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Clay v. Wall

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

January 4, 2019

A.T. WALL, et al., Defendants.


          PATRICIA A. SULLIVAN United States Magistrate Judge.

         On October 17, 2018, Plaintiff Andrew Brian Clay filed a motion to appoint counsel and a motion for reasonable accommodation of disabilities. ECF Nos. 31 & 32. Both motions have been referred to me for determination.[1] 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). The motion to appoint counsel is the second such motion Plaintiff has filed. The first was denied by the Court on May 24, 2018. ECF No. 20. The motion for reasonable accommodation of disabilities essentially seeks the same relief - the appointment of an attorney or, alternatively, the appointment of an advocate to assist Plaintiff with pro se representation.

         In support of the motions, through writings purportedly authored by an unnamed “novice jailhouse lawyer, ” ECF No. 33 at 1, Plaintiff alleges that he has severe cognitive disabilities, which were classified as “mental retardation” when he was a child, as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), dyslexia, chronic migraine, situational anxiety, difficulty comprehending, glossophobia and short-term memory loss when under stress. ECF Nos. 31 & 32. He also alleges that his mental health treatment currently includes prescribed psychotropic medication. To buttress the motion for reasonable accommodation, he claims that his mental impairments limit one or more of his major life activities and therefore qualify as disabilities pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (“ADA”).

         I. BACKGROUND

         At the Rule 16 conference in this case held on October 25, 2018, Plaintiff participated telephonically and acquitted himself effectively and well. Nevertheless, based on the pendency of these motions, with Plaintiff's consent, the Court directed Defendants to produce for in camera review records in their possession regarding Plaintiff's alleged mental and educational limitations. The purpose of the in camera review was to allow the Court to assess whether, despite Plaintiff's successful prosecution of the case so far, [2] including his competent participation in the Rule 16 conference, the records would confirm that Plaintiff's cognitive and intellectual deficits are as serious as he described them in the motion.

         Based on the Court's review of these records, (Xxxxx) In reliance on the in camera review, the Court finds that Plaintiff has not established that he suffers from profound cognitive and intellectual disabilities. Nor has he demonstrated that he suffers from an impairing condition that is materially more serious than what the Court relied on when his first motion for counsel was denied. ECF No. 20 at 2 (Plaintiff's deficits do not “distinguish him from any No. of prisoners who file civil actions in this Court.”).[3]

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Motion to Appoint Counsel

         There 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 not only be indigent, but there must also be exceptional circumstances 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”). In making the exceptional circumstances determination, the Court must examine the total situation, focusing on the merits of the case, the complexity of the legal issues, and Plaintiff's ability to represent himself. DesRosiers, 949 F.2d at 24.

         In denying Plaintiff's first motion to appoint counsel, the Court found that exceptional circumstances were not present despite Plaintiff's claim of mental illness and ignorance of the law, in light of the relatively simple issues presented by the case and Plaintiff's clear and thorough presentation of his claims in his complaint. ECF No. 20 at 2. The motion was denied without prejudice to being renewed in the event that circumstances change. Id.

         As of the filing of the renewed motion, there are circumstances that have changed. First, Plaintiff has successfully defeated Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint based on his failure to exhaust administrative remedies. ECF No. 25. And second, Plaintiff successfully participated in the Rule 16 conference resulting in the entry of a scheduling order. ECF No. 36. However, these changed circumstances reinforce, rather than undermine, the reasoning supporting the Court's original denial of the motion to appoint counsel, when it found that Plaintiff's ability to prosecute his claim pro se was adequate. For a third changed circumstance, Plaintiff pressed the Court to consider his intellectual and cognitive deficits, which it has done. However, nothing that the Court saw in its review of the in camera records causes it to alter the original determination. Thus, the third DesRosiers factor - the litigant's ability to represent himself - continues to tip against granting Plaintiff's motion to appoint pro bono counsel.

         The other DesRosiers factors - the merits of the case and the complexity of the legal and factual issues presented - also do not help Plaintiff. DesRosiers, 949 F.2d at 24. Plaintiff has sued over a single incident of excessive force that his complaint makes clear was precipitated by his refusal to cooperate with correctional officers' request that he submit to “cuffing up.” ECF No. 1-1 at 1 (“The 2nd time I was asked to cuff up, I did so[.]”). Factually and legally, it is not complex; to the contrary, it presents a simple set of facts governed by well-established law. Nor are the law and facts related to the defense of failure to exhaust complicated, as Plaintiff's success in defeating the motion to dismiss makes clear. Further, since DesRosiers requires the Court at least to consider the case's merits, the Court cannot ignore Plaintiff's admission that his own conduct sparked the incident, as well as that he received medical attention afterwards.[4]

         Based on the foregoing, the Court does not find any change in circumstances since the Court's denial of the first motion for counsel sufficient to morph this case into one presenting “exceptional circumstances.” ...

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