SPURGEON v. THE NJ STATE POLICE et al
Order denying application for Pro Bono Counsel. Signed by Judge William J. Martini on 5/20/14. (gh, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
OPINION & ORDER
THE NJ STATE POLICE., et al.,
This matter comes before the Court on pro se Plaintiff David Spurgeon’s
opposed motion for appointment of pro bono counsel under 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(1). For the reasons stated below, the Court will DENY the motion.
In his Complaint, which seeks redress under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Spurgeon
alleges that he was arrested on December 6, 2011. He further alleges that while he
was being arrested he was beaten and subjected to racial slurs. He also alleges that
during and after his arrest, he was denied medical care by various law enforcement
After Defendants answered the Complaint, Spurgeon was served with
discovery requests at the Hudson County Correctional Facility. ECF No. 27.
Defendants then learned that Spurgeon had been transferred. Accordingly,
Defendants filed a letter with the Court requesting that Spurgeon provide a current
address. Id. The Honorable Mark Falk then ordered that Spurgeon be served with
discovery requests at his last known address. ECF No. 28. Defendants
subsequently learned that Spurgeon was located at the Central Reception and
Assignment Facility in Trenton. ECF No. 30. Defendants proceeded to serve their
discovery requests on Spurgeon at the Central Reception and Assignment Facility.
ECF Nos. 31-34. When Spurgeon failed to respond, Defendants moved without
opposition to dismiss the Complaint based on a lack of prosecution. Id. Judge
Falk recommended that the undersigned grant the motion to dismiss. ECF No. 37.
Before this Court decided whether to adopt Judge Falk’s Report and
Recommendation, Spurgeon wrote a letter to Judge Falk. ECF No. 38. In his
letter, he represented that pain and suffering, as well as memory loss had prevented
him from timely responding to Defendants’ requests. Spurgeon stated that he
would “try to be more expeditious in following the rules and procedures of the
courts in a timely fashion.” Id. In his letter, Spurgeon also referred to informal
requests for the appointment of pro bono counsel. Based on Spurgeon’s letter,
Judge Falk filed an order on February 4, 2014 (the “February 4, 2014 Order”)
withdrawing his Report and Recommendation. ECF No. 39. In his February 4,
2014 Order, Judge Falk concluded that had Spurgeon properly moved for the
appointment of pro bono counsel, his request would likely have been denied.
Citing Spurgeon’s continued failure to respond to discovery requests,
Defendants again moved to dismiss the Complaint for lack of prosecution on
March 26, 2014 and March 28, 2014. ECF Nos. 40-42. After the motions were
filed, Spurgeon filed his discovery responses on the docket, and Judge Falk denied
the motions to dismiss. ECF Nos. 44-45. Spurgeon then filed the instant motion
for pro bono counsel. ECF No. 46. In his motion, he claims that he lacks relevant
legal knowledge, that he cannot perform relevant research because he is
incarcerated and because he has work duties, that the legal issues in this case are
complex, and that the outcome of the case will hinge on credibility determinations.
Spurgeon also claims that other inmates are afraid to provide him with legal
assistance based on a fear of retaliation from prison employees.
Section 1915(e)(1) provides that “[t]he court may request an attorney to
represent any person unable to afford counsel.” District courts have “broad
discretion” to decide whether requesting counsel is appropriate, may request
counsel at any point in the litigation, and may do so sua sponte. Montgomery v.
Pinchak, 294 F.3d 492, 498 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Tabron v. Grace, 6 F.3d 147,
153 (3d Cir. 1993)). As an initial matter, the Court must first determine if the party
seeking counsel has an underlying case with arguable merit in fact and law. Id. at
498-99. Once the claim has passed that threshold, the Court then considers the
following list of criteria to assess whether requesting counsel would be
appropriate: (1) the plaintiff’s ability to present his or her own case; (2) the
difficulty of the particular legal issues; (3) the degree to which factual investigation
will be necessary and the ability of the plaintiff to pursue investigation; (4) the
plaintiff’s capacity to retain counsel on his or her own behalf; (5) the extent to
which a case is likely to turn on credibility determinations, and (6) whether the
case will require testimony from expert witnesses. Id. at 499. The list is nonexhaustive, and the Court may consider other facts or factors it determines are
important or helpful. Id.
The Court finds that it would not be appropriate to appoint pro bono counsel
at this juncture. In his February 4, 2014 Order, Judge Falk concluded that three
reasons would likely have convinced him to deny any properly filed motion for pro
bono counsel. First, Spurgeon failed to demonstrate that his incarceration deprived
him of the necessary resources for prosecuting this case. Second, Spurgeon had
not established that the factual allegations in this case are complicated or would
require significant discovery. “Without in any way minimizing the seriousness of
the allegations,” Judge Falk explained, “the core factual dispute is fairly
straightforward.” Third, Spurgeon had demonstrated a “basic ability to advance
his position” through various submissions to the Court.
This Court finds Judge Falk’s analysis to be persuasive. While Spurgeon
claims that he lacks an ability to present or investigate his case because of his
incarceration and limited legal knowledge, Spurgeon has filed various papers with
the Court, and he has provided Defendants with responses to their discovery
requests. Moreover, as Judge Falk recognized, the factual issues in this case are
serious, but they are ultimately not complicated. The legal issues in this case,
while similarly serious, are also not complicated. The Court recognizes that
Spurgeon has had difficulty investigating the case, and also that the case will turn
on credibility determinations. However, weighing all of the factors, the Court
finds that the appointment of pro bono counsel is not appropriate at this time.
For the foregoing reasons and for good cause shown;
IT IS on this 20th day of May 2014, hereby,
ORDERED that the Spurgeon’s application for pro bono counsel is
DENIED. The Court is willing to entertain a subsequent motion for pro bono
counsel at a later stage of this case.
/s/ William J. Martini
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.
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