Hartmann v. Carroll

Decision Date08 August 2012
Docket NumberCiv. No. 06–340–SLR.
Citation882 F.Supp.2d 742
PartiesDetlef F. HARTMANN, Plaintiff, v. Warden Thomas CARROLL, David Pierce, and Ihoma Chuks, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Delaware

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Detlef F. Hartmann, Sussex Correctional Institution, Georgetown, DE, pro se Plaintiff.

Catherine C. Damavandi, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, DE. Counsel for Defendants Thomas Carroll, Paul Howard, David Pierce, and Edward Johnson.

James Edward Drnec, Esquire, Balick & Balick, LLC, Wilmington, DE. Counsel for Defendant Ihoma Chuks.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SUE L. ROBINSON, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Detlef R. Hartmann (plaintiff), an inmate at the Sussex Correctional Institution (“SCI”), Georgetown, Delaware, filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He proceeds pro se and was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. The court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The court addresses whether plaintiff is competent within the meaning of Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(c) and reconsiders plaintiff's request for counsel. Also before the court are defendant Ihoma Chuks' (Chuks) motion to dismiss and motion for second extension of deadlines. (D.I. 142, 143) For the following reasons, the court: (1) finds that plaintiff is competent within the meaning of Rule 17(c); (2) will deny the request for counsel without prejudice to renew; (3) will deny the motion to dismiss; and (4) will deny as moot the motion for second extension of deadlines.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was incarcerated at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center (“VCC”), Smyrna, Delaware in 2006 when he filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.1 He was released from custody in January 2009 but, after he was charged with violation of probation, returned to prison in March 2011 and housed at the SCI where he remains to date. See Hartmann v. Johnson, Civ. No. 12–436–SLR (D.Del.).

Following screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and § 1915A and amendments to the complaint, plaintiff was allowed to proceed with claims against Chuks, an employee of Correctional Medical Services, Inc. (“CMS”), then medical healthcare contractor for the Delaware Department of Correction (“DOC”); Thomas Carroll (Carroll), then warden of the VCC; and David Pierce (Pierce), then deputy warden of the VCC. Plaintiff alleges that Chuks, Carroll, and Pierce were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs. During the course of the litigation, the court denied numerous requests for counsel filed by plaintiff. (D.I. 4, 7, 13, 30, 35, 51, 63, 99) In the summer of 2010, the court granted defendants' motions for summary judgment and entered judgment in favor of defendants; plaintiff appealed. (D.I. 129, 130, 132) The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit vacated the July 1, 2010 judgment and remanded the matter for this court to address whether plaintiff is competent within the meaning of Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(c) and to reconsider plaintiffs request for counsel.2See Powell v. Symons, 680 F.3d 301 (3d Cir.2012). The formal mandate issued on April 23, 2012. (D.I. 136)

Plaintiff filed a twenty-four page “reply” to the appellate court decision stating that he could not “knowingly and intelligently read and apply legal needs for this case because here in Delaware prison the obstruction of justice to access information, the courts, and redress grievance are a part of the continued, systemic, pattern and practices of state attorneys responsible for the Dept. of Corrections staff....” (D.I. 137) Plaintiff goes on to state that the record he “produced shows [his] incompetence to communicate the irreparable and other damages to [him].” ( Id.) Plaintiff then wrote to the court complaining that he was “not allowed access to the information necessary ... to read about what mental health experts reasoning [is required by the] court due to continued obstructions of justice [ ] in Delaware prisons” by State personnel. Plaintiff indicated that he would “mail it to this court as soon as I can around my disabilities.” (D.I. 138)

On April 25, 2012, the court granted plaintiff additional time to obtain mental health information and ordered the parties, on or before May 31, 2012, to file briefs and relevant documentation addressing whether plaintiff is competent within the meaning of Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(c) and plaintiffs request for counsel. (D.I. 139) On May 15, 2012, Chuks moved for additional time to comply with the deadlines.3 Chuks explained that, on April 24, 2012 and May 7, 2012, he asked plaintiff to sign and return a HIPAA-compliant authorization to allow the release of plaintiff's mental health and medical records but plaintiff did not respond to the requests. (D.I. 140) The court granted the motion, and ordered plaintiff to execute and return to defendants a HIPAA-compliant authorization on or before June 20, 2012. The order warns plaintiff, FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH THIS ORDER MAY RESULT IN DISMISSAL OF THE CASE. (D.I. 141, ¶ 1) A copy of the HIPAA-compliant authorization was attached to the order. The parties were given until July 30, 2012 to brief the relevant issues.

On May 15, 2012, Chuks sent plaintiff a third request for him to execute and return the HIPAA-compliant authorization. (D.I. 142, ex. C) On May 16, 2012, plaintiff responded as follows:

Since I am not represented by counsel, have no equal and timely constitutional access to information due to my legal guardian's continues [sic] deliberate indifference to my rights as a disabled person, and since the legal question of whether counsel should be appointed for me is the only question in front of the court at this time, I am incapable and not knowingly and intelligently able to participate in the proceedings. Therefore, I see HIPAA request as premature at this time.

( Id. at ex. D) On May 18, 2012, Chuks again requested that plaintiff execute and return the HIPAA-compliant authorization. ( Id. at ex. E) When plaintiff did not respond, Chuks filed a motion to dismiss on June 25, 2012 for plaintiffs failure to comply with the court's May 16, 2012 order.4 (D.I. 142) On August 1, 2012, plaintiff filed a thirty-six page “brief for incompetence and appointment of counsel needed for this case,” replete with case citations, argument, and analysis. (D.I. 144) Therein, plaintiff, who refused to sign and return the HIPAA-compliant authorization, complains that he has not received responses from four psychiatrists to whom he has written. 5

III. RULE 17(c)

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(c)(2) provides that [t]he court must appoint a guardian ad litem—or issue another appropriate order—to protect a minor or incompetent person who is unrepresented in an action.” The court considers whether Rule 17(c) applies [i]f a court [is] presented with evidence from an appropriatecourt of record or a relevant public agency indicating that the party had been adjudicated incompetent, or if the court receive[s] verifiable evidence from a mental health professional demonstrating that the party is being or has been treated for mental illness of the type that would render him or her legally incompetent.” Powell, 680 F.3d at 307 (3d Cir.2012) (citing Ferrelli v. River Manor Health Care Ctr., 323 F.3d 196, 201 (2d Cir.2003)). The court “need not inquire sua sponte into a pro se plaintiff's mental competence based on a litigant's bizarre behavior alone, even if such behavior may suggest mental incapacity.” Id. (citations omitted). The decision whether to appoint a next friend or guardian ad litem rests with the sound discretion of the district court. Powell, 680 F.3d at 303.

During the course of this litigation, plaintiff has filed numerous requests for counsel that include a variety of reasons why counsel was necessary, including his limited access to legal materials and unspecified mental disabilities. On August 18, 2009, plaintiff filed a request for counsel and attached to it a one-paragraph letter from Dr. Jeanette Zaimes (“Dr. Zaimes”), a psychiatrist, dated July 9, 2009, that states:

To Whom It May Concern: Mr. Detlef Hartmann is under my care for Major Depression and Attention Deficit Disorder. I do not feel he is competent at this time to represent himself in court. I would recommend that he be given a public defender, if at all possible.

(D.I. 99, ex. A)

Dr. Zaimes' letter suffices to place the court on notice that a Rule 17 inquiry is appropriate. However, because plaintiff has neither complied with the court's May 16, 2012 order (D.I. 141) nor otherwise cooperated in supplementing the record, there is no other medical evidence of plaintiff's mental health. Given this paucity of evidence, both quantitative and qualitative, the court finds that, as noted by the Third Circuit, Dr. Zaimes' letter amounts to little more than a conclusory statement that plaintiff is incompetent, fails to specify what assessments Dr. Zaimes performed to arrive at her conclusion, and does not indicate how plaintiff's conditions affect his competency. Of interest is that the letter refers to criminal, not civil, litigation as it recommends plaintiff be given a public defender. Notably, the medical records contained in the court file contain no evidence of a mental health issue at all. ( See D.I. 113, 120) Dr. Zaimes' letter is sufficiently unpersuasive to support a finding of incompetency.

In addition, the court has had prior experience with plaintiff. Plaintiff has actively participated in this litigation, and his responses to interrogatories “demonstrate an impressive ability to organize his points, make rational arguments, and cite supporting legal authority.” Powell, 680 F.3d at 309. Moreover, even after Dr. Zaimes opined that plaintiff was unable to represent himself in court, plaintiff continued to file lawsuits. On August 26, 2010, while out of prison, plaintiff filed a civil rights lawsuit, dismissed as frivolous on November 8, 2010. See Hartmann v. O'Connor, Civ. No. 10–725–SLR, 2010 WL 4628531. Pla...

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