United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER DENYING MOTION TO APPOINT
PATRICIA A. SULLIVAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
August 16, 2018, Plaintiff Wanda Harney filed a motion to
appoint counsel, ECF No. 21, alleging that she has been
pro se since February 2018, that this case exceeds
her legal expertise and that she has already exhausted her
savings and cannot afford to hire new counsel.The motion has
been referred to me for determination. Based on my review of
the motion, I find that it should be denied without
prejudice; my reasons follow.
is no constitutional right to free counsel in a civil case.
DesRosiers v. Moran, 949 F.2d 15, 23 (1st Cir.
1991); see Maroni v. Pemi-Baker Reg'l Sch.
Dist., 346 F.3d 247, 257 (1st Cir. 2003); King v.
Greenblatt, 149 F.3d 9, 14 (1st Cir. 1998);
Barkmeyer v. Wall, C.A. No. 09-430S, 2009 WL
3046326, at *1 (D.R.I. Sept. 22, 2009). Further, there is no
funding mechanism for appointed counsel in civil cases.
Therefore, the matter is subject to the district court's
broad discretion, to be exercised in light of the
difficulties in rationing the precious resource of volunteer
lawyer services. Sai v. Transp. Sec. Admin., 843
F.3d 33, 35 (1st Cir. 2016). “To qualify for this
scarce resource, a party must be indigent and exceptional
circumstances must exist such that the denial of counsel will
result in fundamental unfairness impinging on the party's
due process rights.” Choksi v. Trivedi, 248
F.Supp.3d 324, 328 (D. Mass. 2017) (citing
DesRosiers, 949 F.2d at 23); see Cookish v.
Cunningham, 787 F.2d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 1986) (“an
indigent litigant must demonstrate exceptional circumstances
in his or her case to justify the appointment of
counsel”). Here, although Plaintiff suggests in her
motion to appoint counsel that she has exhausted her savings
and cannot afford to hire an attorney, she has not filed a
motion to proceed in forma pauperis or otherwise
provided a sworn statement reflecting her financial
circumstances; thus, I cannot make the threshold finding that
Plaintiff is indigent so as to be qualified for appointed
pivotal to the determination whether pro bono
counsel should be appointed is the merits of the claim.
See Choksi, 248 F.Supp.3d at 328. To determine
whether there are exceptional circumstances sufficient to
warrant the appointment of counsel, “a court must
examine the total situation, focusing, inter alia,
on the merits of the case, the complexity of the legal
issues, and the litigant's ability to represent
himself.” DesRosiers, 949 F.2d at 24. Just
because a plaintiff alleges sufficient facts to state a claim
in the complaint does not in and of itself require the
appointment of counsel. Cookish, 787 F.2d at 2-3;
Childs v. Duckworth, 705 F.2d 915, 922 (7th Cir.
1983). Further, in making such appointments, the Court must
be mindful that volunteer lawyers' time and resources are
precious commodities available only in limited quantity, and
that these resources should not be allocated for the pursuit
of claims of arguable merit. See Cooper v. A. Sargenti
Co., Inc., 877 F.2d 170, 172 (2d Cir. 1989)
(“courts should not grant such applications
indiscriminately”); Carmichael, 2010 WL
3925198, at *2 (emphasizing importance of screening cases
before asking volunteer attorney to consider engagement).
least at this early stage, I do not find that Plaintiff has
demonstrated exceptional circumstances, based either on the
merits of her claim or on her inability to represent herself,
sufficient to warrant the appointment of counsel. And there
is a further issue of concern. Plaintiff had counsel at the
initiation of this claim arising from the total loss of her
property due to a fire. Her complaint was crafted by
attorneys, who initiated this action against her
homeowner's insurance company after it denied insurance
coverage. However, her attorneys were permitted to withdraw
from the case on April 9, 2018, partly due to Plaintiff's
failure “to be truthful and forthcoming . . .
concerning issues relating to the within action . . .
.” ECF No. 11. Defendant's objection to the motion
to appoint counsel alleges that Plaintiff's previous
attorneys withdrew after “it was revealed during
discovery that the fire was intentionally set by the
Plaintiff's son, ” ECF No. 22, which is also the
basis for the denial of coverage under Plaintiff's
homeowner's insurance policy. In light of the ethical
issues posed by such circumstances, I find that there are
serious concerns about the appropriateness of asking an
attorney from the Court's pro bono panel to
accept such an engagement.
a finding of indigence and that extraordinary circumstances
exist to justify an appointment from the Court's pro
bono panel, Plaintiff's motion to appoint counsel
(ECF No. 21) is denied without prejudice.
 Plaintiff's motion also alleges
that she “has expressed the need for a protective order
against the female charge[d] with the arson of the home in
the case. Without counsel, this has been difficult to achieve
and safety is a concern.” ECF No. 21 at 1. If Plaintiff
believes her safety is at risk, she should pursue the
issuance of a restraining order in state court. See
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