Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

District Courts Have a Duty of Inquiry to Determine Whether There Is Verifiable Evidence of the Incompetence of a Pro Se Litigant

Fields v. Venable, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 23285 (3d Cir. Dec. 27, 2016):

On October 6, 2006, Fields was sentenced by the Honorable Sheila Venable in the Superior Court of New Jersey to a term of confinement of nine years. On January 9, 2011, he was released to a mandatory five-year period of supervision. During that time, Fields repeatedly tested positive for controlled substances. As a result, a parole officer issued a warrant, and Fields was arrested for violating the terms of his supervision. Upon arrest, an empty glassine envelope was found on Fields, and he admitted to using heroin. Following two hearings at which he was represented by counsel, Hearing Officer Carla Shabazz recommended that Fields' term of mandatory supervision be revoked. The Parole [*2]  Board accepted Officer Shabazz's recommendation and revoked Fields' period of mandatory supervision and ordered Fields to serve a parole ineligibility term of 12 months. Fields' administrative appeal was denied.

Fields filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging various constitutional violations by the defendants arising out of the revocation of his mandatory supervision. On February 5, 2016, the District Court dismissed with prejudice the claims against the judicial defendant and the parole officers who conducted Fields' revocation hearing and review, concluding that each defendant was immune from suit. The District Court dismissed without prejudice to amendment the remainder of Fields' claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The District Court dismissed as moot Fields' motions for a psychiatric evaluation and for a spoliation sanction.1 Finally, the District Court permitted Fields to move for leave to file a second amended complaint. On March 7, 2016, without filing any sort of amendment, Fields filed a notice of appeal.

 Although Fields does not challenge the District Court's dismissal of his motion requesting a psychiatric evaluation as moot, we note that the federal district courts have a duty of inquiry to determine whether there is verifiable evidence of the incompetence of a pro se litigant. Powell v. Symons, 680 F.3d 301, 307 (3d Cir. 2012). Fields' motion asked for a psychological evaluation with regards to his claim of infliction of emotional distress. The motion did not contain any reason to believe that Fields was incompetent. Additionally, Fields does not present any argument on appeal regarding his motion for a spoliation sanction.

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