SUMPTER v. PENN PLAZA
MEMORANDUM OPINION re 5 MOTION to Appoint Counsel filed by RUEBEN SUMPTER, JR., 7 and MOTION to Appoint Counsel filed by RUEBEN SUMPTER, JR. Signed by Chief Judge Joy Flowers Conti on 6/1/17. (jp)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
RUEBEN SUMPTER JR,
Civil Action No. 17-385
CONTI, Chief District Judge
Pending before the court are plaintiff Rueben Sumpter Jr.’s (“plaintiff”) motions for
counsel and for extension of time to gather records. (ECF Nos. 5, 7.) 1 Plaintiff alleges that his
rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were violated by defendant Penn Plaza (“defendant”).
Plaintiff specifically alleges that Penn Plaza engaged in housing discrimination. (ECF No. 3.)
Plaintiff requests that the court assign counsel in light of the fact that plaintiff “cannot read or
write” and has “other disabilities.” (Id.) Plaintiff also requests that the court provide him with
additional time to obtain information from staff members at Penn Plaza. For the following
reasons, plaintiff’s motions will be denied without prejudice.
Motion to Appoint Counsel
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit set forth the standard to be
applied by district courts when responding to a request for counsel pursuant to the provisions of
Plaintiff filed two motions requesting the court to appoint counsel and provide him with an extension within four
days of one another. These motions are substantively identical. The court will address both motions in this
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1) in Tabron v. Grace, 6 F.3d 147 (3d Cir. 1993). The court in Tabron
acknowledged that district courts have no authority to compel counsel to represent an indigent
civil litigant. Id. at 157 n.7. The court also recognized that when “[a]n indigent Plaintiff with a
claim of arguable merit is incapable of presenting his or her case, serious consideration should be
given to appointing counsel.” Id. at 156. The court of appeals likewise addressed the practical
constraints confronted by district courts regarding the appointment of counsel, which include the
ever-growing number of civil rights actions filed each year in the federal courts; the lack of
funding to pay appointed counsel; and the limited supply of competent lawyers who are willing
to undertake such representation without compensation. Id. at 157.
The court of appeals announced a series of factors that the trial court should consider and
apply in ruling upon a motion for the appointment of counsel. Id. at 155-56. These factors
include: (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.
A review of the complaint in light of the factors announced in Tabron reveals the
plaintiff will likely be hampered in his ability to present his case
due to his illiteracy and stated disabilities;
given the limited pleadings, the court is not able to determine
whether the particular legal issues are difficult;
plaintiff demonstrated difficulties with respect to pursuing an
adequate investigation of his claims due to his illiteracy and stated
plaintiff did not provide the court with evidence that he made an
effort to retain counsel, including pro bono counsel, on his own
behalf and that he was unsuccessful in this endeavor;
plaintiff’s claims do not appear to require extensive or complicated
it is possible that this case will turn on credibility determinations;
it is unlikely that plaintiff’s case requires the testimony of expert
Plaintiff raises compelling arguments in support of his motion for counsel. The
undersigned, however, has no authority to compel counsel to represent an indigent civil litigant.
Accordingly, this court will deny defendant’s motion for court appointed counsel at this time.
The court recommends that plaintiff reach out to organizations that provide pro bono legal
services, such as the Allegheny County Bar Foundation’s Pro Bono Partnership or Neighborhood
Legal Services Association, for assistance. If, after putting forth a sufficient effort, plaintiff is
unsuccessful in retaining legal representation or information plaintiff may refile his motion for
Motion for Extension of Time
Plaintiff requests “that the Court give [him] more time to get the information from other
staff members who had records, as well as all other records pertaining to the Penn Plaza
Apartments that will help support [his] claim.” (ECF No. 5, 7.) This request appears to be related
to discovery. Given the early stages of these proceedings, this request is premature. The court
will address the timing of discovery, as appropriate, at the case management conference.
Plaintiff’s motion for extension of time to obtain records will, therefore, be denied.
Date: June 1, 2017
By the court:
/s/ Joy Flowers Conti
Joy Flowers Conti
Chief United States District Judge
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