Illinois Federal Warned About New Precedent

     CHICAGO (CN) – The 7th Circuit complained about a court’s use of outdated “boilerplate language” while finding that a prisoner should have been appointed an attorney.
     Guards at an Illinois prison had allegedly descended on Eduardo Navejar in 2008 after he punched one of their brethren who wanted silence on the cafeteria line.
     Navejar said the guards wrestled him to the ground, handcuffed him, and then kicked him in the head and stomped his head against the ground. They also allegedly pepper-sprayed him twice, and left him screaming in a segregation cell for 30 minutes before allowing him to wash off the pepper spray.
     When Navejar visited the prison health facility the next morning, he was taken away before seeing a doctor, because he was being transferred to another prison, he claimed.
     Navejar sued for excessive force and denial of medical care, but a federal judge in Chicago dismissed the case after twice denying Navejar pro bono counsel.
     A three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit reversed last week after finding that the lower court’s counsel denials relied on an outdated legal standard.
     “By relying on Gil instead of Pruitt, the court believed that it should decide whether Navejar was competent to try his case,” the unsigned decision states. “But Pruitt clarified that the proper inquiry focuses on ‘whether the plaintiff appears competent to litigate his own claims,’ with tactics like discovery and motion practice ‘that normally attend litigation.'” (Italics in original.)
     While the 7th Circuit decided Pruitt v. Mote, en banc, in 2007, the decision in Gil v. Reed dates back to 2004.
     The 7th Circuit also admonished the Northern District of Illinois as a whole for using outdated precedent.
     “The District Court, unfortunately, is not alone in relying on pre-Pruitt case law,” the panel said. “Many other district judges in the Northern District of Illinois have recently and regularly issued substantially similar rulings. We have found more than 100 rulings from the Northern District of Illinois since Pruitt using the phrase ‘so complex or intricate that a trained attorney is necessary.’ … We therefore take this opportunity to remind district courts about the individualized analysis that Pruitt requires, and caution against using boilerplate language that we criticized en banc.”
     Navejar was prejudiced by the lack of an attorney because he was unable rebut defendant’s incorrect citation of precedent, and unable to compel discovery, so that the state “avoided producing virtually everything he requested in discovery,” according to the judgment.
     “We conclude that there is a reasonable likelihood that Navejar would have overcome summary judgment with the assistance of counsel,” the court concluded.

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