April 25, 2017
from the United States District Court for the Central
District of Illinois. No. l:13-cv-01462-SLD - Sara Darrow,
Posner, Kanne, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.
POSNER, Circuit Judge.
Davis, an inmate at Illinois Pontiac Correctional Center,
sued a guard, Donald Moroney, for allegedly using excessive
force against him, but the district court dismissed the suit
for failure to prosecute. Davis now challenges the denial of
a subsequent motion for relief from judgment under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). He argues that exceptional
circumstances warrant relief from the judgment, principally
because mental impairments prevented him from prosecuting the
case without the aid of counsel.
filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in 2013 against
guard Moroney along with the prison's warden and other
prison officials responsible for the prison's grievance
process. In his complaint Davis alleged that while speaking
with another inmate he accidentally bumped into Moroney,
apologized, but Moroney responded by hitting Davis in the
jaw, throat, and chest, twisting his arm behind his back,
slamming his head against a wall, and handcuffing him. Davis
charges that the other defendants, in an effort to cover up
Moroney's assault, conspired to deny him access to the
prison's grievance procedure by failing to process and
return his grievances.
asked the district court to recruit counsel for him, stating
that he "had to obtain complete assistance" in
order to be able to prosecute his suit. He had tried to
secure counsel on his own, he added, and referred to a letter
from a law firm corroborating his attempt to obtain
representation; but no letter was attached to his motion.
district court screened Davis's complaint, see 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A, and allowed him to proceed on his
excessive-force claim against Moroney. But the court
dismissed the conspiracy claim against the other defendants
on the ground that Davis had no federal constitutional right
to a grievance procedure and therefore could not
"present a meritorious claim." The court also
denied Davis's motion for counsel, on the ground that
he'd failed to demonstrate that he'd made a
reasonable attempt to obtain counsel.
ensued, but Davis failed to respond to interrogatories
propounded by Moroney concerning Davis's attempts to
exhaust his administrative remedies.
months later Davis repeated his request for recruitment of
counsel, stating that he had a mental illness and was unable
to aid the inmate who was preparing his court filings. Davis
attached to his motion an affidavit from the assisting
inmate, Claude McGee, who asserted that "it is almost
common knowledge that Mr. Davis has a mental illness"
and that Davis's "judgment is substantially
impaired, along with his perceptions of reality, all of which
rendered it essentially impractical to effectively
communicate with Mr. Davis to meet deadlines, [or to] fully
and fairly participate in the discovery process." Two
months later the district court denied Davis's request
for counsel on the ground that he'd failed to demonstrate
that he had tried to secure counsel on his own and because
his claim was "not unduly complex and relies largely on
information of his personal knowledge."
court allowed Davis 21 more days to respond to Moroney's
interrogatories. On the twenty-first day Davis renewed his
motion for recruitment of counsel, asserting that the case
was difficult for him because he reads at a 6th-grade reading
level, lacks communication skills, and has a "paranoid
delusional disorder." He also attached his "legal
mail card, " which cataloged his incoming and outgoing
mail to a number of law firms. And he asked the court to
order the prison to turn over his medical records. Moroney,
having still received no response to his interrogatories,
filed another motion to compel Davis to respond.
district judge took no further action for nine months, then
issued a scheduling order stating that "there are no
pending issues requiring discussion." The order directed
Moroney to provide Davis with, among other things,
Davis's "relevant medical records" and
"relevant grievances and all responses to those
it appears responding to the court's directive, a month
later Moroney filed a motion to dismiss Davis's suit
under Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b) for lack of prosecution because
Davis still had not answered the interrogatories. The
district judge responded with two orders: the first denied
Davis's renewed motion for recruitment of counsel because
his "claim is not unduly complex and relies largely on
information within his personal knowledge, " and
instructed Davis to request his medical records through his
institution- whatever that means. The judge's second
order warned Davis that his case would be dismissed unless he
filed answers to Moroney's interrogatories within 14
days. Twenty days later Davis filed a motion to reconsider
the denial of his motion for recruitment of counsel but did
not respond to the interrogatories. The district court then
granted Moroney's motion to dismiss Davis's suit,
explaining that Davis had failed to comply with the
judge's orders directing him to respond to the
interrogatories. The judge denied Davis's motion to
reconsider the denial of his motion for recruitment of
counsel as moot.
a month later Davis filed a "Motion to
Reconsider/Reinstate Cause" and argued that the court
had disregarded his "possible mental impairments"
that prevented him from effectively litigating his case. He
also asked the court to give him more time to find an
attorney. The court did not find Davis's arguments
"persuasive" and so denied the motion. Nine days
later Davis filed a Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend the
judgment, stating that he was "extremely slow
mentally/' that he lacked the ability "to produce
any form of effort to pursue this cause/' and that the
circumstances were exceptional because he had
"insufficient knowledge of any complexity of the
case" and could not represent himself. The motion also
alleged that prison staff had retaliated against the inmates
who had prepared Davis's filings for ...