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Joseph Ronald Knauss v. U.S. Department of Justice

March 29, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joyner, J.


Presently before the Court is a series of motions and requests filed by Ronald Knauss ("Plaintiff"), a pro se litigant proceeding in forma pauperis.


We have previously detailed the background facts relating to Plaintiff's original Complaint. (See Memorandum of Law dated October 7, 2010, ECF No. 15.) In brief, Plaintiff filed suit against several federal government agencies as well as two individual defendants, Scott Henderschedt and John Doe (collectively, the "Individual Defendants"), based on an incident that occurred at Plaintiff's house on May 27, 2010. Plaintiff characterized his lawsuit as a Bivens action on the grounds that the Individual Defendants allegedly were employed by the United States Marshals Service ("USMS") as part of the United States Fugitive Task Force.*fn1 We granted the motion to dismiss of the federal government agencies. In relation to that motion, the agency defendants submitted the Chief Deputy United States Marshal for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania's sworn declaration that Scott Henderschedt was not a USMS employee. The U.S. Attorney's Office advised that because "the United States has concluded that Scott Henderschedt was not an employee acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the actions alleged in the plaintiff's complaint . . . . the United States Department of Justice will not be representing defendant Scott Henderschedt." (Letter from AUSA Paul Kaufman to the Court (Oct. 15, 2010) (on file with the Court).)

In late January 2011, Plaintiff filed several documents with the Court advising of changed circumstances in his case. We will address Plaintiff's various motions and requests in turn.

A. Request for Subpoenas to Obtain 911 Tapes (ECF No. 5)

Plaintiff requests a subpoena to obtain the "911 tapes in [his] case." (ECF No. 5.) Presumably, Plaintiff is referring to a tape of the 911 call that he claims to have made at the time of the incident on May 27, 2010. As Plaintiff's Complaint has not yet been served on the only defendants remaining in this matter, Plaintiff's discovery request is premature and Plaintiff has not shown any good cause for expedited discovery. Accordingly, we will deny Plaintiff's request at this time, without prejudice to Plaintiff renewing his request at a later date.

B. Request for a copy of the docket (ECF No. 5)

In the same filing, Plaintiff requested "a copy of the docket in my case." (ECF No. 5.) We will grant this request and direct the Clerk of Court to provide Plaintiff with a copy of the docket in this matter.

C. Motion for Appointment of Counsel (ECF No. 7)

Plaintiff seeks to have counsel appointed on the grounds that he is unable to afford an attorney and that his "case involves complicating matters with government corruption and a lot of investigations are needed and counsel would better serve to assist the plaintiff in litigating his case." (ECF No. 7.)

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1), district courts have discretion to "request an attorney to represent any person unable to afford counsel." Id.; see also Tabron v. Grace, 6 F.3d 147, 157-58 (3d Cir. 1993) ("We emphasize that appointment of counsel remains a matter of discretion; section 1915[(e)] gives district courts broad discretion to determine whether appointment of counsel is warranted, and the determination must be made on a case-by-case basis."). However, indigent civil litigants "have no statutory right to appointed counsel." Tabron, 6 F.3d at 153. In evaluating whether to appoint counsel, a district court must first determine whether the plaintiff's claim has some merit in fact and law. Id. at 155. If the claim has arguable merit, the court must consider additional factors, such as the plaintiff's ability to present his case, which includes consideration of the plaintiff's education, literacy, prior work experience, and prior litigation experience; the difficulty of the particular legal issues; the degree to which factual investigation will be required and the ability of the indigent plaintiff to pursue such investigation; and the degree to which a case is likely to turn on credibility determinations. Id. at 155-56.

As the record currently stands, it appears that Plaintiff's claims are of questionable merit. However, we will allow Plaintiff to file an amended complaint to clarify his allegations. As such, it is premature to decide whether to appoint counsel in this case. Nevertheless, we note that Plaintiff has experience with federal court litigation, having previously litigated a Section 1983 action before this Court. As we noted in that case, it is clear from Plaintiff's legal filings that he is capable of researching the law and advancing coherent legal arguments. Thus, we will deny Plaintiff's motion for appointment of counsel at this time.

D. Motion to Compel the USMS to Serve Scott Henderschedt and John Doe at Krystal Henderschedt's Residence (ECF No. 12)

In this motion, Plaintiff seeks an order from the Court compelling the USMS to serve the Individual Defendants at the home of Henderschedt's daughter, Krystal. Plaintiff asserts that he submitted to the USMS the appropriate forms "listing Defendant Henderschedts [sic] daughter Krystals [sic] adress [sic] in which the defendant does spend a lot of time there therefore he resides there, and Defendant Doe is Krystals [sic] uncle." (ECF No. 12 at 1.) Plaintiff states further that "Krystal is over the age of 21 and her father stops threw [sic] there all the time . . . . Plaintiff also states that Krystals [sic] uncle is Defendant Doe who stops threw [sic] that residence on a daily basis [and] can also be served at Krystals [sic] residence." (ECF No. 12 at 1.)

It is unclear whether Plaintiff expects this Court to direct the USMS to stake out Krystal's house in the hope that her father and uncle will stop by, or whether Plaintiff believes that the USMS can serve Krystal's father and uncle by delivering the papers to Krystal at her home. Although hand-delivering a copy of a summons and complaint to a defendant is a permissible means of service, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(e)(2)(A), we will not direct the USMS to go to such lengths to complete service under the circumstances.*fn2 Furthermore, Plaintiff is not correct when he contends that Henderschedt resides at Krystal's house because he spends time there. Therefore, the USMS cannot serve Henderschedt or John Doe by leaving a copy of the summons and complaint with Krystal at her house. Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(e)(2)(B). Accordingly, we will deny Plaintiff's motion. However, as explained below, we will ...

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