No. 1:20-cv-02148-JPH-DML.

NICHOLAS LACRUZE, Plaintiff, v. D. ZATECKY, et al. Defendants.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division.

May 3, 2022.


Plaintiff, Nicholas LaCruze, has filed a motion for assistance recruiting counsel. Dkt. 47. Litigants in federal civil cases do not have a constitutional or statutory right to court-appointed counsel. Walker v. Price, 900 F.3d 933, 938 (7th Cir. 2018). Instead, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1) gives courts the authority to "request" counsel. Mallard v. United States District Court, 490 U.S. 296, 300 (1989). As a practical matter, there are not enough lawyers willing and qualified to accept a pro bono assignment in every pro se case. See Olson v. Morgan, 750 F.3d 708, 711 (7th Cir. 2014) ("Whether to recruit an attorney is a difficult decision: Almost everyone would benefit from having a lawyer, but there are too many indigent litigants and too few lawyers willing and able to volunteer for these cases.").

"`When confronted with a request under § 1915(e)(1) for pro bono counsel, the district court is to make the following inquiries: (1) has the indigent plaintiff made a reasonable attempt to obtain counsel or been effectively precluded from doing so; and if so, (2) given the difficulty of the case, does the plaintiff appear competent to litigate it himself?'" Eagan v. Dempsey, 987 F.3d 667, 682 (7th Cir. 2021) (quoting Pruitt v. Mote, 503 F.3d 647, 654 (7th Cir. 2007)). These two questions "must guide" the Court's determination whether to attempt to recruit counsel. Id. These questions require an individualized assessment of the plaintiff, the claims, and the stage of litigation. See Pruitt, 503 F.3d at 655-56. The Seventh Circuit has specifically declined to find a presumptive right to counsel in some categories of cases. McCaa v Hamilton, 893 F.3d 1027, 1037 (7th Cir. 2018) (Hamilton, J., concurring); Walker, 900 F.3d at 939.

The first question, whether litigants have made a reasonable attempt to secure private counsel on their own "is a mandatory, threshold inquiry that must be determined before moving to the second inquiry." Eagan, 987 F.3d at 682; see also Thomas v. Anderson, 912 F.3d 971, 978 (7th Cir. 2019) (because plaintiff did not show that he tried to obtain counsel on his own or that he was precluded from doing so, the judge's denial of these requests was not an abuse of discretion). Plaintiff has attempted to contact multiple attorneys with requests for representation without success. The Court finds that he has made a reasonable effort to recruit counsel on his own before seeking the Court's assistance. He should continue his efforts to find counsel.

"The second inquiry requires consideration of both the factual and legal complexity of the plaintiff's claims and the competence of the plaintiff to litigate those claims himself." Eagan, 987 F.3d at 682 (citing Pruitt, 503 F.3d at 655). "Specifically, courts should consider `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.'" Id. (quoting Pruitt, 503 F.3d at 655). "This assessment of the plaintiff's apparent competence extends beyond the trial stage of proceedings; it must include `the tasks that normally attend litigation: evidence gathering, preparing and responding to motions and other court filings, and trial.'" Id. (quoting Pruitt, 503 F.3d at 655).

Plaintiff reports that he completed the 10th grade, but his ability to read and write in English is only at the 5th or 6th grade level. He suffers from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, PTSD, and a sleep disorder. He has no prior experience litigating cases without counsel. Despite these impediments, Plaintiff's filings in this case have been comprehensible and appropriate. For example, he attached numerous relevant case citations to his motion for counsel. The defendants recently withdrew their affirmative defense of failure to exhaust available administrative remedies after the Court denied summary judgment. Dkt. 44; dkt. 49. Discovery has only recently begun. Plaintiff is competent at this stage of litigation to litigate his claims in this action which include excessive force and deliberate indifference to the spread of COVID-19.

For these reasons, Plaintiff's motion for assistance recruiting counsel, dkt. [47], is denied without prejudice. The Court will remain alert to changes in circumstances that may warrant reconsideration of the motion, such as a settlement conference or trial.



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