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Harris v. Eckard

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 25, 2017

ARNOLD J. HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
J.A. ECKARD, SUPERINTENDENT, Defendants.

          Kane, J.

          MEMORANDUM

          JOSEPH F. SAPORITO, JR. United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff, Arnold J. Harris, an inmate currently confined at SCI-Huntingdon, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania initiated the instant civil rights action alleging violations of his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Presently pending before the court is plaintiffs motion to appoint counsel. (Doc. 39). Our analysis of the issue before us is based upon the complaint and responses to the defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the motion will be denied without prejudice.

         Although prisoners have no constitutional or statutory right to appointment of counsel in a civil case, the Court has discretion "to request an attorney to represent any person unable to afford counsel." 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(1); Parham v. Johnson, 126 F.3d 454, 456-57 (3d Cir. 1997); Montgomery v. Pinchak, 294 F.3d 492, 499 (3d Cir. 2002); Tabron v. Grace, 6 F.3d 147, 153 (3d Cir. 1993). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has stated that the appointment of counsel for an indigent litigant should be made when circumstances indicate "the likelihood of substantial prejudice to him resulting, for example, from his probable inability without such assistance to present the facts and legal issues to the court in a complex but arguably meritorious case." Simith-Bey v. Petsock, 741 F.2d 22, 26 (3d Cir. 1984). The initial determination to be made by the court in evaluating the expenditure of the "precious commodity" of volunteer counsel is whether the case has some arguable merit in fact or law. Montgomery, 294 F.3d at 499. If a plaintiff overcomes this threshold hurdle, other factors to be examined are:

(1) the plaintiffs ability to present his or her own case;
(2) the difficulty of the particular legal issues;
(3) the degree to which factual investigation will be necessary and the ability of the plaintiff to pursue investigation;
(4) The plaintiffs capacity to retain counsel on his or her own behalf;
(5) the extent to which the case is likely to turn on credibility determinations; and
(6) whether the case will require testimony from expert witnesses.

Id. (Citing Tabron, 6 F.3d at 155-57). The Third Circuit Court of Appeals added two other factors to be taken into consideration: (1) the court's willingness to aid the indigent party in presenting his or her own case; and (2) the available supply of lawyers willing to accept section 1915(e) requests within the relevant geographic area. See Gordon v. Gonzalez, 232 Fed.Appx. 153 (3d Cir. 2007). In Tabron, the court emphasized that volunteer lawyer time is extremely valuable and court should not appoint counsel indiscriminately. Tabron, 6 F.3d at 157.

         Assuming arguendo that the complaint has merit, Harris fails to set forth sufficient circumstances warranting the appointment of counsel. See Tabron, 6 F.3d at 156-58. The plaintiff requests that we grant his motion for the following reasons: (1) he does not know the law and the case is beginning to become complicated; (2) he has made several attempts to obtain a lawyer and he finds it difficult to obtain counsel because he is unable to pay a retainer; and (3) he can only speak in short intervals because of shortness of breath and asthma. (Doc. 39). Upon review, the legal issues do not seem complex and may not require expert testimony. In his amended complaint and responses to the defendants' motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff demonstrates the ability to present comprehensible arguments and to present his own case. He makes reference to relevant statutes. Furthermore, he is familiar with the facts of this case.

         It is also noted that this court does not have a large group of attorneys who would represent Harris in this action in a pro bono capacity. Also, a court need not appoint counsel "if the indigent's chances of success on the merits are extremely slim." Montgomery, 294 F.3d at 500.

         Based on the foregoing, and at this point it does not appear that Harris will suffer prejudice if forced to prosecute this case on his own. The Court's duty to construe pro se pleadings liberally, Haines v. Kerner,404 U.S. 519 (1972), Riley v. Jeffes, 777 F.2d 143, 147-48 (3d Cir. 1985), coupled with plaintiffs apparent ability to litigate this action, militate against the appointment of counsel. ...


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