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Segura v. Wetzel

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 19, 2017

JULIO CEASAR SEGURA, Plaintiff
v.
SECRETARY JOHN WETZEL, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          A. RICHARD CAPUTO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         On May 26, 2017, Plaintiff, Julio Ceasar Segura, Jr., an inmate presently confined at the Smithfield State Correctional Institution, in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, filed a pro se civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1, Compl.) In his Complaint, Mr. Segura argues that he has a Mental Health Stability Score of D, severely mentally ill, was improperly placed on the Restricted Release List (RRL) and continues to be held in administrative custody without due process. Named as Defendants are the following Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) employees: Secretary John Wetzel; Executive Deputy Shirley Moore-Smeal; and Regional Deputy Bickle.

         Presently pending before the Court are Plaintiff's motions to appoint counsel (ECF Nos. 24 and 31) and motions for witnesses (ECF No. 26 and 32). For the reasons set forth below, the motions will be denied.

         II. Motions for Appointment of Counsel

         Mr. Segura has filed three motions for counsel. The first was filed while he was housed in SCI-Camp Hill's Mental Health Unit (MHU) and did not have access to legal research materials. (ECF No. 24.) His second motion for counsel is additionally premised on his unsuccessful attempts to secure counsel on his own from agencies and organizations. (ECF No. 31.) His third motion (ECF No. 37) is based on his indigent status and ongoing mental health issues which have necessitated his transfer to various mental health settings within the DOC. The Court notes that the DOC's inmate locator, accessed this day, reflects Mr. Segura's current placement at SCI-Smithfield. See http://inmatelocator.cor.pa.gov.

         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). “Appointing counsel for an indigent civil litigant is ‘usually only granted upon a showing of special circumstances indicating the likelihood of substantial prejudice to him resulting, for example, from his probable inability without such assistance to present facts and legal issues to the court in a complex but arguably meritorious case.'” Parkell v. Danberg, 833 F.3d 313, 340 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting Smith-Bey v. Petsock, 741 F.2d 22, 26 (3d Cir. 1984)) (emphasis in original).

         “[V]olunteer lawyer time is a precious commodity”, Montgomery, 294 F.3d at 499, so the decision to recruit counsel for an indigent prisoner should be exercised “discerningly.” Id. at 505 n.10. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has provided guidance for the exercise of the district court's discretion in this regard. At the threshold, the court must decide whether the plaintiff's case “has some arguable merit in fact and law.” Id. at 499. A court need not appoint counsel “if the indigent's chances of success on the merits are extremely slim.” Id. at 500 (quoting Hodge v. Police Officers, 802 F.2d 58, 60 (2d Cir. 1986)) (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted). If the threshold requirement is met, the Court then considers a number of factors established by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to determine whether it is appropriate to request counsel for an indigent party. These factors include:

(1) the plaintiff's ability to present his 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 plaintiff's capacity to retain counsel on his own behalf;
(5) the extent to which a case is likely to turn on credibility ...

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