446 U.S. 989 (1980)

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U.S. Supreme Court

HYMAN v. RICKMAN , 446 U.S. 989 (1980)

446 U.S. 989

Lt. James L. RICKMAN et al
No. 79-6121

Supreme Court of the United States

June 2, 1980

On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Mr. Justice BLACKMUN, with whom Mr. Justice BRENNAN and Mr. Justice MARSHALL join, dissenting.

Petitioner, an inmate at the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Ill., filed pro se a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the defendants he named (the warden and three officers of the prison guard) had deprived him of his constitutional rights by failing to afford him appropriate medical treatment for glaucoma, a sight- threatening eye condition. According to appointed counsel's statement of the case, petitioner's condition, while made known to the prison authorities at the beginning of his incarceration, did not receive the attention of an eye doctor during his first four months at Stateville, and he was denied the medication that eventually was prescribed for him until he was hospitalized some eight months after entering the prison. Pet. for Cert. 2. After being released from the hospital, petitioner continually had to prod the guards to give him his medicine, and they sometimes denied it to him. His eyes were permanently injured. Ibid.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois initially granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on all of petitioner's claims. Although granting leave to proceed in forma pauperis, that court failed to act upon petitioner's motion, under 28 U.S. C. 1915(d), for the appointment of counsel. [Footnote 1] The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, after appointing counsel

Page 446 U.S. 989 , 990

to represent petitioner on appeal, reversed the District Court's judgment in part, remanding the case for further proceedings on petitioner's claim that respondents intentionally had deprived him of medication.

On remand, petitioner again moved the District Court for the appointment of counsel, and, unlike the Court of Appeals, the District Court denied his motion. Petitioner presented his own case in a 4-day jury trial. At the conclusion of his presentation of evidence, the District Court granted directed verdicts in favor of the warden and two of the guards, who evidently had little responsibility for petitioner's treatment on a day-to-day basis. Petitioner based his case against the fourth defendant, Lt. James L. Rickman, on allegations that this officer had sometimes denied petitioner medication on weekends. The case was submitted to the jury but they were unable to reach a verdict. Following a second trial, during which petitioner again represented himself, the jury found for Rickman.

Petitioner appealed a second time, and the Court of Appeals again appointed counsel to represent him. Petitioner argued that the District Court's failure to appoint counsel to represent him at trial had been an abuse of discretion and reversible error because his claim in fact was colorable (as evidenced by the Court of Appeals' earlier reversal of the District Court's entry of summary judgment), because the trial issues were factually and legally complex, because the constitutional right at stake was serious, and because the presence of counsel would have substantially aided petitioner in presenting his case. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, holding, in an unpublished opinion, that the decision to appoint counsel for a civil rights litigant proceeding in forma pauperis rests with the discretion of the trial court. It repeated the standard it had articulated in earlier cases, that "[o]nly when a 'denial [of counsel] would result in fundamental unfairness impinging on due process rights' . . . will an appeals court overturn a decision of the district court [446 U.S. 989 , 991]

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