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Wright v. Harper

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

June 29, 2018

Officer HARPER, Officer HOLLINS, [1] and Dr. UTLEY, [2]Defendants.



         Before the Court for consideration is the United States Magistrate Judge's Order and Recommendation [Doc. 72], which the Court ADOPTS over Plaintiff's timely-filed objections [Doc. 76].


         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff's Complaint [Doc. 1] sets forth the following facts. On October 30, 2014, Plaintiff suffered injuries to his face and jaw when he was attacked by a fellow inmate at Dooly State Prison. [Doc. 1, at 10]. Plaintiff alleges that, following this incident, he received inadequate medical and dental treatment from which he continues suffer. [Doc. 1, at 10-12].

         Specifically, Plaintiff contends that Defendants Harper and Hollins, officers who transported him to and from Taylor Regional Medical Center following the attack, refused to allow an emergency room doctor to treat his broken jaw and placed him in a segregation cell without further medical attention. [Doc. 1, at 11].[3] Plaintiff also asserts that Defendant Utley, the Dooly State Prison dentist to whom Plaintiff was referred by several medical professionals, failed to acknowledge or treat his subsequent dental problems. [Doc. 1-1, at 14].

         B. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed this § 1983 action on October 17, 2016, claiming that Defendants' deliberate indifference to his medical needs violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. [Doc. 1-1, at 1-12].

         On April 25, 2018, the Magistrate Judge issued rulings and recommendations regarding the parties' flurry of submissions. The Order [Doc. 72] denied Plaintiff's pending motions for appointment of counsel [Docs. 33, 62], motion to declare SOP 227.06 unconstitutional [Doc. 63], and discovery motions [Docs. 31, 32, 59].

         Given Defendant Utley's failure to file an answer, both parties submitted documents relating to Defendant Utley's default.[4] [Docs. 48, 52, 55, 56]. The Magistrate Judge denied Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment [Doc. 56], granted Defendant Utley's Motion to Set Aside Default [Doc. 55], and granted Plaintiff's “Motions for Claims Against Defendant Utley to Go Forward” [Docs. 48, 52]. Finally, the Magistrate Judge recommended that Defendants Harper and Hollins' Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 25] be granted. [Doc. 72, at 8-12]. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff filed a timely Objection [Doc. 76] to the Magistrate Judge's findings; as such, the Court reviews the Order and Recommendation [Doc. 72] de novo. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).


         I. Plaintiff's Motions

         The Court ADOPTS the Order of the Magistrate Judge [Doc. 72] with regards to Plaintiffs various motions [Docs. 31, 32, 33, 59, 62, 63].

         A. Plaintiff's Motions to Appoint Counsel [Docs. 33, 62]

         The Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge's denial of Plaintiff's motions requesting appointment of counsel [Docs. 33, 62]. While district courts may appoint attorneys to represent indigent litigants, prisoners raising civil rights claims, as in § 1983 actions, have no absolute constitutional right to counsel. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1); Delguidice v. Primus, 679 Fed.Appx. 944, 946 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Poole v. Lambert, 819 F.2d 1025, 1028 (11th Cir. 1987)). Accordingly, appointment of counsel is a privilege entrusted to the Court's discretion and justified only by “exceptional circumstances.”[5] Delguidice, 679 Fed.Appx. at 946; see Sims v. Nguyen, 403 Fed.Appx. 410, 414 (11th Cir. 2010).

         Here, Plaintiff fails to demonstrate the existence of exceptional circumstances necessitating appointment of counsel. In his Objection [Doc. 76], Plaintiff contends that, with an attorney, he could access his medical file, avoid limitations on indigent postage, and otherwise “have a chance” at prevailing on his claims. [Doc. 76, at 1-2].[6] However, Plaintiff has proved capable of adequately presenting his case without an attorney. As his filings reveal, Plaintiff sets forth the essential factual allegations underlying his claims, as well as the applicable legal doctrines governing the dispute. See Delguidice, 679 Fed.Appx. at 947 (no exceptional circumstances existed when Plaintiff's filings alleged relevant facts and referenced applicable law); [Doc. 1, at 10-12; Doc. 1-1, at 1-12]. Moreover, Plaintiff's incarceration does not unduly impede his ability to investigate his case, as the claims are “based on incidents personally experienced by Plaintiff.” McCall v. Cook, 495 Fed.Appx. 29, 31 (11th Cir. 2012).

         Plaintiff's claims-that Defendants denied him adequate medical and dental treatment-are “relatively straightforward, involving incidents of which [Plaintiff] had first-hand knowledge, ” and thus do not necessitate professional legal help. Sims, 403 Fed.Appx. at 414; see also Wallace v. Sheriff, 518 Fed.Appx. 621 (11th Cir. 2013) (holding that a prisoner's claims of deliberate indifference to serious medical needs did not present novel or complex issues justifying appointment of counsel). While the evidence of Plaintiff's claims may well “consist in large part of conflicting testimony so as to require skill in the presentation of evidence and in cross examination, ” this factor alone does not justify appointment of counsel. Curry v. Secretary, 665 Fed.Appx. 766, 767-68 (11th Cir. 2016). Indeed, when “the dispositive issue in the case” involves whether a prisoner exhausted administrative remedies prior to filing suit, a district court is well within its rights to refuse appointment of counsel. Id. Such is the case here, since a central conflict between Plaintiff and Defendants Harper and Hollins involves exhaustion. [Doc. 25, at 3-9; Doc. 44, at 2-6; Doc. 46, at 1-5; Doc. 49, at 6-9].

         Finally, while attorney assistance would undoubtedly benefit Plaintiff's case, this is true of all pro se litigants and does not warrant appointment of counsel. See Bass v. Perrin, 170 F.3d 1312, 1320 (11th Cir. 1999). Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiff's Objection [Doc. 76] as to the issue of appointment of counsel fails to overcome the Magistrate Judge's reasoning, and the United ...

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