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Name: Hulbert v. Cross
Case #: C090663
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 06/11/2021
Summary

In a medical malpractice action filed by an indigent inmate, the trial court denied the plaintiff meaningful access to the courts when it refused his motion for appointment of an expert. Hulbert, a self-represented indigent inmate, filed a medical malpractice case against Dr. Cross, alleging negligence in performing surgery. To establish his claim, Hulbert requested appointment of a medical expert and legal counsel. The trial court denied his motion, finding no authority in support of the request. It granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment because Hulbert had failed to rebut the declaration submitted by the defendant’s medical expert regarding the standard of care. Hulbert appealed. Held: Reversed. Prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts and statutory authority to maintain civil actions. (Pen. Code, § 2601, subd. (d).) “Trial courts have broad discretion to implement measures designed to vindicate the right to fair access to the courts,” including the appointment of an expert (Evid. Code, § 730). When an indigent inmate files a bona fide civil action, the trial court must consider the measures available to protect the prisoner’s right of meaningful court access, including the appointment of counsel and an expert. Here, the trial court effectively blocked Hulbert’s court access by granting summary judgment on the ground that he failed to adequately rebut the defendant’s expert, when the court had denied him the means to do so. Further, the trial court failed to consider Hulbert’s need for appointment of counsel in relation to the necessity for an expert, requiring remand.