Banks v. Johnson et al

Filing 90

ORDER signed by Judge J P Stadtmueller on 7/3/2024: DENYING 85 Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction and/or Protective Order and DENYING without prejudice 86 Plaintiff's Motion to Appoint Counsel. (cc: all counsel, via mail to Leon Banks at WRC)(jm)

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN LEON BANKS, Plaintiff, v. Case No. 22-CV-41-JPS LOYDA LORIA, Defendant. ORDER Plaintiff Leon Banks (“Plaintiff”), an inmate confined at the Wisconsin Resource Center, filed a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that his constitutional rights were violated. ECF No. 1. On April 8, 2024, the Court reset the deadlines in the case with discovery to be completed on or before September 9, 2024 and dispositive motions to be filed no later than November 22, 2024. ECF No. 84. On April 29, 2024, Plaintiff filed a motion for a preliminary injunction and/or a protective order. ECF No. 85. On May 9, 2024, Plaintiff filed a fourth motion to appoint counsel. See ECF Nos. 34, 37, 52, 86. On May 20, 2024, Loyda Loria (“Defendant”) filed a response to the motion for a preliminary injunction, ECF No. 87, and Plaintiff filed a reply on May 28, 2024, ECF No. 89. First, the Court will deny Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction. A preliminary injunction is “an extraordinary and drastic remedy, one that should not be granted unless the movant, by a clear showing, carries the burden of persuasion.” Mazurek v. Armstrong, 520 U.S. 968, 972 (1997). To obtain preliminary injunctive relief, whether through a TRO or preliminary injunction, the plaintiff must show that (1) his underlying case has some likelihood of success on the merits, (2) no adequate remedy at law exists, and (3) he will suffer irreparable harm without the injunction. Wood v. Buss, 496 F.3d 620, 622 (7th Cir. 2007). A preliminary injunction is not appropriate to guard against the “mere possibility of irreparable injury.” Orr v. Shicker, 953 F.3d 490, 501 (7th Cir. 2020) (citing Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 22 (2008)). If the plaintiff can establish those three factors, the court must balance the harm to each party and to the public interest from granting or denying the injunction. See Wood, 496 F.3d at 622; Korte v. Sebelius, 735 F.3d 654, 665 (7th Cir. 2013); Cooper v. Salazar, 196 F.3d 809, 813 (7th Cir. 1999). In the context of prisoner litigation, the scope of the court’s authority to issue an injunction (including a TRO) is circumscribed by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). See Westefer v. Neal, 682 F.3d 679, 683 (7th Cir. 2012). Under the PLRA, preliminary injunctive relief “must be narrowly drawn, extend no further than necessary to correct the harm the court finds requires preliminary relief, and be the least intrusive means necessary to correct that harm.” 18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(2); see also Westefer, 682 F.3d at 683 (noting the PLRA “enforces a point repeatedly made by the Supreme Court in cases challenging prison conditions: prisons officials have broad administrative and discretionary authority over the institutions they manage” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). Here, Plaintiff fails to carry the burden of persuasion that the drastic remedy of a preliminary injunction is appropriate in this instance. Plaintiff is concerned with his prior medical care from Defendant; however, Plaintiff is currently being followed by a different medical provider. See ECF No. 87 at 3. Given this, Plaintiff fails to show irreparable harm from the denial of preliminary relief. As such, the Court is obliged to deny Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction. Page 2 of 10 Second, the Court will deny Plaintiff’s motion to appoint counsel. As a civil litigant, Plaintiff has “neither a constitutional nor statutory right to a court-appointed attorney.” James v. Eli, 889 F.3d 320, 326 (7th Cir. 2018). However, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1), a “court may request an attorney to represent any person unable to afford counsel.” A court should seek counsel to represent a plaintiff if: (1) he has made reasonable attempts to secure counsel; and (2) “‘the difficulty of the case—factually and legally— exceeds the particular plaintiff’s capacity as a layperson to coherently present it.’” Navejar v. Iyiola, 718 F.3d 692, 696 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Pruitt v. Mote, 503 F.3d 647, 655 (7th Cir. 2007) (en banc)). Whether to appoint counsel in a particular case is left to a court’s discretion. James, 889 F.3d at 326; McCaa v. Hamilton, 893 F.3d 1027, 1031 (7th Cir. 2018). While framed in terms of a plaintiff’s capacity to litigate, this discretion must also be informed by the realities of recruiting counsel in this District. When a court recruits a lawyer to represent a pro se party, the lawyer takes the case pro bono. Unlike a lawyer appointed to represent a criminal defendant during her prosecution, who is paid by the government for the work, an attorney who takes a prisoner’s civil case pro bono has no promise of compensation. It is difficult to convince local lawyers to take such cases. Unlike other districts in this Circuit, see, e.g., L.R. 83.35 (N.D. Ill.), the Eastern District of Wisconsin does not employ an involuntary appointment system for lawyers admitted to practice in the District. Instead, the District relies on the willingness of lawyers to sign up for the Pro Bono Attorney Panel and, once there, accept appointments as needed. See Pro Bono Program, available at: http://www.wied.uscourts.gov/pro-bono-program. Page 3 of 10 The District is grateful to the lawyers who participate in the Pro Bono Program, but there are never enough volunteers, and those who do volunteer rarely take more than one or two cases a year. This is understandable, as many are already busy attending to fee-paying clients. Although the Pro Bono Program does provide for payment of certain litigation expenses, it does not directly compensate a lawyer for his or her time. Participants may seek attorney’s fees when permitted by statute, such as in successful § 1983 cases, but they will otherwise go unpaid. The small pool of attorneys available to this District for pro bono appointments stands in stark contrast to that of the Court of Appeals, which regularly recruits counsel from across the nation to represent pro se plaintiffs on appeal. See, e.g., James, 889 F.3d at 323 (appointing counsel from Washington, D.C. to represent the pro se appellant); McCaa, 893 F.3d at 1029 (same). Additionally, it must be remembered that, when a court determines that counsel recruitment is appropriate, it can take months to locate a willing lawyer. This delay works to the detriment of all parties and contravenes Congress’s instruction in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 1 that district courts must endeavor to secure the “just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 1. Thus, looming large over each request for counsel are a court’s ever-more-limited time and resources. With these considerations in mind, the Court returns to the question presented: whether counsel can and should be recruited to represent Plaintiff at this stage in this case. First, a court asks whether the litigant has made “reasonable” efforts to obtain her own representation. Pruitt, 503 F.3d at 655; Jackson v. County of McLean, 953 F.2d 1070, 1073 (7th Cir. 1992). It is a question not often litigated; many district court judges either overlook arguably unreasonable efforts at obtaining counsel, or they impose Page 4 of 10 eminently practical requirements such as the submission of evidence demonstrating that the prisoner has tried and failed to secure representation from several lawyers. See, e.g., Kyle v. Feather, No. 09-cv-90bbc, 2009 WL 2474627, at *1 (W.D. Wis. Aug. 11, 2009). The first element of Pruitt is fairly easy to satisfy, but it is not toothless, and it is not a mere technical condition of submitting a certain number of rejection letters. If it was, then a Wisconsin prisoner litigating a § 1983 action could submit rejection letters from ten randomly selected criminal defense lawyers from Nevada and call his work complete. This cannot be. The purpose of the reasonable-efforts requirement is to ensure that if a court and private lawyers must expend scarce resources to provide counsel for a prisoner, he has at least made a good-faith effort to avoid those costs by getting a lawyer himself. To fulfill this duty, a pro se prisoner should reach out to lawyers whose areas of practice suggest that they might consider taking his case. If he learns that some of the lawyers he has contacted do not, he should reach out to others before he concludes that no one will help him. Here, Plaintiff provides evidence showing that he contacted attorneys to represent him in this matter. ECF No. 86-1. The Court finds that Plaintiff satisfies the first Pruitt question. Plaintiff’s request must also succeed on the second Pruitt question: whether the difficulty of the case exceeds his capacity to coherently present it. This assessment must be made in light of the particular capabilities and circumstances presented by each pro se litigant. James, 889 F.3d at 326–27. The Court of Appeals explains: The second step is itself grounded in a two-fold inquiry into both the difficulty of the plaintiff’s claims and the plaintiff’s Page 5 of 10 competence to litigate those claims himself. The inquiries are necessarily intertwined; the difficulty of the case is considered against the plaintiff’s litigation capabilities, and those capabilities are examined in light of the challenges specific to the case at hand. Ultimately, the question is not whether a lawyer would present the case more effectively than the pro se plaintiff; if that were the test, district judges would be required to request counsel for every indigent litigant. Rather, the question is whether the difficulty of the case—factually and legally—exceeds the particular plaintiff’s capacity as a layperson to coherently present it to the judge or jury himself. Notably, this inquiry extends beyond the trial stage of the proceedings. The relevant concern is whether the plaintiff appears competent to litigate his own claims, given their degree of difficulty. This includes all of the tasks that normally attend litigation: evidence gathering, preparing and responding to motions and other court filings, and trial. Id. (citations and quotations omitted). While a court need not address every concern raised in a motion for appointment of counsel, it must address “those that bear directly” on the individual’s capacity to litigate his case. McCaa, 893 F.3d at 1032. The balancing contemplated in the second Pruitt step must be done against the backdrop that district courts cannot be expected to appoint counsel in circumstances which are common to all or many prisoners. See Bracey v. Grondin, 712 F.3d 1012, 1017–18 (7th Cir. 2013); Pruitt, 503 F.3d 647, 656 (observing that the Seventh Circuit has “resisted laying down categorical rules regarding recruitment of counsel in particular types of cases”); Harper v. Bolton, 57 F. Supp. 3d 889, 893 (N.D. Ill. 2014). Doing so would place untenable burdens on court resources. It would also turn the discretion of § 1915(e)(2) on its head, making appointment of counsel the rule rather than the exception. Page 6 of 10 Several pronouncements from the Court of Appeals appear to be in tension with this principle. First, the Seventh Circuit notes that “complexity increases and competence decreases as a case proceeds to the advanced phases of litigation.” James, 889 F.3d at 327. It deems the “[a]dvanced phases” to include those from discovery onward. Id.; McCaa, 893 F.3d at 1032. But nearly every prisoner case proceeds to discovery, as the district court applies exceedingly lenient review during initial screening. Second, the Seventh Circuit instructs that district courts should evaluate a prisoner’s competency irrespective of the involvement of a “jailhouse lawyer.” McCaa, 893 F.3d at 1033; Walker v. Price, No. 17-1345, 2018 WL 3967298, at *5 (7th Cir. Aug. 20, 2018). How courts should do this is not clear. A court rarely knows whether a filing was prepared by the plaintiff or someone helping him. And if a court does know that the plaintiff is receiving help, how can it assess his ability to litigate without knowing which portions of the filings are his work, and which come from the jailhouse lawyer? In Walker, the court determined that the inmate’s work product decreased in quality after his jailhouse lawyer was transferred to another prison. 2018 WL 3967298, at *6. Yet a savvy prisoner, looking to secure counsel for himself, could do this on purpose, crafting his filings to downplay his own litigation capabilities. A court would have no way to assess whether the inmate is sandbagging it. Finally, the Court of Appeals indicates that claims involving the state of mind of the defendant, such as those involving deliberate indifference, are particularly complex. James, 889 F.3d at 327–28; McCaa, 893 F.3d at 1032. Yet a government official’s culpable mental state is the foundation for most constitutional claims. Indeed, it is often the defining characteristic that sets § 1983 claims apart from their state-law tort analogues. Deliberate Page 7 of 10 indifference is essential to nearly all claims of cruel and unusual punishment, excessive force, mistreatment of medical needs, and First Amendment and due process violations. See Kingsley v. Henderson, 135 S. Ct. 2466, 2473 (2015); County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 849 (1998); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Hambright v. Kemper, 705 F. App’x 461, 462 (7th Cir. 2017); Milton v. Slota, 697 F. App’x 462, 464 (7th Cir. 2017) (“[N]egligently inflicted harm does not amount to a constitutional violation.”) (emphasis in original). Taken together, these claims comprise the vast majority of prisoner litigation in this District. If state-of-mind issues are generally beyond the ability of most pro se litigants to prove, then a court likely would need to appoint counsel in nearly every prisoner case. This is plainly impossible. The guiding rule has always been that appointment of counsel is the exception rather than the rule in pro se prisoner litigation. Yet a confluence of all-too-common circumstances—discovery, jailhouse lawyers, and claims concerning state of mind—militate in favor of the appointment of counsel. As the list of reasons to appoint counsel grows, the reasons not to do so shrink. This District’s resources have not kept pace. Against this backdrop, the Court finds that Plaintiff has not presented sufficient evidence and argument showing that he cannot litigate or try this matter competently on his own. In his motion, Plaintiff indicates that he suffers from mental health issues and that he would be unable to litigate this case at a trial. ECF No. 86. It is true, as Plaintiff intuits, that a lawyer would be helpful in navigating the legal system; trained attorneys are of course better positioned to successfully litigate cases. But Plaintiff’s lack of legal training brings him in line with practically every other prisoner or former prisoner Page 8 of 10 litigating in this Court. Further, the Court has assisted Plaintiff in this regard (as it does with all prisoner litigants) by providing copies of the most pertinent federal and local procedural rules along with its scheduling order. Thus, ignorance of the law or court procedure is generally not a qualifying reason for appointment of counsel. Plaintiff has not demonstrated that his case is exceptional to require counsel. The Court will therefore deny Plaintiff’s motion, without prejudice, and if the case proceeds past summary judgment, the Court will reconsider any renewed motion for trial counsel at a later time. Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction and/or protective order, ECF No. 85, be and the same is hereby DENIED; and IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff’s motion to appoint counsel, ECF No. 86, be and the same is hereby DENIED without prejudice. Dated at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this 3rd day of July, 2024. BY THE COURT: ____________________________________ J. P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge Page 9 of 10 Plaintiffs who are inmates at Prisoner E-Filing Program institutions shall submit all correspondence and case filings to institution staff, who will scan and e-mail documents to the Court. Prisoner E-Filing is mandatory for all inmates at Columbia Correctional Institution, Dodge Correctional Institution, Green Bay Correctional Institution, Oshkosh Correctional Institution, Waupun Correctional Institution, and Wisconsin Secure Program Facility. Plaintiffs who are inmates at all other prison facilities, or who have been released from custody, will be required to submit all correspondence and legal material to: Office of the Clerk United States District Court Eastern District of Wisconsin 362 United States Courthouse 517 E. Wisconsin Avenue Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202 DO NOT MAIL ANYTHING DIRECTLY TO THE COURT’S CHAMBERS. If mail is received directly to the Court’s chambers, IT WILL BE RETURNED TO SENDER AND WILL NOT BE FILED IN THE CASE. Plaintiff is further advised that failure to timely file any brief, motion, response, or reply may result in the dismissal of this action for failure to prosecute. In addition, the parties must notify the Clerk of Court of any change of address. IF PLAINTIFF FAILS TO PROVIDE AN UPDATED ADDRESS TO THE COURT AND MAIL IS RETURNED TO THE COURT AS UNDELIVERABLE, THE COURT WILL DISMISS THIS ACTION WITHOUT PREJUDICE. Page 10 of 10

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