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Lopez-Patino v. Askew

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

April 19, 2019

Benjamin Lopez-Patino, Plaintiff,
Chaplain Askew, et al., Defendants.


          Robert B. Jones, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Benjamin Lopez-Patino, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, commenced this action under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). This matter is currently before the court for the screening required by the Prison Litigation j Reform Act ("PLRA"). Also before the court are Lopez-Patino's motions[1] to amend (D.E. 6, 7, 11, 12, 15, 21); discovery related motions (D.E. 10, 13); and motion to appoint counsel (D.E. 14).

         For the following reasons, the court allows Lopez-Patino's motions to amend in part and denies his remaining motions. In addition, the district court should dismiss Lopez-Patino's complaint.

         I. Motions to Amend

         Lopez-Patino filed numerous motions seeking to amend his allegations and add new defendants. His first motion to amend, which only seeks to add additional defendants, is granted as a matter of course. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1).

         Lopez-Patino requires leave of court for his subsequent amendments. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). Leave to amend must be freely given when justice so requires, and will be denied only when the amendment would be prejudicial to the opposing party, there has been bad faith on the part of the moving party, or the amendment would be futile. See Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 426 (4th Cir. 2006) (en banc).

         Lopez-Patino's proposed amendments are rambling, disjointed, and, therefore do not comply with Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which requires that "[a] pleading that s states a claim for relief must contain ... a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[.]" Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Thus, the proposed amendments are futile. Moreover, the amendments also seek to introduce unrelated claims. See, e.g., Proposed Am. Compl. at 7, D.E. 12 (discussing medical malpractice claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act). Likewise, the amendments discuss unexhausted claims. See, e.g., Id. at 6 (discussing claim exhausted after Lopez-Patino filed suit). Lopez-Patino must pursue claims unrelated to his original complaint in a separate action after exhausting his administrative remedies. Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2); see also George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007) (explaining that "[u]nrelated claims against different defendants belong in different suits" to ensure prisoners comply with Rule 20 and to prevent them from avoiding the fee payment or three-strikes provisions of the PLRA); Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007) ("[U]nexhausted claims cannot be brought in court."). Nonetheless, out of an abundance of caution, the court partially allows Lopez-Patino's motions to amend. Specifically, the court allows Lopez-Patino's motions to amend to the extent they elaborate upon his original claims. To the extent Lopez-Patino seeks to add unrelated and unexhausted claims, they are denied.

         II. Discovery Related Motions

         Lopez-Patino filed several motions seeking the production of discovery. In addition to his filings formally labeled as discovery motions, Lopez-Patino also filed several proposed discovery requests with the court (D.E. 16, 17, 22). The court has not completed its frivolity review, and no defendant has been served. Therefore, Lopez-Patino's motions are premature. In addition, discovery requests must be made directly to defendants rather than filed with this court. Moreover, Lopez-Patino's proposed discovery requests seek materials unrelated to this action. See, e.g., Mot. at 1, D.E. 13 (requesting x-rays of his thumb to enable Lopez-Patino to pursue "another claim"). Finally, Lopez-Patino's discovery requests appear overbroad and unduly burdensome on their face. See, e.g., First Set of Interrogs. at 5, D.E. 16 (seeking, without limitation, the production of "any and all documents of training and education"). Accordingly, Lopez-Patino's discovery motions are DENIED.

         III. Motion for Counsel

         There is no constitutional right to counsel in civil cases, and courts should exercise their discretion to appoint counsel for pro se civil litigants "only in exceptional cases." Cook v. Bounds, 518 F.2d 779, 780 (4th Cir. 1975). The existence of exceptional circumstances justifying appointment of counsel depends upon "the type and complexity of the case, and the abilities of the individuals bringing it." Whisenant v. Yuam, 739 F.2d 160, 163 (4th Cir. 1984), abrogated on other grounds by Mallard v. U.S. Dist. Court for the S. Dist. of Iowa, 490 U.S. 296 (1989) (quoting Branch v. Cole, 686 F.2d 264 (5th Cir. 1982)); see also Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1153 (4th Cir. 1978) ("If it is apparent... that a pro se litigant has a colorable claim but lacks capacity to present it, the district court should appoint counsel to assist him."). Lopez-Patino's action is not complex, and he has demonstrated through the detail of his filings that he is capable of proceeding pro se. As such, this case is not one in which exceptional circumstances merit appointment of counsel. Therefore, Lopez-Patino's motion requesting that he be appointed counsel is DENIED.

         IV. Screening Under the PLRA

         The PRLA requires courts to review, prior to docketing, actions filed by prisoners against governmental entities or officials. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The purpose of this review is to eliminate those claims that unnecessarily impede judicial efficiency and the administration of justice. The i court must examine the pleadings, identify cognizable claims, and dismiss any portion of the complaint that is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. at § 1915A(b).

         A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted if it does not "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal,556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The Supreme Court has explained that "[a] claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Plaintiffs status as a, pro se party relaxes, but does not eliminate, the requirement that his complaint contain facially plausible claims. The court must liberally construe a, pro se plaintiffs allegations, but it ...

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