United States District Court, D. Nevada
WILLIAM G. COBB, Magistrate Judge.
Before the court is Plaintiff's Response to Interested Party's Motions (Doc. # 100.) In essence, Plaintiff seeks an order denying as moot three documents (Docs. ## 80, 81 and 82) filed by a fellow inmate, allegedly on Plaintiff's behalf. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's request is GRANTED.
On June 13, 2014, Traverse Greene ("Greene"), an inmate incarcerated with Plaintiff at Ely State Prison (ESP), purportedly acting as a "next of friend, " filed three documents with the court: Motion for Leave to File Motion for Stay of Proceedings (Doc. # 80); Notice of Change of Plaintiff's Address (Doc. # 81); and Motion to Receive all Electronically Filed Documents (Doc. # 82). The court subsequently issued a Minute Order on June 16, directing all Defendants to respond to the documents filed by Greene. (Doc. # 84.) On June 26, former Defendant CenturyLink Public Communications, Inc., fka Embarq Payphone Services, Inc. ("CenturyLink") filed a response in opposition to Greene's' motions (Docs. ## 88, 89 and 90), and on June 27, Defendants Baker, Cox, Del Porto and E.K. McDaniel (collectively "NDOC Defendants") filed a motion to strike all "Next of Friend" documents filed by Greene (Docs. ## 80, 81 and 82). ( See Docs. ## 92 and 102.) Plaintiff filed this response on July 10, 2014. ( See Doc. # 100.)
In the three documents he filed as a "Next of Friend" (Docs. ## 80, 81 and 82), Greene asserts that Plaintiff was transferred from Ely State Prison (ESP) to several different hospitals as the result of appendicitis and deteriorating health, and claims that Plaintiff remains at Northern Nevada Correctional Center (NNCC). Greene states that he is a fellow inmate of Plaintiff's at ESP, and that he has been acting as Plaintiff's "legal assistant" in this case. Greene contends he is in possession of all Plaintiff's legal documents while Plaintiff remains hospitalized, that he is familiar with Plaintiff's case, and states that he filed these documents on Plaintiff's behalf as a "Next of Friend." Greene seeks to have all documents pertaining to this matter sent to him during Plaintiff's absence, and requests a stay of Plaintiff's case until he recovers and can return ESP.
In their responses (Docs. # 88, 89 and 90), CenturyLink argues that Greene has no authority to file any documents in this case on Plaintiff's behalf. Specifically, they state that an individual may appear only pro se or through legal counsel, and contend that there is no evidence that Greene is an attorney. CenturyLink also contends that the right of Plaintiff to seek legal assistance from fellow inmates does not extend to representation during litigation by non-party laypersons. (Doc. # 88 at 2.) In addition, CenturyLink argues that Greene does not meet the requirements to qualify for next-friend standing. ( Id. at 3.)
In their motion to strike and reply in support (Docs. ## 92 and 102), NDOC Defendants reiterate the arguments made by CentryLink in their response, and refer the court to the cases cited therein. In addition, NDOC Defendants cite Administrative Regulation 722 as support for their motion. (Doc. # 92, Exh. A.) Defendants' contended that A.R. 722 permits Plaintiff to receive legal assistance from other inmates, but specifically states that inmates are not permitted to appear in state or federal court on behalf of other inmate. ( Id., at 5-6.)
In his response (Doc. # 100), Plaintiff states that he was aware of and supported the three documents filed on this behalf (Docs. ## 80, 81 and 82). ( Id. at 1.) Plaintiff contends that Greene filed the motions with Plaintiff's best interests in mind, and that Greene was acting as a "next of friend" due to Plaintiff inability to protect his own interest. ( Id. at 2.) Plaintiff states that he would have sought the "same relief" himself, but was unable to do so because of his medical condition and resulting transfer to NNCC. Plaintiff further indicates that he has since returned to ESP, and consequently that there is no need to grant the relief requested by Greene. Plaintiff asks that the court "view as moot" the three documents filed on his behalf. ( Id. )
Preliminarily, the court notes that the granting of Plaintiff's request in Doc. # 100 largely resolves CenturyLink's opposition to Greene's appearance in this matter, and renders moot the NDOC Defendants' motion to strike. Nonetheless, the court believes it necessary to resolve the apparent discrepancy between Plaintiff and Defendants' regarding Greene's ability to participate in this matter under the doctrine of next-friend standing.
The next-friend standing doctrine permits persons unable to prosecute their own action to have third persons -"next friends" - stand in for them. Today, this doctrine is most often used in the context of habeas corpus petitions, as next-friend standing is expressly authorized by the federal habeas corpus statute. The statute itself does not, however, provide any requirements for asserting next-friend standing, and the modern standard for its assertion was established by the Supreme Court in Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149 (1990). In Whitmore, the third party was not bringing a habeas corpus petition on behalf of the real party in interest, but rather was attempting to intervene in a state court proceeding. Nonetheless, the Court recognized a federal common-law doctrine of next friend standing, stating that it is "no broader than what is permitted by the habeas corpus statute." Id. at 163-64. Thus, a party wishing to assert next-friend standing under either the federal habeas corpus statute or at common law must satisfy the same requirements set forth in Whitmore.
Under the test established in Whitmore, Greene bears the burden to justify his status as a "next friend" by establishing that (1) he is "truly dedicated" to Plaintiff's best interest; (2) that he has a "significant relationship" with Plaintiff; and (3) that there is an adequate explanation - such as inaccessibility, mental infirmity, or other disability - why Plaintiff cannot appear on his own behalf. Id. at 163-64. For the following reasons, Greene has not met these requirements, and his assertion of next-friend standing must fail.
As NDOC Defendants correctly point out, Greene offers no authority to suggest that serving as Plaintiff's legal assistant while the two are incarcerated together necessarily establishes that he is "truly dedicated" to Plaintiff's best interest, or that the two share a "significant relationship." Indeed, the Ninth Circuit has recognized that the assertion by a would-be "next friend" that his status as a fellow inmate qualifies him for next-friend standing, absent unique circumstances, is insufficient to satisfy either of the first two Whitmore requirements. See Wilson v. Dixon, 256 F.2d 536, 537-38 (9th Cir. 1958).
Further, Greene has not provided an adequate explanation for why Plaintiff could not file these motions on his own behalf. Circumstances under which the requisite unavailability has been found to exist include a prisoner's illiteracy, disabling physical or mental impairment, peculiar isolating confinement, or geographic remoteness from court or counsel. See Whitmore, 495 U.S. at 110. Plaintiff's temporary inability to access his legal files do to his hospitalization does not constitute circumstances necessitating Greene's filing documents in this matter on Plaintiff's behalf. This conclusion receives additional support from the fact that all other parties in this ...