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Robinson v. Dart

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

January 21, 2014

RYISHIE ROBINSON, PAUL WASHINGTON, JOHNNY SMITH, and BRUCE SMITH, Plaintiffs,
v.
THOMAS DART, Sheriff of Cook County, and COOK COUNTY, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

JOAN H. LEFKOW, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Ryishie Robinson, Paul Washington, Johnny Smith, and Bruce Smith (together, "plaintiffs") have filed an amended complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C §§ 1983 and 1988 against defendants Thomas Dart and Cook County (together, "defendants") for failure to provide adequate conditions of confinement at the Cook County Jail ("the Jail"). Plaintiffs argue that Jail conditions led them to contract various diseases, violating their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. ( See Dkt. #9.) Defendants now move to dismiss or sever certain plaintiffs pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21, alleging that Washington, Johnny Smith, and Bruce Smith are improperly joined in this action. (Dkt. #22 ¶ 1.) For the reasons set forth herein, the motion is denied with regard to Washington and Johnny Smith but granted with regard to Bruce Smith.[1]

BACKGROUND

On February 26, 2013, Robinson filed a pro se complaint in this court alleging that Thomas Dart, Sheriff of Cook County, was deliberately indifferent to his health by failing to provide adequate conditions of confinement at the Jail, leading Robinson to contract tuberculosis while incarcerated. (Dkt. #1 ¶ 10.) After the court allowed him to proceed pro se and in forma pauperis (dkt. #6), Robinson retained counsel. His counsel filed an amended complaint on his behalf on May 2, 2013. (Dkt. #9.) Like the original complaint, the one-count amended complaint alleges defendants' deliberate indifference to medical needs at the Jail but adds three additional plaintiffs, despite the fact that Robinson never moved to join additional parties. According to the amended complaint, Robinson, Paul Washington, Johnny Smith, and Bruce Smith were all assigned to the same tier of Division 10 of the Jail during "all times relevant to" the complaint.[2] ( Id. ¶ 8; Dkt. #25 at 2.) Robinson, Washington, and Johnny Smith all contracted tuberculosis during their time in Division 10, and Bruce Smith contracted a foot fungal infection. (Dkt. #9 ¶¶ 5-7.)

The amended complaint alleges that defendants failed to provide them with habitable living conditions. ( Id. ¶ 10.) Mold, dirt, and trash accumulated in the Jail. These conditions were compounded by poor ventilation. ( Id. ¶¶ 14, 15.) Plaintiffs also were not provided with adequate cleaning supplies to rectify the problems. ( Id. ) The amended complaint cites a strongly-worded letter from the United States Department of Justice to former Cook County Board President Todd H. Stroger and Dart regarding unsanitary conditions at the Jail and the health problems to which they lead. ( Id. ¶¶ 12, 13.) Plaintiffs argue that the inadequate confinement conditions exposed them to an unreasonable risk of harm including infectious disease, which defendants failed to treat and contain on a systematic basis. ( Id. ¶¶ 13, 16, 17.) As a result, Robinson, Washington, and Johnny Smith contracted tuberculosis and Bruce Smith contracted a fungal infection on his feet. ( Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiffs also argue that defendants systematically and deliberately ignored or failed to take reasonable measures to address complaints submitted by detainees describing the uninhabitable conditions and seeking medical treatments arising there from. ( Id. ¶ 11.)

Washington, Johnny Smith, and Bruce Smith currently have a different lawsuit pending in this district before Judge John Tharp against Cook County, Dart, and Aramark Correctional Services, for deplorable food conditions at Cook County Jail. See Smith v. Cook County et al., No. 12 C 05036 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 9, 2013), Amended Complaint, Dkt. No. 43.[3]

Defendants now move pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21 to dismiss or sever Washington, Johnny Smith, and Bruce Smith from Robinson's suit on the basis that they are improperly joined under Rule 20(a). (Dkt. #22 ¶ 1.)

LEGAL STANDARD

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a), multiple plaintiffs may be joined in one action if (a) the plaintiffs assert "any right to relief jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences, " and (b) "any question of law or fact common to all plaintiffs will arise in the action." Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(1). In considering this two-part test, courts generally employ a case-by-case approach to decide if claims should be joined under Rule 20, keeping in mind the Rule's purpose "to promote trial convenience and expedite the final determination of disputes, thereby preventing multiple lawsuits." Bailey v. N. Trust Co., 196 F.R.D. 513, 515 (N.D. Ill. 2000) (citation omitted). "[T]he impulse is toward entertaining the broadest possible scope of action consistent with fairness to the parties; joinder of claims, parties and remedies is strongly encouraged." United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 724, 86 S.Ct. 1130, 16 L.Ed.2d 218 (1966); see also Mayer Paving & Asphalt Co. v. Gen. Dynamics Corp., 486 F.2d 763, 771 (7th Cir. 1973) (citation omitted).

"Transaction" and "occurrence" are interpreted broadly and "all logically related' events entitling a person to institute a legal action against another generally are regarded as comprising a transaction or occurrence." Mosely v. Gen. Motors Corp., 497 F.2d 1330, 1333 (8th Cir. 1974). Courts determine the logical relatedness of separate occurrences by considering a variety of factors, including "whether the alleged conduct occurred during the same general time period, involved the same people and similar conduct, and implicated a system of decision-making or widely-held policy[.]" Lozada v. City of Chicago, No. 10 C 1019, 2010 WL 3487952, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 30, 2010) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). When the plaintiffs' claims require "individual fact finding and discovery, " "different witnesses and testimony, " and "separate questions... to answer, " they generally do not constitute same transaction or occurrence and cannot be joined. See Martinez v. Haleas, No. 07 C 6112, 2010 WL 1337555, at *4 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 30, 2010). Rule 20's mandate applies to prisoner cases. See George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007); see also Boriboune v. Berge, 391 F.3d 852, 855 (7th Cir. 2004) ("[D]istrict courts must accept complaints filed by multiple prisoners if the criteria of permissive joinder are satisfied.").

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21, a court may not dismiss an action for misjoinder but may sever a misjoined claim or a party at any time during a lawsuit. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 21; Lozada, 2010 WL 3487952, at *2. Although Rule 21 does not set forth a standard for proper joinder, courts have applied Rule 20(a)'s permissive joinder requirements. Lozada, 2010 WL 3487952, at *2. Even if plaintiffs satisfy the requirements for permissive joinder under Rule 20(a), the court has discretion to sever a party at any time "separately if doing so will increase judicial economy and avoid prejudice to the litigants." Pruzel Video GmbH v. Does 1-84, No. 13 C 2501, 2013 WL 4478903, at *5 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 16, 2013); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 21.

ANALYSIS

I. Joinder Under Rule 20(a)

Defendants argue that the amended complaint fails to meet Rule 20(a) requirements because plaintiffs insufficiently allege that the conditions that caused their maladies occurred at the same place and at the same time. (Dkt. #22 ¶¶ 4, 10.) Furthermore, defendants argue that plaintiff Bruce Smith, who allegedly suffers ...


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