WILLIAMS v. REINHARDT
Letter Order/Opinion denying application for Pro Bono Counsel for SANFORD WILLIAMS, JR. Signed by Magistrate Judge Steven C. Mannion on 9/7/16. (sr, )(N/M)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
MARTIN LUTHER KING
50 WALNUT ST.
NEWARK, NJ 07101
STEVEN C. MANNION
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
September 7, 2016
D.E. 44, Application for Appointment of Pro Bono Counsel
Williams v. Reinhardt
Civil Action No. 15-cv-00121 (JLL)(SCM)
This matter comes before the Court upon review of Plaintiff, Sanford Williams, Jr.’s (“Mr.
Williams”) Application for Appointment of Pro Bono Counsel. 1 After review of Mr. Williams’
Application and for the reasons set forth herein, the Application is denied.
District courts are granted broad discretion to appoint attorneys to represent indigent civil
litigants, 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (d), (e)(1), but “civil litigants possess neither a constitutional nor a statutory
right to appointed counsel.”2 Moreover, though Congress has empowered district courts to “request”
counsel for civil litigants, courts cannot “require” an unwilling attorney to serve as counsel.3
This Court must therefore “take note of the significant practical restraints on the district
courts’ ability to appoint counsel: . . . the lack of funding to pay appointed counsel; and the limited
supply of competent lawyers who are willing to undertake such representation without
When evaluating a request for the appointment of pro bono counsel, a district court should first
determine whether the plaintiff’s claim “has arguable merit in fact and law.”5 The Third Circuit has
articulated an analytical framework that district courts must use in exercising their discretion. 6 The
(ECF Docket Entry No. (“D.E.”) 44).
Montgomery v. Pinchak, 294 F.3d 492, 498 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Parham v. Johnson, 126 F.3d 454, 456-67
(3d Cir. 1997)).
Id. (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (e)(1)); see also Christy v. Robinson, 216 F. Supp. 2d 398, 406 n. 16 (D.N.J.
2002) (citing Mallard v. United States Dist. Court for Southern Dist. of Iowa, 490 U.S. 296, 301-02 (1989)).
Tabron v. Grace, 6 F.3d 147, 157 (3d Cir. 1993).
Id. at 155.
See Montgomery, 294 F.3d at 492; Parham, 126 F.3d at 454; Tabron, 6 F.3d at 147.
analysis begins with a threshold assessment of the merits of the case.7
If the court first finds “some arguable merit in fact and law,” then it must go on to weigh a
series of considerations known as the Tabron post-threshold factors.8 These factors include: (1) the
plaintiff’s ability to present his case; (2) the complexity of the legal issues involved; (3) the extent of
factual discovery and the plaintiff’s ability to investigate and to comply with complex discovery rules;
(4) the extent to which the case may turn on credibility determinations; (5) whether expert testimony
will be required; and (6) whether the plaintiff can afford counsel on his or her own behalf.9
For the purpose of evaluating these threshold factors, the Court assumes “solely for the
purpose of this [request]” that Mr. Williams’ case has “some arguable merit in fact and law.”10 The
Court need not undertake a detailed analysis of this point, however, because application of the Tabron
post-threshold factors overall weighs against appointment of pro bono counsel at this time.
1. Mr. Williams’ Ability To Present His Case
The first factor has been identified as “perhaps the most significant.”11 For this factor the
Court considers Mr. Williams’ “education, literacy, prior work experience, and prior litigation
experience.”12 As additional guidance, the Third Circuit has noted that courts should consider the
plaintiff’s ability to present his case “[i]n conjunction with . . . the difficulty of the particular legal
Mr. Williams states that he requests the appointment of pro bono counsel because the jail
provides inadequate assistance, there is limited time to access to the law library, and he is not familiar
with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.14 Thus far, Mr. Williams has managed to adequately present
his case to the Court and his adversaries despite his stated limitations. Courts typically do not appoint
counsel despite a plaintiff’s lack of access to a prison law library.15 Also, a lack of formal legal training
alone is insufficient to warrant the appointment of counsel.16 While Mr. Williams’ papers may “lack
the force and clarity one expects from an attorney, this does not mean that [his] request for counsel
Montgomery, 294 F.3d at 498-99 (internal citations omitted).
Id. at 499.
Tabron, 6 F.3d at 156; see also Parham, 126 F.3d at 461.
Montgomery, 294 F.3d at 499.
Id. at 501.
Id. (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Tabron, 6 F.3d at 156).
Tabron, 6 F.3d at 156; see also Montgomery, 294 F.3d at 502.
(D.E. 44 at 3).
See Brown v. Grey, No. 14-4800, 2016 WL 3388301, at *2 (D.N.J. June 14, 2016) (additional citations
See, e.g., Hooks v. Schultz, No. 07-5627, 2010 WL 415316, at *1 n.2 (D.N.J. Jan. 29, 2010).
should be granted.”17
Mr. Williams has represented himself in several other proceedings in this District.18 Presently
and without the aid of counsel, Mr. Williams filed an amended complaint citing statues and setting
forth his legal claims and an opposition to a motion for summary judgment.19 Currently, it does not
appear that Mr. Williams’ ability to pursue his claims and present his case are significantly impeded by
his professed limitations. Like any informed pro se litigant, Mr. Williams has already agreed to bear the
consequences of his own inadequacies.20 For the foregoing reasons, the first Tabron factor weighs
2. The Complexity of The Case
The second Tabron factor concerns the complexity of the particular legal issues. The Court
permitted Mr. Williams’ claims of false arrest and false imprisonment to proceed.21 At the present
time, the Court does not find that the legal issues in this action are particularly difficult or complex, and
they do not present any novel issues of law. Therefore, the second Tabron factor also weighs against
3. The Degree to Which Factual Investigation Will be Necessary
The third Tabron factor is the degree to which factual investigation will be necessary and the
ability of Mr. Williams to pursue an investigation. Under this factor, courts “consider the extent to
which prisoners and others suffering confinement may have trouble pursuing their claims.”22 Fact
discovery began on April 27, 2016 and remains open through October 31, 2016.23 Thus far, nothing in
the record indicates that Mr. Williams’ pro se status has inhibited him from conducting discovery.
Therefore, the third Tabron factor weighs against appointment.
See Williams v. Gavin, No. 1:14-cv-8061-RBK-AMD (D.N.J. Filed Dec. 29, 2014); Williams v. May et
al., No. 1:09-cv-6439-RBK-KMW (D.N.J. Filed Dec. 23, 2009); Williams v. Dzoba et al., No.
2:09-cv-6355-KM-MCA (D.N.J. Filed Dec. 16, 2009); Williams et al. v. Hebbon et al., No.
3:09-cv-2103-AET-TJB (D.N.J. Filed May 1, 2009); Williams et al. v. Mattek et al., No.
3:05-cv-4788-MLC-JJH (D.N.J. Filed Oct. 6, 2005); Williams et al. v. Dellorco et al., No.
1:05-cv-4129-RBK-JS (D.N.J. Filed Aug. 22, 2005); Williams v. Goins et al., No. 2:00-cv-6139-DRD
(D.N.J. Filed Dec. 20, 2000); Williams et al. v. Connellan et al., No. 2:99-cv-4062-DRD (D.N.J. Filed Oct.
5, 1999); Williams et al. v. Wheeler et al., No. 2:99-cv-1588-DRD (D.N.J. Filed Jul. 12, 1999).
(D.E. 7); (D.E. 36).
See United States v. Bertoli, 994 F.2d 1002, 1022 (3d Cir. 1993).
Tabron, 6 F.3d at 156.
(D.E. 33, Pretrial Scheduling Order).
4. The Extent to Which the Case is Likely to Turn on Credibility Determinations
The fourth Tabron factor is the extent to which the case is likely to turn on credibility
determinations. This matter may hinge on the credibility of Mr. William or Mr. Reinhardt, and whom
a jury would believe. However, because the factors overall weigh against appointment, it is
unnecessary to further evaluate the potential credibility issues.
5. Whether the Case Will Require Testimony from Expert Witnesses
The fifth Tabron factor inquires whether the case will require testimony from expert witnesses.
At this juncture, it is unclear whether expert testimony will be required. This is a civil rights case
concerning alleged false arrest and false imprisonment. 24 Given the nature of Mr. Williams’
allegations, it appears unlikely that his claims will require expert testimony. Rather, the case appears to
depend more on the facts deduced rather than on any expert testimony. Therefore, the fifth Tabron
factor does not support appointment.
6. Mr. Williams’ Capacity to Retain Counsel on His Own Behalf
Finally, the sixth Tabron factor examines Mr. Williams’ capacity to retain counsel on his own
behalf. The Court acknowledges that Mr. Williams is of limited financial means.25 Notwithstanding,
indigency alone, absent satisfaction of other Tabron post-threshold factors, does not warrant the
appointment of counsel.26
The Court is, as always, sympathetic to any disadvantages of the parties that come before it.
Accordingly, the Court will closely monitor the considerations raised by Mr. Williams’ request
throughout case management and as the case moves forward. The Court may exercise its discretion to
appoint counsel sua sponte should any of the above discussed considerations change.27
As the Tabron factors weigh against appointment at this time, the Court will deny Mr. Williams’
9/7/2016 7:31:02 PM
(See generally, D.E. 7).
(See D.E. 4, Order granting, in part, Mr. Williams’ Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis).
See Christy v. Robinson, 216 F. Supp. 2d 398, 410 (D.N.J. 2002).
See Tabron, 6 F.3d at 156; Christy, 216 F. Supp. 2d at 406.
c (via ECF):
c (via U.S. Mail R.R.R.):
Sanford Williams, Jr.
Monroe County Jail
4250 Manor Drive
Stroudsburg, PA 18360
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