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Hill v. Havens

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 20, 2018

TROOPER T.R. HAVENS, et al., Defendants

          BRANN JUDGE


          Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge


         The plaintiff in this action, Nathaniel Hill, is a state inmate currently in the custody of the Lycoming County Prison, while he awaits transfer to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for service of a prison sentence. He is proceeding pro se in this action, which he has brought against three Pennsylvania State Police troopers and the Pennsylvania State Police, alleging that he was subjected excessive force during the course of an arrest in Williamsport in January, 2017, and that he was subsequently denied medical treatment for injuries he sustained during this incident. The plaintiff initiated the lawsuit by filing a complaint on January 31, 2018. (Doc. 1.) He filed an amended complaint on March 28, 2013. (Doc. 11.)

         On June 1, 2018, the defendants moved to dismiss the amended complaint. (Doc. 17.) The defendants timely filed a brief in support of the motion on June 15, 2018. (Doc. 18.) After the plaintiff failed to respond to the motion within 14 days as required by Local Rule 7.6, the Court entered an Order on July 10, 2018, directing the plaintiff to respond on or before July 24, 2018. (Doc. 19.)

         Misunderstanding the purpose of this Order, and incorrectly believing that the Order had the effect of dismissing his lawsuit, the plaintiff has filed a document captioned as a “Motion to Reopen Case, ” and has requested that he be appointed a lawyer or paralegal to assist him in preparing a response. For the reasons that follow, the plaintiff's request for appointment of counsel will be denied at this time, and he will once again be directed to file a response to the defendants' motion.


         A. Plaintiff's Motion for Appointment of Counsel Will Be Denied.

         To the extent the plaintiff's motion can be construed as a motion for the appointment of counsel, it will be denied. We appreciate the plaintiff's interest in securing court-appointed counsel, but also recognize and emphasize 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). Instead, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1) simply provides that “[t]he court may request an attorney to represent any person unable to employ counsel.” Under § 1915(e)(1), a district court's appointment of counsel is discretionary and must be made on a case-by-case basis. Tabron, 6 F.3d at 157-58. In Parham, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals outlined the standards to be considered by courts when reviewing an application to appoint counsel. In passing upon such requests, the court must first

determine[] that the plaintiff's claim has some merit, then [we] 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 investigation; (4) the amount a case is likely to turn on credibility determinations; (5) whether the case will require the testimony of expert witnesses; [and] (6) whether the plaintiff can attain and afford counsel on his own behalf.

Parham, 126 F.3d at 457.

         There is yet another practical consideration which must be taken into account when considering motions for appointment of counsel. As the Third Circuit has observed:

[W]e must take note of the significant practical restraints on the district courts' ability to appoint counsel: the ever-growing number of prisoner civil rights actions filed each year in the federal courts; the lack of funding to pay appointed counsel; and the limited supply of competent lawyers who are willing to undertake such representation without compensation. We have no doubt that there are many cases in which district courts seek to appoint counsel but there is simply none willing to accept appointment. It is difficult to fault a district court that denies a request for appointment under such circumstances.

Tabron, 6 F.3d at 157. Mindful of this consideration, it has been “emphasize[d] that volunteer lawyer time is extremely valuable. Hence, district courts should not request counsel under § 1915(d) indiscriminately. As the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has warned: ‘Volunteer lawyer time is a precious commodity . . . . Because this resource is available only in limited quantity, every assignment of a volunteer lawyer to an undeserving client deprives society of a volunteer lawyer available for a ...

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