Davis v. Walker

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 03-24-2014
  • Case #: 12-15856; 12-15859
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Tallman for the Court; Circuit Judge Ikuta and District Judge Gordon
  • Full Text Opinion

When a lengthy and indefinite stay effectively puts a prisoner out of court, it is an appealable final decision because the stay order fails to adequately protect the prisoner’s interests.

Kennard Lee Davis, a prisoner proceeding pro se, sued California prison officials for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Davis suffers from schizoaffective disorder and other mental illnesses, and has been evaluated and found incompetent. Davis has been under court-ordered, long-term involuntary medication since April of 2007. When he filed suit, Davis also filed motions for the appointment of counsel, or a guardian ad litem, to represent his interests. The district court denied Davis’s motions because Davis was determined to not possess the ability to “consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding.” The district court stayed Davis’s § 1983 cases indefinitely, until he is determined competent. Rule 17(c) requires that a court either appoint a guardian ad litem or issue another order, which adequately protects the prisoner’s interests. The purpose of Rule 17(c) is “to protect an incompetent person’s interests in prosecuting or defending a lawsuit.” Once a pro se litigant is determined to be incompetent, “the court generally should appoint a guardian ad litem under Rule 17(c). But the Rule does not make such an appointment mandatory.” The Ninth Circuit determined that the district court’s stay order is an appealable final decision under the finality rule noted in Cohen v. Beneficial, where the order effectively amounted to a dismissal of the federal action with prejudice, noting that such stays create a danger of denying justice by delay. The panel held that there is no indication that Davis will ever regain competency and thus the district court’s order amounts to a refusal to adjudicate the merits of Davis’s § 1983 actions. The panel noted that the district court’s order to stay the actions is thus, not an “appropriate order” to fulfill its mandate to protect Davis’s interests. VACATED AND REMANDED.

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