Thursday, November 15, 2007

Non-practicing pro se attorney gets another chance to draft her ADA complaint

We all know the basic rules about pro se pleadings: courts will give pro se litigants the benefit of the doubt and broadly read their papers in the understanding that they are not lawyers and therefore cannot always articulate their claims properly. But what about pro se litigants who are non-practicing attorneys? Do they get special treatment from the courts also?

The answer seems to be yes. The case is Smith v. New York Presbyterian Hospital, decided on November 15. This is a summary order, i.e., an unpublished opinion that generally can't be cited as precedential authority. But its worth noting that the Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of this Americans with Disabilities Act case. The district court ruled that Smith did not properly allege a connection between her disability and her mistreatment at work. The Second Circuit sent the case back to give Smith another shot at drafting her Complaint properly.

Had Smith been like any other pro se litigant, this holding would be unremarkable. But she isn't. As the Second Circuit reasoned, "While licensed attorneys proceeding pro se need not be afforded the same pleading consideration as in [other cases holding pro se attorneys to the usual high standards], where, as in this case, the plaintiff has not practiced law for years, largely due to psychiatric impairments that are the basis for her disability claim, there is no reason to distinguish her from pro se plaintiffs generally."

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