack the authority at this time to order a mental examination of Johnson, an examination which would be more appropriately sought by Johnson in his state criminal proceedings.

Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons we will DENY this request to appoint counsel, order separation or order a mental examination (Doc. 13), at this time without prejudice to re-examining this issue as this litigation progresses.

20110110

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