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Pennsylvania Prisoner Appointed Counsel on Retaliation / MRSA Infection Claims

Pennsylvania Prisoner Appointed Counsel on Retaliation / MRSA Infection Claims

A Pennsylvania federal district court appointed counsel to a prisoner in a lawsuit claiming he contracted a serious infection and faced retaliation after filing grievances about his medical condition.

While housed at Pennsylvania’s SCI-Chester, state prisoner Jose Crespo contracted Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA). His lawsuit against 14 health workers (nurses and doctors) and administrative prison staff contended that unsanitary conditions at the facility resulted in his contracting the infection, which manifested itself in pus-filled bumps covering various portions of his skin.

Crespo filed grievances based upon the fact that 1) he was repeatedly reinfected with MRSA and 2) he was charged for each medical treatment despite believing it was a chronic condition for which he should have only been charged once. His pro se lawsuit claimed that in order to silence him about his MRSA infection and related issues, prison officials transferred him to SCI-Graterford, using a skirmish he had with another prisoner as a pretext for the transfer.

Before the district court was Crespo’s motion to appoint counsel. The court found the motion had arguable merit and passed the criteria that the court had to assess, which included: 1) the plaintiff’s ability to present his or her case; 2) the difficulty of the particular legal issues; 3) the degree to which factual investigation will be necessary, and the ability of the plaintiff to pursue the investigation; 4) the plaintiff’s capacity to retain counsel on his own behalf; 5) the extent to which the case is likely to turn on credibility determinations; and 6) whether the case will require testimony from expert witnesses.
The district court found that Crespo had only a 2.6 grade equivalency level. Additionally, the retaliation claim was complicated and would be difficult for him to argue. Finally, the prison conditions and MRSA infection claims would likely require expert testimony. For those reasons the court held Crespo was entitled to appointed counsel.

The district court further found that while prisoner Kenneth Davenport had assisted Crespo in this litigation, because Davenport was a non-lawyer he could not represent another person as requested in Crespo’s motion. Arnold C. Joseph of Joseph & Associates was subsequently appointed, though the suit was later voluntarily dismissed. See: Crespo v. Laws-Smith, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Pa.), Case No. 2:06-cv-04651-ER; 2007 WL 1469050.

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Related legal case

Crespo v. Laws-Smith