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Flowers v. Lawrence

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 28, 2016

Eulandas J. Flowers, Plaintiff,
Sandra Lawrence, et al., Defendants.


          James A. Teilborg Senior United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Eulandas J. Flowers' Motion to Amend/Correct the Clerk's Judgment. (Doc. 183). Plaintiff's motion is in response to the Court's August 18, 2016, Order entering judgment in favor of Defendants and terminating the case, (Docs. 175, 176, 177), on the grounds that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies in accordance with the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) (2012) (the “PLRA”). This finding was premised on evidence presented to the Court during a bench trial held on June 16, 17, and August 2, 2016. Plaintiff takes exception to the Court's finding, and seeks amendment. Having considered Plaintiff's filing, the Court now rules on the motion.[1]


         Plaintiff's motion seeks post-judgment relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), a provision enacted to allow litigants to seek substantive change to a judgment entered by the Court.[2] Indeed, the Rule's drafters intended Rule 59(e) to “mak[e] clear that the district court possesses the power to rectify its own mistakes in the period immediately following the entry of judgment.” Maxwell v. Sherman, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 61852, at *3 (E.D. Cal. May 9, 2016) (quoting White v. New Hampshire Dep't of Employment Sec., 455 U.S. 445, 450 (1982)).

         “Although Rule 59(e) permits a district court to reconsider and amend a previous order, the rule offers an ‘extraordinary remedy, to be used sparingly in the interests of finality and conservation of judicial resources.'” Kona Enters. v. Estate of Bishop, 229 F.3d 877, 890 (9th Cir. 2000) (citation omitted). “[A] motion for reconsideration should not be granted, absent highly unusual circumstances, unless the district court is presented with newly discovered evidence, committed clear error, [3] or if there is an intervening change in the controlling law.” Id. (quoting 389 Orange Street Partners, 179 F.3d 656, 665 (9th Cir. 1999)).[4] “A Rule 59(e) motion may not be used to raise arguments or present evidence for the first time when they could reasonably have been raised earlier in the litigation.” Id. (emphasis in original).


         Plaintiff's motion contends that the Court clearly erred in finding that he failed to satisfy the requirements of the PLRA, a theory resting on two arguments. Plaintiff argues that: (1) he utilized all available administrative remedies, and (2) that he should have been represented by counsel at the bench trial. The Court begins by addressing the latter.

         A. Denial of Plaintiff's Motion to Appoint Counsel

         There is no constitutional right to the appointment of counsel in a civil case. See Palmer v. Valdez, 560 F.3d 965, 970 (9th Cir. 2009); Johnson v. U.S. Dep't of Treasury, 939 F.2d 820, 824 (9th Cir. 1991). But the Court may request that counsel represent an indigent civil litigant pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1) (2012) under “exceptional circumstances.”[5] Palmer, 560 F.3d at 970 (quoting Agyeman, 390 F.3d at 1103). On May 6, 2016, the Court set the issue of exhaustion under the PLRA for bench trial. (Doc. 116). On May 12, 2016, the Court then denied a pending Motion to Appoint Counsel. (Doc. 117). In this Order, the Court specifically noted that Plaintiff's request deserved close scrutiny, as a disputed material fact existed and the forthcoming bench trial would require Plaintiff to “handle issues of conflicting testimony and credibility on his own.” (Doc. 117 at 3). After more closely scrutinizing Plaintiff's request, the Court found both that the structure of the bench trial would allow the Court to “take special precautions to ‘avoid undue prejudice to the pro se litigant, '” (id. at 4 (citation omitted)), and that Plaintiff had demonstrated ample ability to competently prosecute his own civil case in light of its complexities. (Id. at 3). Thus, the “exceptional circumstances that might require appointment of counsel [we]re not present, ” and Plaintiff's motion was denied. (Id. at 4).

         Plaintiff's reliance on this basis in support of his pending motion is improper. The Court denied Plaintiff's most recent Motion to Appoint Counsel on May 12, 2016. (Doc. 117). A motion to reconsider this Order pursuant to Local Rule 7.2(g)[6] was due within fourteen days of the Order's issuance. Plaintiff filed no such motion, and did not thereafter renew his efforts to request appointment of counsel. Re-litigation of this issue is both untimely and falls outside of the scope of review of the Court's August 18, 2016, Order. It is not a proper basis to support amending the judgment under Rule 59(e).

         Nonetheless, even if the Court were to consider Plaintiff's argument, it is not persuasive. Plaintiff relies primarily on Solis v. County of Los Angeles, 514 F.3d 946, 958 (9th Cir. 2008), asserting that because the mechanism of a bench trial was used to adjudicate the issue of exhaustion, Plaintiff needed legal representation as he is “ill-suited to conduct a trial.” (Doc. 183 at 4-5). But the court in Solis did not hold that the plaintiff was entitled to legal representation. Rather, the Ninth Circuit held that “the district court failed to articulate its reasons for denying” the plaintiff's request for counsel, and remanded for the district court to “reconsider his request, ” taking into account the fact that the plaintiff was incarcerated, had no legal training, possessed an eighth grade education, and would be required to litigate his case before a jury. Solis, 514 F.3d at 958.

         Here, the Court provided ample reasoning in its May 12, 2016, Order to support its finding that Plaintiff failed to make the necessary showing to justify a request for counsel under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1). (See Doc. 117 at 2-5). Moreover, the trial at issue in Solis was a jury trial, whereas a bench trial was held in the instant matter, allowing the Court to enact appropriate measures to ensure that Plaintiff was not subjected to undue prejudice. And, as the Court noted in the May 12 Order, Plaintiff has demonstrated ample ability to intelligently argue his position in light of the complexity of the legal issues involved. Having observed Plaintiff's conduct during trial, the Court's finding has been bolstered significantly. Plaintiff displayed a keen ability to carry out both direct examination of himself and cross-examination of Defendants' witnesses, he displayed sound knowledge of the facts of his case, the PLRA, as well as ADOC internal regulations, and he made succinct, cogent arguments in his favor, acquitting himself exceptionally well as a pro se litigant.

         Even now-seeking post-judgment relief-Plaintiff has not demonstrated an inability “to articulate his claims pro se in light of the complexity of the legal issues involved.” Palmer, 560 F.3d at 970 (citation omitted). The “exceptional circumstances, ” necessary to grant a request under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1) are not present. Plaintiff's argument is both improper and unpersuasive.

         B. Satisfaction of Available ...

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