Shaud v. Sugarloaf Township Supervisors et al

Filing 86

MEMORANDUM and ORDER denying 84 Pltf's Motions to appoint counsel 85 ;Signed by Honorable James M. Munley on 3/15/10 (sm, )

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA WALTER M. SHAUD, Plaintiff : No. 3:07cv1212 : : (Judge Munley) : v. : : SUGARLOAF TOWNSHIP : SUPERVISORS, et al., : Defendants : :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: M E M O R AN D U M B e fo re the court is the plaintiffs' motion for appointment of counsel (Doc. 84) in the instant civil-rights action. Background T h is case arises out of disputes between plaintiff, his neighbor and officials in S u g a rlo a f Township and Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff alleges that the d e fe n d a n ts have violated his equal protection rights and his rights under the A m e ric a n s with Disabilities Act (ADA) by refusing to enforce the law against n e ig h b o rs with whom he has had numerous disputes. P la in tiff filed an initial complaint on and motion to proceed in forma pauperis on July 7, 2007. (Doc. 1). After giving the complaint an initial screening as required b y the statute authorizing plaintiffs to proceed n forma pauperis, the court authorized s e rvic e of the complaint on several of the defendants plaintiff had named. (See Doc. 1 3 ). Before the complaint could be served, plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which consisted of 456 pages. (See Docs. 71-73). That complaint named several of th e defendants who had previously been dismissed from the complaint, as well as n a m in g a number of additional defendants and making a number of additional factual a lle g a tio n s . The court gave this complaint another initial screening. The court d is m is s e d several of the parties and claims, but allowed service of the complaint on s e ve ra l other parties. (See Doc. 76). The plaintiff then filed the instant motion for a p p o in te d counsel, bringing the case to its present posture. (See Doc. 84).1 J u r is d ic tio n B e c a u s e plaintiff brings his complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, we have ju ris d ic tio n pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1331 ("[t]he district courts shall have original ju ris d ic tio n of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the U n ite d States."). W e have supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff's state law c la im s pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. D is c u s s io n P la in tiff requests that the court appoint him counsel because his he lacks the fu n d s to obtain counsel and suffers from various health conditions making it difficult fo r him to prosecute his case. The law provides that the court may request an a tto rn e y to represent a party unable to employ counsel. 28 U.S.C. § 1915; Local R u le of Civil Procedure 83.34.1-83.34.4. The United States Court of Appeals for the The plaintiff docketed two motions for appointment of counsel. (See Docs. 84-85). This filing appears to be inadvertent, as both motions seek the same action from the court. The court will therefore treat both as one motion. 2 1 Third Circuit has delineated the following factors to consider in determining whether c o u n s e l should be appointed to a pro se civil litigant: 1) whether the plaintiff's claim c o n ta in s arguable merit; 2) whether the pro se litigant has demonstrated the ability to p re s e n t his own case; 3) the difficulty of the particular legal issues; 4) the degree to w h ic h a factual investigation will be required and the ability of the indigent plaintiff to p u rs u e such investigation; and 5) the extent to which the case is likely to turn on c re d ib ility determinations. Tabron v. Grace, 6 F.3d 147, 156 (3d Cir. 1993). The T a b ro n court further noted that significant practical restraints temper the court's a b ility to appoint counsel and that volunteer lawyer time is a precious commodity. Because volunteer lawyer time is limited, every assignment of a volunteer lawyer to a n undeserving client deprives society of a volunteer lawyer for a deserving cause. Id . at 157. The first of the factors outlined in Tabron­whether the claims have arguable merit­weighs heavily against the plaintiff. Plaintiff's remaining claims are that T o w n s h ip Officials and police officers discriminated against him in the enforcement o f the laws because he suffered from disabilities and because of other animus. W h ile the court has concluded that it is not inconceivable that plaintiff could prevail o n such claims, the court finds that the likelihood of success is not great. Defendants could demonstrate that they are entitled to qualified immunity from such c la im s or that the reasons for their decisions were unrelated to plaintiff and his c o n d itio n . Plaintiff's complaint stems largely from dissatisfaction with the way that 3 officials have addressed a dispute between him and a neighbor, and it is unlikely for c o n s titu tio n a l claims to arise from such circumstances. T h e second of the Tabron factors also weighs against appointing counsel for th e plaintiff. Plaintiff's complaint, while not a model of concise legal drafting, p re s e n ts plaintiff's claims in a manner that allows the court to evaluate them and the d e fe n d a n ts to answer them. W h ile plaintiff complains that he lacks the physical e n e rg y and stamina to prosecute the action, he has filed several motions, a c o m p la in t totaling several hundred pages in length, and cited appropriate law in s e e k in g reconsideration of court decisions and assistance in serving his complaint. (See Docs. 77, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83). All of these actions demonstrate plaintiff's ability to assert his own interests in this case. The third factor outlined in Tabron similarly counsels against appointing c o u n s e l. The matter is not exceedingly complex. The legal standards for plaintiff's c la im s of disability discrimination and violations of his right to equal protection of the la w s liability are well-established and relatively straightforward. Plaintiff need not re s e a rc h obscure or esoteric legal doctrines to understand what he must prove to p re va il in his case. The law on this matter, therefore, is not too complex for him to a d d re s s without the assistance of a lawyer. T h e amount of factual investigation in the case will also not be extensive and n o t require the intervention of an experienced attorney to conduct. The key to p la in tiff's claims will be demonstrating that officials refused to enforce laws because 4 of his disability or because of some other inappropriate reason. Most of the facts re la te d to this issue, as plaintiff's voluminous complaint attests, are already well k n o w n to plaintiff and would not require extensive discovery to uncover. The court's d e c is io n approving service of the complaint has pared down the number of d e fe n d a n ts to a manageable size and defendant can obtain their testimony if n e c e s s a ry . The fourth Tabron factor, the amount of factual investigation required, th e re fo re also weighs against appointing counsel. T h e court finds the fifth factor­the extent to which the case will turn on c re d ib ility determinations­also to weigh against appointment of counsel. If plaintiff w e re actually to bring his claims to trial, the outcome would largely turn on whether a ju ry believed defendants' explanations for the decisions to prosecute the plaintiff. Such a case does not require plaintiff to engage expert witnesses, prepare elaborate d ire c t or cross examinations based on complicated factual material or construct d e ta ile d exhibits. Plaintiff need only identify for the jury implausibilities and in c o n s is te n c ie s in witnesses' statements and testimony and convince a jury not to b e lie ve those witnesses. Those types of credibility determinations do not require a p p o in te d counsel. A ll five of the Tabron factors therefore weigh against the plaintiff, and the court w ill deny plaintiff's motion for appointment of counsel. Given the scarcity of available vo lu n te e r representation for pro se clients, the court will not expend the court's lim ite d resources on this case. The case does not appear to have arguable merit, 5 and the plaintiff has demonstrated an ability to advance his interests without the a s s is ta n c e of counsel. An appropriate order follows. 6 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA WALTER M. SHAUD, Plaintiff : No. 3:07cv1212 : : (Judge Munley) : v. : : SUGARLOAF TOWNSHIP : SUPERVISORS, et al., : Defendant : :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: ORDER AN D NOW, to wit, this 15th day of March 2010, the plaintiff's motions for a p p o in tm e n t of counsel (Docs. 84-85) are hereby DENIED. BY THE COURT: s / James M. Munley JUDGE JAMES M. MUNLEY U N IT E D STATES DISTRICT COURT 7

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