Amazan v. Ivy Tech Community Colledge-Northeast
OPINION AND ORDER: For the reasons stated herein, Amazan's motion requesting appointment of counsel (DE 3) is DENIED. Signed by Magistrate Judge Susan L Collins on 1/4/17. (cc: Amazan)(ksp)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
FORT WAYNE DIVISION
REYNALD ATHLAI AMAZAN,
IVY TECH COMMUNITY COLLEGENORTHEAST,
OPINION AND ORDER
On November 9, 2016, pro se Plaintiff Reynald Athlai Amazan filed this suit advancing
claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act against Defendant Ivy Tech Community
College - Northeast (“Ivy Tech”) (DE 1), together with a motion asking that the Court appoint an
attorney to represent him (DE 3). Because Amazan is competent to litigate this case himself at
this early stage of the proceedings, his motion will be DENIED.
A. Legal Standard
Civil litigants do not have a right, either constitutional or statutory, to court-appointed
counsel. Pruitt v. Mote, 503 F.3d 647, 649 (7th Cir. 2007); Zarnes v. Rhodes, 64 F.3d 285, 288
(7th Cir. 1995). Rather, district courts are empowered to appoint an attorney to represent a
plaintiff without charge when he is “unable to afford counsel,” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1), or in Title
VII cases “in such circumstances as the court may deem just,” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1).
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has instructed that several factors should be
weighed by the district court when determining whether appointment of counsel is warranted:
(1) whether the plaintiff has made a reasonable attempt to obtain counsel or been effectively
precluded from doing so; and (2) given the difficulty of the case, whether the plaintiff appears
competent to litigate it himself. Pruitt, 503 F.3d at 654-58; Sherrill v. Potter, 329 F. App’x 672,
675 (7th Cir. 2009) (applying the Pruitt factors in a Title VII case); Darden v. Ill. Bell Tel. Co.,
797 F.2d 497, 500-501 (7th Cir. 1986) (instructing the court to consider “the merits of the
plaintiff’s claim, the plaintiff’s diligence in attempting to obtain a lawyer, and the plaintiff’s
financial ability to retain counsel” when considering a motion to appoint counsel under Title VII
The second portion of this inquiry, stated another way, is “whether the difficulty of the
case—factually and legally—exceeds the particular plaintiff’s capacity as a layperson to
coherently present it to the judge and jury himself.” Olson v. Morgan, 750 F.3d 708, 712 (7th
Cir. 2014) (quoting Pruitt, 503 F.3d at 655). In conducting this inquiry, the district court must
ascertain “whether the plaintiff appears competent to litigate his own claims, given their degree
of difficulty, and this includes the tasks that normally attend litigation: evidence gathering,
preparing and responding to motions and other court filings, and trial.” Pruitt, 503 F.3d at 655
(emphasis omitted). Normally, determining a plaintiff’s competence will be assessed by
considering “the plaintiff’s literacy, communication skills, educational level, and litigation
experience.” Id. If the record reveals the plaintiff’s intellectual capacity and psychological
history, these too would be relevant. Id. Overall, the decision to recruit counsel “is a practical
one, made in light of whatever relevant evidence is available on the question.” Id.
Amazan states that he has contacted at least five attorneys, but none have taken his case.
See Jackson v. Cty. of McLean, 953 F.2d 1070, 1073 (7th Cir. 1992) (“If . . . the indigent has
made no reasonable attempts to secure counsel (unless circumstances prevented him from doing
so), the court should deny any § 1915(d) motions outright.”). Thus, although Amazan has
satisfied the threshold element of a request for counsel, at least five attorneys have chosen to pass
up the opportunity to represent him. This circumstance speaks rather directly to the merits of
Amazan’s case and raises a fair inference that these attorneys did not view his case as
meritorious. See id. (considering plaintiff’s unsuccessful attempts to retain counsel when
denying his motion to appoint counsel).
Moving on to the second portion of the inquiry, this suit is a relatively straightforward
retaliation and discrimination action: Amazan, who is a student at Ivy Tech, claims that Ivy Tech
discriminated and retaliated against him based on his disability when it terminated him from his
work-study job as a “peer mentor coordinator.” (DE 1); see, e.g., Jagla v. LaSalle Bank, No. 05
C 6460, 2006 WL 1005728, at *5 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 12, 2006) (denying plaintiff’s request for
counsel in a straightforward national origin discrimination case, observing that the issue did not
involve any “nonintuitive procedural requirements applied in a setting of complex legal doctrine”
(quoting Hughes v. Joliet Corr. Ctr., 931 F.2d 425, 429 (7th Cir. 1991))).
Amazan has already adequately articulated his claims in this suit (DE 1); participated in a
Rule 16 preliminary pretrial conference (DE 15); and filed a lengthy letter seeking the
appointment of counsel (DE 3). It is evident from Amazan’s filings and his participation in the
preliminary pretrial conference that he is assertive and possesses adequate communication skills,
certainly at a sufficient level to proceed pro se. Cf. Dewitt v. Corizon, Inc., 760 F.3d 654, 658
(7th Cir. 2014) (reversing a district court’s denial of request for counsel pertaining to “a blind
and indigent prisoner with a tenth-grade education and no legal experience” in a case involving
complicated medical matters); Henderson v. Ghosh, 755 F.3d 559, 567 (7th Cir. 2014) (reversing
a district court’s denial of request for counsel where the record reflected plaintiff’s low IQ,
functional illiteracy, and poor education). At the preliminary pretrial conference, Amazan was
able to articulate the events leading up to his filing this case, the claims that he is advancing, and
the relief that he seeks.
Amazan states that he has a “short arm disability,” but there is no suggestion that this
disability would impair his ability to prosecute this case pro se. Amazan also has a learning
disability, but he describes it as “mild” in that sometimes he requires additional time to process
things. In that regard, Amazan attached to his complaint a 2010 report from Psychological
Services of Fort Wayne Community Schools, which reflects that he was functioning in the low
average range of intellectual ability when he was in the ninth grade. (DE 1 at 11-13). Amazan
has since pursued an associate’s degree in general studies at Ivy Tech, which he plans to
complete in 2017. As stated earlier, Amazan was working as a “peer mentor coordinator” with
Ivy Tech when the events giving rise to this lawsuit occurred, and he later became a “work study
soccer coach” there. (DE 1 at 3, 7).
Notably, Amazan is not incarcerated and thus has the freedom and ability to perform his
own research. In that he is currently a student at Ivy Tech, he obviously has access to a library.
Furthermore, many of the facts of this case are within Amazan’s particular knowledge, so the
task of discovery does not appear particularly complex.
Considering the foregoing, Amazan appears competent to adequately handle the litigation
of this case, at least at this stage of the proceedings. Consequently, Amazan’s motion asking that
the Court appoint counsel for him will be denied. If his case survives the filing of dispositive
motions, the Court will reconsider recruiting counsel for him upon his further motion. See
Mungiovi v. Chi. Hous. Auth., No. 94 C 6663, 1994 WL 735413, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 19, 1994)
(“[The] court’s general practice is to consider appointment of counsel if and when it appears that
the action has sufficient merit to require complex discovery or an evidentiary hearing.” (citation
For the reasons stated herein, Amazan’s motion requesting appointment of counsel (DE
3) is DENIED. Amazan is, of course, free to attempt to secure counsel on his own.
Entered this 4th day of January 2017.
/s/ Susan Collins
United States Magistrate Judge
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