Houser v. Folino, No. 16-2242 (3d Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
In 2010, Pennsylvania inmate Houser sued prison officials (42 U.S.C.1983), claiming deliberate indifference to his medical needs. Houser unsuccessfully requested appointed counsel. Discovery proceeded. The defendants moved for summary judgment in 2013. Houser filed opposition papers pro se but again moved to appoint counsel. The court denied the defendants’ motions, granted Houser’s motion, and conducted a search to secure pro bono counsel. After two attorneys declined the case, Reed Smith assumed Houser’s representation and devoted over 1,000 hours to the case before moving to withdraw based on fundamental disagreements with Houser on strategy, a breakdown in communication, and an irremediably broken attorney-client relationship. The court told Houser that it could not dictate strategy, and stated: “We’re not going to ask anyone else... do you want to ... represent yourself?” Houser never gave a straightforward answer. The court granted Reed Smith’s motion. Houser unsuccessfully requested that the court put him back on the “appointment of counsel” list and stay the case. Noting that the case was five years old, the court pushed the trial to December 2015. In October 2015, Houser unsuccessfully moved to appoint counsel. A jury returned a verdict for the defendants. Houser unsuccessfully moved for a new trial based on the denial of his motion to appoint counsel. Houser moved to reconsider, arguing his claims had merit and involved “medical issues that were complex including requiring an expert” and the “conflicting testimony of multiple witness[es].” The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion; denying Houser new counsel was not an abuse of discretion.