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Conner v. J. Mastronardy and Dover Twp. Police Department

United States District Court, District of New Jersey

May 14, 2015

Terrence Conner, pro se
v.
J. Mastronardy and Dover Twp. Police Department

LETTER OPINION & ORDER

Michael A. Hammer United States Magistrate Judge

Dear Litigants:

Presently before the Court is Plaintiff Pro Se’s application for pro bono counsel, filed under 28 U.S.C § 1915(e)(1). See Appl. for Pro Bono Counsel, Jan. 30, 2015, D.E. 13. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff’s request is denied without prejudice.

Background

Plaintiff Pro Se, Terrence Conner, is currently an inmate at Northern State Prison in Newark, New Jersey. On May 14, 2013, Plaintiff filed his Complaint against Defendants Officer J. Mastronardy (“Officer Mastronardy”) and the Dover Township Police Department (“Dover Police Dept.”)[1] (collectively “Defendants”) asserting claims for false imprisonment, and various civil rights violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Compl., at 1 ¶ 1, 5-6, May 14, 2013, D.E. 1. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that on March 16, 2013, Officer Mastronardy stopped him at a WaWa in Toms River, New Jersey because Plaintiff “fit the description of a drug dealer” and the Officer was looking for two individuals named Helen and Tate. Id. at 3 ¶¶ 1-2. After running Plaintiff’s name through the system and determining that there was an active warrant for his arrest, Officer Mastronardy arrested Plaintiff. Id. at 3, ¶¶ 3-4.

Following the arrest, Officer Mastronardy took Plaintiff to the Toms River police station, where the Officer strip searched Plaintiff. Id. at ¶¶ 4-5. Plaintiff alleges that during the search, Officer Mastronardy, “repeatedly ran his hands up and down [Plaintiff’s] bare legs and would sometime [sic] bump into [his] private area.” Id. at ¶ 5. Plaintiff claims that Officer Mastronardy also “ran his hands through [Plaintiff’s] underwear . . . .” Id. at ¶ 5. Moreover, Plaintiff maintains that as Officer Mastronardy searched him, six other officers watched, laughed, and made jokes about Plaintiff’s body. Id. at ¶ 6.

Plaintiff contends that Defendants are liable for unlawfully searching and falsely imprisoning him. Id. at ¶¶ 5-9. Plaintiff also asserts that Defendants, “developed and maintained policies exhibiting deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of persons. . . .” Id. at 5. In addition, he alleges that “[i]t was the policy and custom of Dover Twp. to fail to exercise reasonable care in hiring its police officers, including Ptl. Mastronardy and failing to adequately supervise and train its police officers . . . .” Id. at 6.

Plaintiff filed his Complaint and an application to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”) on May 14, 2013. See Compl. May 14, 2013. On May 14, 2014, the District Court granted Plaintiff’s IFP application. See Order, May 14, 2014, D.E. 4. On May 15, 2014, the District Court dismissed Plaintiff’s unlawful arrest/false imprisonment claim against Officer Mastronardy for failure to state a claim. See Opinion and Order, May 14, 2014, D.E. 3, 4. The District Court permitted Plaintiff to proceed with his claims of unlawful search against Officer Mastronardy and the unconstitutional policy and failure to train claims against the Dover Police Dept. See id.

Discussion

In civil cases, neither the Constitution nor any statute gives civil litigants the right to appointed counsel. Parham v. Johnson, 126 F.3d 454, 456-57 (3d Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). However, district courts, have broad discretion to determine whether appointment of counsel is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. §1915(e). See Montgomery v. Pinchack, 294 F.3d 492, 498 (3d Cir. 2002) (providing courts may request the appointment of counsel) (citing Tabron v. Grace, 6 F.3d 147, 153 (3d Cir. 1993)). Appointment of counsel may be made at any point in the litigation, including sua sponte by the Court. Montgomery, 294 F.3d at 498 (citing Tabron, 6 F.3d at 156).

To determine the appropriateness of appointing counsel, courts in the Third Circuit considers the framework established in Tabron v. Grace. See 6 F.3d at 156-57. Under the Tabron framework, the Court must first assess “whether the claimant’s case has some arguable merit in fact and law.” Id. If the applicant’s claim has some merit, the Court considers the following factors:

(1) the plaintiff’s ability to present his or her own case;
(2) the complexity of the legal issues;
(3) the degree to which factual investigation will be necessary and the ability of the plaintiff to ...

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