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Amodeo v. Warden, FCC Coleman - Low

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Ocala Division

August 29, 2019


          Frank L. Amodeo, #48883-019 Donovan Davis, Jr., #60439-018 Counsel of Record

          Charles T. Rahn 4589 Southfield Avenue Orlando, FL 32812



         I. Status

         Frank L. Amodeo, a federal inmate, is the named Petitioner in this action. However, he is not the individual who signed and filed the Petition. Rather, a fellow inmate, Donovan Davis, Jr. initiated this case as Amodeo's “next friend” by signing and filing a Petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Doc. 1; Petition).[1] In the Petition, Mr. Davis challenges Amodeo's 2009 conviction, asserting four grounds: Amodeo's incompetence; ineffective assistance of counsel; prosecutorial and defense counsel misconduct; and prejudice or bias of the trial judge. See Petition at 1, 6-8.[2]

         Respondent moves to dismiss the Petition, stating Mr. Davis is not authorized to represent Amodeo's interests and the Court lacks jurisdiction because the Petition is second or successive under § 2255 (Doc. 11; Response). Mr. Davis has replied (Doc. 12; Reply).

         II. “Next Friend” Status

         Mr. Davis cites 28 U.S.C. § 2242 as extending authority for him to proceed as Amodeo's next friend. Reply at 2. Mr. Davis says Amodeo has been declared or recognized incompetent by multiple courts and is prohibited from filing on his own behalf. Id. at 4-5. Mr. Davis explains Amodeo does not understand why he is in prison and believes “God has placed him in prison in order to strip him of all his worldly possessions.” Petition at 10. Mr. Davis acknowledges he is not a lawyer but has been incarcerated with Amodeo for three years (as of August 2018) and is familiar with Amodeo's mental illness and litigation history. Id. at 10; Reply at 6. He asks that the Court appoint an attorney for Amodeo to protect Amodeo's “health and liberty interests, ” stating Amodeo has a variety of medical problems for which the prison is not providing proper treatment. Reply at 5-6.

         Section 2242 provides, “[a]pplication for a writ of habeas corpus shall be in writing signed and verified by the person for whose relief it is intended or by someone acting in his behalf.” 28 U.S.C. § 2242. The latter part of this statutory provision codifies the common law tradition of permitting a “next friend” to litigate on behalf of a prisoner who, because of incompetence, is unable to initiate a habeas action himself. See Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 162 (1990). See also Ford v. Haley, 195 F.3d 603, 624 (11th Cir. 1999) (“In habeas corpus cases, courts have long permitted a next friend to proceed on behalf of a prisoner who is unable to seek relief himself.”). The Supreme Court has cautioned, however, that “‘[n]ext friend' standing is by no means granted automatically to whomever seeks to pursue an action on behalf of another.” Whitmore, 495 U.S. at 163.

         While a person seeking next friend status need not be a lawyer, he carries the burden to establish the propriety of the status. Whitmore, 495 U.S. at 164. First, the would-be next friend must provide an adequate explanation for the necessity of the designation, such as the real party's mental incompetence or lack of access to the courts. Id. at 163. This prerequisite is not satisfied if the real party's “access to the court is otherwise unimpeded.” Id. at 165. Second, the individual must “be truly dedicated to the best interests of the person on whose behalf he seeks to litigate.” Id. A would-be next friend may demonstrate he is dedicated to the real party's interests, for example, by showing there is some “significant relationship” between the two. Id. at 164. See also Weber v. Garza, 570 F.2d 511, 513-14 (5th Cir. 1978) (ruling the person seeking to use the “next friend” device must demonstrate why the real party is not able to proceed on his own behalf and establish the requisite relationship).[3]

         The Court finds Mr. Davis fails to carry his burden to proceed on behalf of Amodeo under § 2242's “next friend” provision. As to the first Whitmore element, the Court takes judicial notice that a Florida state court appointed Mr. Charles T. Rahn to serve as a limited guardian for Amodeo. See Order (Doc. 6), Case No. 6:16-cv-565-Orl-28GJK (recognizing Mr. Rahn is a court-appointed guardian for Amodeo and referencing the appointment order, dated June 9, 2015, which permits Mr. Rahn to initiate, defend, or settle lawsuits on Amodeo's behalf).[4] Mr. Rahn is presently assisting Plaintiff in pending matters, including one related to his 2009 conviction and sentence. See Case No. 6:08-cr-176-Orl-28KRS; related Case No. 6:12-cv-641-Orl-28LRH.[5]

         Not only does Amodeo have a court-appointed guardian, he also has shown at times a capacity to advocate on his own behalf. See, e.g., Case Nos. 6:12-cv-641-Orl-28DAB (habeas case in which the court noted Amodeo holds a law degree and initiated three habeas cases under § 2255 in which he filed hundreds of pages of documents); 6:16-cv-565-Orl-28GJK (petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by Amodeo); 6:16-cv-591-Orl-28GJK (petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by Amodeo). Mr. Davis himself acknowledges Amodeo tirelessly assists other inmates, up to thirty per day, with their court cases, saying Amodeo helps “the uneducated inmates that cannot articulate the[ir] claims to the court.” Petition at 10.

         Given Amodeo has a court-appointed guardian who continues to act on his behalf and Amodeo's ability to initiate cases and understand legal proceedings, Mr. Davis fails to demonstrate the necessity of the “next friend” device under § 2242. More specifically, despite Amodeo's mental illness, his “access to the court is otherwise unimpeded.” Whitmore, 495 U.S. at 165. See also Lonchar v. Zant, 978 F.2d 637, 642 (11th Cir. 1992) (holding the would-be next friend did not carry her burden because the evidence demonstrated the real party in interest understood the habeas proceedings and “could make a rational choice among his options”); Francis v. Warden, FCC Coleman-USP, 246 Fed.Appx. 621, 623 (11th Cir. 2007) (declining to extend next friend status because the movant failed to explain the necessity for it other than asserting a marital relationship).

         Mr. Davis also fails to demonstrate the second Whitmore element-that he is dedicated to Amodeo's best interests. Next friend status was not intended to provide an avenue by which “intruders and uninvited meddlers” should institute habeas proceedings. Whitmore, 495 U.S. at 164. A would-be next friend must demonstrate some significant interest in protecting the rights of the real party aside from a general desire to achieve a personalized sense of justice or to express dissatisfaction with another person's incarceration. See, e.g., Id. (“[I]f there were no restriction on ‘next friend' standing . . . the litigant asserting only a generalized interest in constitutional governance could circumvent the jurisdictional limits of Art[icle] III simply by assuming the mantle of ‘next friend.'”); Sanchez-Velasco v. Sec'y of Dep't of Corr., 287 F.3d 1015, ...

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