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Ninth Circuit Faults Mootness Dismissal, Denial of Counsel

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the mootness dismissal of an Idaho prisoner’s conditions of confinement suit. The Court also found that it was an abuse of discretion to dismiss without ruling on the prisoner’s request for appointment of counsel.

Idaho prisoner Maxwell Hoffman sued in federal court, challenging his conditions of confinement. The district court dismissed the action as moot, without ruling on Hoffman’s request for counsel.

The Ninth Circuit found the lower court had erred in dismissing on mootness grounds because “the district court found only that ‘some’ of Hoffman’s concerns ‘may’ be moot.”

The appellate court also agreed “that the district court abused its discretion in dismissing his action without first ruling on his request for appointed counsel.” Citing Miles v. Dep’t of Army, 881 F.2d 777, 784 (9th Cir. 1989) and McElyean v. Babbit, 833 F.2d 196, 199 (9th Cir. 1987), the Court observed that a “district court must rule on an application for appointment of counsel before dismissing a pro se litigant’s action.” It instructed the lower court to “consider whether Hoffman is entitled to appointed counsel under the standard set forth in Agyeman v. Corrections Cop of America, 390 F.3d 1101, 1103-04 (9th Cir. 2004).” See: Hoffman v. Does, 138 Fed Appx. 4 (9th Cir. 2005) (unpublished).

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