United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
WILLIAM L. WRIGHT, III, Plaintiff,
MICHAEL WENEROWICZ et al., Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
F. LEESON, JR. United States District Judge
before the Court in this § 1983 suit is a petition by
counsel for Plaintiff William L. Wright, III to appoint a
guardian ad litem for his client on the grounds that Wright
is incompetent and refuses to communicate with him. Wright, a
death row inmate, was previously found by state courts to be
incompetent to discharge his attorney in the context of
collateral proceedings challenging his capital conviction.
This finding remains undisturbed. This Court will therefore
grant the petition and, in the exercise its discretion under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17, appoint a third-party
guardian ad litem to represent Wright's interests in
conjunction with his appointed counsel.
is currently under a death sentence for a murder he committed
in 1998. See Commonwealth v. Wright, 78 A.3d 1070,
1072 (Pa. 2013). After his conviction was affirmed on direct
appeal, his counsel filed a petition under Pennsylvania's
Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). Id. at 1072-73.
It came to light that Wright's counsel had filed the PCRA
petition on his behalf and without his consent, as he had
stopped communicating with his counsel. Id. at 1073.
Wright's counsel raised the possibility that Wright was
incompetent to waive his post-conviction rights, including
his right to counsel. Id. During a videoconference
with the PCRA court in October 2010, Wright stated that he
had declined all visits and phone calls with counsel, had
returned all mail unopened, and that he wanted to discharge
his counsel and discontinue his PCRA proceedings.
the gravity of the matter, the PCRA court appointed a
psychiatrist and a psychologist to evaluate Wright's
competency to make decisions about his appeal rights and his
relationship with his counsel. Id. The two experts
conducted a thorough review of Wright's mental health
records (which numbered approximately 6, 000 pages) and
performed a two-and-a-half hour clinical evaluation.
Id. at 1074. At an evidentiary hearing in January
2012, they testified that Wright “displayed cognitive
rigidity, paranoid ideations, and personality
disorders” to the degree that he “was severely
impaired in his decision-making and . . . incompetent to make
a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary decision to waive
counsel.” Id. Based on that testimony, the
PCRA court recognized that Wright “had demonstrated a
pattern of thwarting the attempts of individuals who could
aid him, and of viewing opportunities for him to advance his
case as conspiracies against him.” Id. at
1076. As a result, the PCRA court adjudged Wright to be
incompetent to waive his right to counsel. Id.
October 2013, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the
PCRA court's finding that Wright was incompetent.
Id. at 1087. The Supreme Court found that the PCRA
court properly relied upon Wright's pattern of
“distrusting, discharging, and cutting off all
communications with a long list of attorneys and other
professionals who could have assisted [his] case.”
Id. at 1086. The Supreme Court concluded that Wright
“is prone to engage in delusional and distorted
thinking involving imagined conspiracies by such individuals,
and that, based on such thinking, his ability to assist
counsel in his own defense has been, and continues to be,
significantly compromised.” Id.
January 2014, Wright, acting pro se, brought the instant
civil suit against a number of prison officials associated
with Pennsylvania's Graterford State Correctional
Institution. ECF No. 1. Wright claims that, while
incarcerated at Graterford following his murder conviction,
he was placed in a cell with another inmate who was known to
suffer from mental illness and have violent tendencies.
According to Wright, this other inmate attacked him, causing
pattern of distrusting his attorneys has continued to the
present case. Wright was appointed a lawyer from the Prisoner
Civil Rights Panel of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania;
however, Chief Judge Petrese B. Tucker permitted Wright to
discharge the first lawyer who volunteered to take his case
after the lawyer did not file an opposition to a partial
motion to dismiss. See ECF Nos. 19, 22, 31, 33.
Wright's current lawyer, Jeremy Ibrahim, later
volunteered to take Wright's case. ECF No. 49. Chief
Judge Tucker scheduled a status conference which Wright was
able to attend by a video link to his prison. Several days
before the conference, Wright sent a letter to the court
complaining that Attorney Ibrahim had not yet met with him
and threatened to file a “Notice of Termination”
if Attorney Ibrahim did not meet with Wright in a specific
interview room at Graterford within ten days. ECF No. 53. A
few weeks later, after this case was reassigned to the
undersigned, ECF No. 56, Wright did in fact file a
“Notice of Termination.” ECF No. 57. Wright
sought to discharge Attorney Ibrahim for failing to promptly
visit him at Graterford and failing to protect him from
“attacks” that he claims that Chief Judge Tucker
made against him during the videoconference. Id.
Wright reiterated his complaints against Attorney Ibrahim in
a letter dated May 10, 2016. ECF No. 63.
27, 2017, Attorney Ibrahim filed a petition for the
appointment of a guardian ad litem for Wright pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(c). ECF No. 67. Attorney
Ibrahim relates that he did in fact travel to Graterford to
meet with Wright, but that Wright refused to meet with him
unless it was in a specific area reserved for use when
attorneys have documents to pass to their clients. As
Attorney Ibrahim was unwilling to represent falsely that he
had to pass documents to Wright to secure his preferred
meeting place, Attorney Ibrahim left without meeting Wright.
Attorney Ibrahim asserts that because Wright has been found
to be incompetent, he is unable to act on his own behalf in
this litigation and, as a result of his refusal to interact
with Attorney Ibrahim, he remains unrepresented. Thus, he
argues, Rule 17(c) requires this Court to appoint a guardian
ad litem or issue another appropriate order to protect
Wright's interests. The defendants support the petition
for a guardian ad litem. ECF No. 67.
however, does not. He argues that because he had filed a
“Notice of Termination” intending to terminate
Attorney Ibrahim, Attorney Ibrahim does not represent him and
cannot file a petition on his behalf. ECF No. 69. Wright
states that the only attorney representative he will accept
is an attorney from the Prisoner Civil Rights Panel, and on
the condition that “such attorney must be compliant and
cooperative with [Wright.]” Id. Wright also
mentions that the only non-attorney guardian he would accept
would be his mother. Id. In a letter subsequent to
his opposition, Wright states that he received an envelope
from Attorney Ibrahim, but that he immediately returned it,
and will not have any future contact with Attorney Ibrahim.
ECF No. 70.
light of Wright's response, this Court contacted his
mother to explore the possibility of her serving as a
guardian for her son; however, she responded that she was
unwilling to do so. ECF No. 76. This Court then contacted
Monica I. Wiggins, Executive Director of Community Services
for the ARC Alliance, a social service agency that provides
guardianship services, about the possibility of her serving
as Wright's guardian. Wiggins expressed her consent
during a telephone conference with the parties, ECF No. 78,
and again by letter to this Court, ECF No. 79.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17, a court “must
appoint a guardian ad litem-or issue another appropriate
order-to protect a minor or incompetent person who is
unrepresented in an action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(c)(2). If
a guardian ad litem is appointed, the guardian then has
authority to act on the person's behalf in connection
with the case, “with authority to engage counsel, file
suit, and to prosecute, control and direct the litigation. As
an officer of the court, the guardian ad litem has full
responsibility to assist the court to ‘secure a just,
speedy and inexpensive determination' of the
action.” Noe v. True, 507 F.2d 9, 12 (6th Cir.
1974) (per curiam) (quoting Fong Sik Leung v.
Dulles, 226 F.2d 74, 82 (9th Cir. 1955) (Boldt, J.,