Hunt v. Lynch et al
MEMORANDUM Signed by Judge Gregory M. Sleet on 3/21/2016.aah)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELA WARE
RICHARD C. HUNT,
) Civ. Action No. l5-1095-GMS
DR. RICHARD LYNCH, et aI.,
The plaintiff, Richard C. Hunt ("Hunt"), an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional
Center ("VCC"), Smyrna, Delaware, filed this lawsuit on November 25,2015, pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983. (D.!.3.) Hunt appears pro se and was granted permission to proceed informa
pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. (D.L 5.) Hunt requests counsel and states that he suffers
from multiple mental health conditions including schizophrenia, manic depression, psychotic
features, depression, sexual identity disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Hunt
indicates that he currently takes medication to treat his schizophrenia. (See D.L 7.)
II. STANDARD OF LAW
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(c)(2) provides that "[t]he 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." The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has
determined that the district court has a responsibility to inquire sua sponte under Rule 17(c)(2),
whether a pro se litigant is incompetent to litigate his action and, therefore, is entitled to either
appointment of a guardian ad litem or other measures to protect his rights. See Powell v.
Symons, 680 F.3d 301, 307 (3d Cir. 2012).
The court considers whether Rule 17(c) applies "[i]f a court [is] presented with evidence
from an appropriate court of record or a relevant public agency indicating that the party had been
adjudicated incompetent, or ifthe court receivers] verifiable evidence from a mental health
professional demonstrating that the party is being or has been treated for mental illness of the
type that would render him or her legally incompetent." Powell, 680 F.3d at 307 (citing Ferrelli
v. River Manor Health Care Ctr., 323 F.3d 196,201 (2d Cir. 2003)). The court "need not
inquire sua sponte into apro se plaintiff's mental competence based on a litigant's bizarre
behavior alone, even if such behavior may suggest mental incapacity." Id. at 303 (citations
omitted). The decision whether to appoint a next friend or guardian ad litem rests with the sound
discretion of the district court. Powell, 680 F.3d at 303.
In the instant motion, Hunt makes bald allegations of mental disorders without the
submission of any verifiable evidence of incompetence to this court. Hunt provided the court
with a letter to support his claim of mental illness that describes Hunt's condition and indicates
that he takes medication for his condition, similar to what is contained in the instant motion.
(D.!. 7, ex. 1A.) However, other than the description, the letter contains no evidence regarding
Hunt's mental condition. Thus, this court has no duty to conduct a sua sponte determination of
competency under Rule 17(c)(2).
Apro se litigant proceeding in forma pauperis has no constitutional or statutory right to
representation by counsel. l See Brightwell v. Lehman, 637 F.3d 187, 192 (3d Cir. 2011); Tabron
lSee Mallard v. United States Dist. Court for the S. Dist. ofIowa, 490 u.s. 296 (1989)
(§ 1915(d) (now § 1915(e)(l)) does not authorize a federal court to require an unwilling attorney
to represent an indigent civil litigant, the operative word in the statute being "request.").
v. Grace, 6 F.3d 147, 153 (3d Cir. 1993). However, representation by counsel may be
appropriate under certain circumstances, after a finding that a plaintiffs claim has arguable merit
in fact and law. Tabron, 6 F.3d at 155.
After passing this threshold inquiry, the court should consider a number of factors when
assessing a request for counsel. Factors to be considered by a court in deciding whether to
request a lawyer to represent an indigent plaintiff include: (l) the merits of the plaintiff s claim;
(2) the plaintiffs ability to present his or her case considering his or her education, literacy,
experience, and the restraints placed upon him or her by incarceration; (3) the complexity of the
legal issues; (4) the degree to which factual investigation is required and the plaintiffs ability to
pursue such investigation; (5) the plaintiffs capacity to retain counsel on his or her own behalf;
and (6) the degree to which the case turns on credibility determinations or expert testimony. See
Montgomery v. Pinchak, 294 F.3d 492, 498-99 (3d Cir. 2002); Tabron, 6 F.3d at 155-56. The
list is not exhaustive, nor is anyone factor determinative. Tabron, 6 F.3d at 157.
Hunt seeks counsel on the grounds that he: (l) suffers from multiple mental health
conditions; (2) has made adequate attempts to obtain counsel; (3) is "unlettered" in legal matters;
(4) lacks education; and (5) needs representation to aid in discovery. Hunt also states that an
expert witness will be necessary due to the complexity and difficulty of the case.
Assuming, solely for the purpose of deciding this motion, that Hunt's claims have merit
in fact and law, several of the Tabron factors militate against granting his request for counsel.
To date, the filings in this case demonstrate Hunt's ability to articulate his claims and represent
himself. Also, his filings indicate that he possesses the ability to adequately pursue his claims.
Finally, this case is in its early stages and the defendants have not yet been served. Upon
consideration of the record, the court is not persuaded that representation by an attorney is
warranted at this time. The court can address the issue at a later date should counsel become
necessary. Thus, request for counsel will be denied without prejudice to renew.
For the above reasons, the court will deny Hunt's request for counsel without prejudice to
renew. (D.L 7.)
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