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Jefferson v. Hollingsworth

United States District Court, S.D. California

November 21, 2017

James Leroye Jefferson, Plaintiff,
Kathy Hollingsworth, PIA Bakery Supervisor, ; Defendants.


          Hon. Bernard G. Skomal United States Magistrate Judge

         James Leroye Jefferson (“Plaintiff”), a state prisoner proceeding pro se, has filed this civil rights action seeking relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1.) Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion to Appoint Counsel (ECF No. 11) and Motions for Library Access (ECF Nos. 13, 19).[1] For the reasons set forth below, the Motions are DENIED.


         Plaintiff first asks the Court to grant his Motion to Appoint Counsel (ECF No. 11). This is Plaintiff's second request for the appointment of counsel. (See ECF No. 5 [motion to appoint counsel]; ECF No. 8 [denying first request to appoint counsel].)

         As stated in the Order denying Plaintiff's initial Motion to Appoint Counsel (ECF No. 8 at 4), there is no constitutional right to counsel in a civil case. Lassiter v. Dep 't of Social Servs., 452 U.S. 18, 25 (1981); Palmer v. Valdez, 560 F.3d 965, 970 (9th Cir. 2009). While a district court has limited discretion under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1) to “request” that an attorney represent an indigent civil litigant, Agyeman v. Corr. Corp. of America, 390 F.3d 1101, 1103 (9th Cir. 2004), it may exercise that discretion only under “exceptional circumstances.” Id.; see also Terrell v. Brewer, 935 F.2d 1015, 1017 (9th Cir. 1991). Determining whether such “exceptional circumstances” exist requires consideration of the Plaintiff's “likelihood of success on the merits” as well as whether he “is unable to articulate his claims in light of the complexity of the issues involved.” Harrington v. Scribner, 785 F.3d 1299, 1309 (9th Cir. 2015).

         In his first Motion to Appoint Counsel, Plaintiff requested the appointment of counsel because he is indigent, “nearly slightly blind”, “sick with HIV” and “lack[s] knowledge of the legal system.” (ECF No. 5.) In the instant motion, Plaintiff seeks appointed counsel for the same reasons: he is indigent, has “very little knowledge in legal paperwork, ” has “narrow to near blind” vision, and is HIV positive. (ECF No. 11 at 2.) He has not asserted any new facts establishing the “exceptional circumstances” necessary to warrant appointment of counsel. (See ECF No. 8 at 4.) Nothing in his filings since the denial of his first motion to appoint counsel indicate that he is unable to articulate his claims. Further, as this case remains in the initial pleadings stage, Plaintiff has not yet shown a likelihood of success on the merits.

         Accordingly, as Plaintiff has not asserted any new facts that would merit the Court's discretionary appointment of counsel, his Motion to Appoint Counsel (ECF No. 11) is DENIED without prejudice.


         Plaintiff also asks the Court to grant his Motions for Library Access to provide him with Priority Legal User (“P.L.U.”) status entitling him to obtain priority access and use of the prison law library due to his job and chemotherapy schedules. (ECF Nos. 13, 19.) He states that because he can “show court legal documents”, “he is entitled to P.L.U.” status. (ECF No. 19 at 1.) Additionally, he acknowledges per the California Code of Regulations, an inmate is to “receive P.L.U. status within 30 days of his established court deadline.” (Id.)

         A. Relevant Standards

         The Supreme Court has found that, “the fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law.” Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 346 (1996) (quoting Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 828 (1977)). In order to successfully assert a Bounds violation, an inmate must satisfy the requirement of standing and demonstrate an actual injury. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 349 (citing Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 750-52 (1984)). In asserting a Bounds violation, the injury must be related to the established right to access the courts; mere physical access to libraries in itself is not a right. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 350-51. Thus, an inmate must show that his inability to access an adequate legal library or services “hindered his efforts to pursue a legal claim.” Id. at 351. This right however is not absolute and prison administrators are only required to provide reasonable access to library facilities. Toussaint v. McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1109 (9th Cir. 1986).

         Pursuant to California Code of Regulations, Title 15, inmates may apply for Priority Legal User (“P.L.U.”) status if they have an “established court deadline” by completing and signing a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) Form 2171 Priority Library User (P.L.U.) Request and Declaration. Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3122. An established court deadline may be either a court imposed deadline for an active case or a statutory deadline. Id.

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), an inmate must first exhaust all administrative remedies before contesting any condition of confinement. Rios v. Tilton, No. 2:07-CV-00790, 2010 WL 2557191 (E.D. Cal. June 21, 2010) (order denying motion for P.L.U. status based on inability to show administrative relief was exhausted).

         Further, the Supreme Court has warned against federal courts becoming “enmeshed in the minutiae of prison operations.” Lewis, 518 U.S. at 362 (quoting Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 562 (1979)). While a court can provide injunctive relief to ensure the protection of an inmate's constitutional rights, the state has broad discretion ...

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