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Benson v. Fischer

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 25, 2019

Michael D. Benson, Plaintiff,
v.
Ron Fischer, Group Supervisor/Officer of the Day, et al., Defendants.[1]

          Michael D. Benson, MSOP, 1111 Highway 73, Moose Lake, MN 55767 (pro se Plaintiff); and

          Aaron Winter and Ralph John Detrick, Assistant Attorneys General, Minnesota Attorney General's Office, 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1100, St. Paul, MN 55101-2128 (for Defendants).

          ORDER

          TONY N. LEUNG UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Pro se Plaintiff Michael D. Benson is currently civilly committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (“MSOP”). Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his civil rights. This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Appointment of Counsel (Mot., ECF No. 35).[2]

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff requests the appointment of counsel, stating that he is unable to afford counsel; is being denied access to his legal mail; has limited access to legal materials due to his civil commitment; and is otherwise ill-equipped to adequately present his case. Plaintiff also states that “[t]he large number of defendants . . . makes it impossible for [him], on his own, to conduct discovery, especially with regard to depositions.” (Mot. at 2.)

         In support of his motion, Plaintiff attached a memo issued by MSOP staff. (3/6/17 Memo, ECF No. 37; see Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. at 2, ECF No. 36.) The memo, dated March 6, 2017, is authored by “The Omega Team” and entitled “Legal Mail Distribution.” (3/6/17 Memo.) The memo states in its entirety:

Effective 03-06-17, Legal Mail will be available for pick up at the staff office between 4:15 pm and 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday, excluding weekends.
If you are on restrictions and cannot get your Legal Mail at this time, please work with the Team to pro-socially find a solution.

(3/6/17 Memo.) Based on this memo, Plaintiff asserts that “[t]he Omega Team has informed [him] . . . that he will no longer be receiving ‘legal mail' until [he] ‘pro-socially finds a solution' with the Omega Team.” (Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. at 2.) Plaintiff additionally asserts that he “has no idea who the Omega Team is and requests to the same to ‘pro-socially find a solution' have gone unanswered.” (Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. at 2.) Plaintiff further asserts that “[t]he only reply has been the unsubstantiated claim, by unit staff, telling [him] . . . that ‘the Memo is being enforced to frustrate and halt the amount of litigation that is inundating the MSOP.'” (Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. at 3.) According to Plaintiff, he “has no way of knowing or responding to motions, actions, or orders by the Court.” (Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. at 3.)

         The Court ordered Defendants to respond to Plaintiff's motion. (ECF No. 42.) Defendants were ordered to address the memo, “the meaning of ‘pro-socially, '” and “Plaintiff's contentions that he attempted to comply with the memo but received no response and ‘has no way of knowing or responding to motions, actions, or orders by the Court.'” (ECF No. 42.)

         In response, Defendants contend that Plaintiff is still allowed to send and receive legal mail, and has in fact both sent and received legal mail. Between March 6, 2017 (the date of the memo) and April 11, 2017, MSOP records show that Plaintiff received two pieces of legal mail from this District; sent one piece of legal mail to the presiding district judge in this matter; and sent two other pieces of legal mail. (See ECF No. 46; Decl. of Jessica Geil ¶ 2, ECF No. 45.) These records also show that Plaintiff acknowledged receipt of his legal mail either the same day the mail arrived or the day after. (Defs.' Resp. at 2, ECF No. 43; see ECF No. 46.)

         Defendants explain that “[t]he purpose of the instruction that clients who cannot receive their legal mail at a designated time should ‘pro-socially find a solution' was to encourage clients to work with staff to find a positive solution to the problem.” (Defs.' Resp. at 3; see Aff. of Steve Sajdak ¶ 5, ECF No. 44.) According to Defendants, “[t]his language mimicked the language used by the MSOP ...


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