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Davis v. Moroney

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

May 22, 2017

Michael Davis, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Donald Moroney, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued April 25, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. l:13-cv-01462-SLD - Sara Darrow, Judge.

          Before Posner, Kanne, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.

          POSNER, Circuit Judge.

         Michael 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.

         Davis 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.

         Davis 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.

         The 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.

         Discovery ensued, but Davis failed to respond to interrogatories propounded by Moroney concerning Davis's attempts to exhaust his administrative remedies.

         Two 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."

         The 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.

         The 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 grievances."

         Without 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.

         Almost 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 ...


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