HETSBERGER v. ESSEX COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY
OPINION AND ORDER denying without prejudice 2 Motion to Appoint Pro Bono; the clerk of the court is to mail a copy of this Order to Plaintiff via certified mail, r.r.r. Signed by Magistrate Judge Cathy L. Waldor on 9/5/2021. (sm)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 2:21-cv-09322-BRM-CLW
ESSEX COUNTY CORRECTIONAL
FACILITY, et al.,
OPINION AND ORDER
This matter comes before the Court on pro se Plaintiff’s motion for the appointment of pro
bono counsel, ECF No. 2, which has been referred to the undersigned by the Honorable Brian R.
Martinotti. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff’s application is DENIED WITHOUT
Plaintiff alleges that while he was incarcerated as a pretrial detainee, Defendants failed to
accommodate his disability by housing him in a cell on a second-floor upper bunk, notwithstanding
a doctor’s order prescribing more easily accessible conditions of confinement. Plaintiff alleges
physical injuries due to such conditions and sued under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Americans with
Disabilities Act (the “ADA”). ECF No. 1. Concurrent with his complaint, Plaintiff filed the instant
request for pro bono counsel. ECF No. 2.
It is settled that there is no constitutional right to counsel in a civil action. Montgomery v.
Pinchak, 294 F.3d 492, 498 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Parham v. Johnson, 126 F.3d 454, 456-57 (3d
Cir. 1997)). However, the Court may request—though not require—an attorney to represent a civil
litigant. 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) (same) (citing Mallard v. United States Dist. Court for S. Dist. of Iowa,
490 U.S. 296, 301-02 (1989)). Although the Court has broad discretion to determine whether the
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appointment of counsel in a civil matter is appropriate, the Court “should exercise care in
appointing counsel because volunteer lawyer time is a precious commodity and should not be
wasted on frivolous cases.” Montgomery, 294 F.3d at 499 (citing Parham, 126 F.3d at 458).
To determine whether to appoint counsel for an indigent litigant in a civil case, the Court
first must make a threshold assessment of the merit of the case to determine whether there is “some
arguable merit in fact and law.” Id. at 498-99 (citing Parham, 126 F.3d at 457); Tabron v. Grace,
6 F.3d 147, 155 (3d Cir. 1993) (same). If some such merit is found, the Court should then consider:
(1) the plaintiff’s ability to present his own case; (2) the complexity of the legal issues; (3) the
degree to which factual investigation will be necessary and the ability of the plaintiff to pursue
such investigation; (4) the amount a case is likely to turn on credibility determinations; (5) whether
the case will require the testimony of expert witnesses; and (6) whether the plaintiff can attain and
afford counsel on his own behalf. Tabron, 6 F.3d at 156-57. Courts will only appoint pro bono
counsel where most of these factors are met. Krider v. Heron, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57432, at *3
(D.N.J. Aug. 3, 2007) (citing Parham, 126 F.3d at 461).
Concerning the threshold issue, the Court finds Plaintiff has presented “some arguable
merit in fact and law.” Montgomery, supra. Judge Martinotti has screened Plaintiff’s complaint
under a Rule 12(b)(6) standard, and while one portion of the complaint was dismissed, Plaintiff’s
claim against the individual defendants for deliberate indifference to his medical needs and ADA
claim were permitted to proceed. ECF No. 4.
Moving, then, to the first Tabron factor, Plaintiff states flatly that he lacks the ability to
present his case effectively. ECF No. 2 at 3. Plaintiff does not, however, present any specific
evidence indicating that he is incompetent, illiterate, or insufficiently educated to state his claims,
and his complaint and completion of the pro bono counsel application suggest that he is sufficiently
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literate and competent. Moreover, Plaintiff’s lack of legal training is common to pro se litigants
and insufficient to warrant appointment of counsel. Krider, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57432, at *5.
The remainder of the factors do not compel a different conclusion. The relevant areas of
the law are not uniquely complex, nor does Plaintiff suggest (or the Court find) impediments to
discovery that would foreclose investigation into Plaintiff’s allegations. See id. (when fact
discovery involves obtaining information from interrogatories and documents, such as prison and
medical records, a plaintiff may engage in discovery without counsel). Plaintiff’s application does
not reference credibility determinations, and at this early stage of proceedings the Court cannot
draw any inferences about the nature of the factual disputes that may arise. Plaintiff does state that
his case will require expert testimony; however, there is no indication from the record that this is
the case. Finally, while the fact that Plaintiff qualified for IFP status, ECF No. 3, indicates that he
cannot afford representation, this factor alone does not justify appointment of pro bono counsel.
See, e.g., Christy, 216 F. Supp. 2d at 410-11 (denying application where indigency was the “only
one of the six factors . . . weigh[ing] in favor of appointment of counsel”).
For the reasons stated, Plaintiff’s application for appointment of pro bono counsel [ECF
No. 2] is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. The Clerk of the Court is directed to mail a copy
of this Order to Plaintiff via certified mail, return receipt requested.
Dated: September 5, 2021
/s/ Cathy L. Waldor
Cathy L. Waldor, U.S.M.J.
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