United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
JAMES G. HOWE, # K98946, TIMOTHY CHARLES, # K03293, JACOB KALLAL, #K95044, TONY HARDEN, #K04116, CHARLES BONE, #S12955, and GEORGE NEEDS, #N17831, Plaintiffs,
SALVADORE GODINEZ, DR. C. THOMAS HOLT, and ZACHARY ROEKERMAN, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court for case management. The complaint was filed by six civilly committed sexually dangerous persons at Big Muddy River Correctional Center ("Big Muddy CC"). Plaintiffs include James Howe, Timothy Charles, Jacob Kallal, Tony Hardin, Charles Bone, and George Needs. Plaintiffs filed this civil rights action pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq., the Rehabilitation Act ("RA"), 29 U.S.C. § 794, et seq., and the Illinois Sexually Dangerous Person's Act ("SDPA"), 725 ILL. COMP. STAT. 205/1.01, et seq. In the complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Big Muddy CC's treatment program for sexually dangerous persons is underfunded, understaffed, and ineffective. They seek declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and monetary damages (Doc. 1, pp. 32-35).
Plaintiff Howe is the only plaintiff who signed the complaint (Doc. 1, p. 35). He is also the only plaintiff who signed a cover letter (Doc. 1-2, p. 3) and motion for appointment of counsel (Doc. 2, p. 1), which were both filed along with the complaint.
However, no one paid a filing fee for this action or, alternatively, filed a Motion and Affidavit to Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs ("IFP Motion"). Each plaintiff was required to do so. By letter dated July 25, 2014, the Clerk of Court advised Plaintiffs of this fact and set a 30-day deadline for paying the $400.00 filing fee or, alternatively, filing an IFP Motion. To date, no filing fee or IFP Motion has been received by the Court.
Under the circumstances, the Court deems it necessary to address several preliminary matters before completing a review of this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
Group Litigation by Multiple Prisoners
Plaintiffs may bring their claims jointly in a single lawsuit if they so desire. However, the Court must admonish them as to the consequences of proceeding in this manner including their filing fee obligations, and give them the opportunity to withdraw from the case or sever their claims into individual actions.
In Boriboune v. Berge, 391 F.3d 852 (7th Cir. 2004), the Seventh Circuit addressed the difficulties in administering group prisoner complaints. District courts are required to accept joint complaints filed by multiple prisoners if the criteria of permissive joinder under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20 are satisfied. Rule 20 permits plaintiffs to join together in one lawsuit if they assert claims "arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences and if any question of law or fact common to these persons will arise in the action." Nonetheless, a district court may turn to other civil rules to manage a multi-plaintiff case. If appropriate, claims may be severed pursuant to Rule 20(b), pretrial orders may be issued providing for a logical sequence of decision pursuant to Rule 16, parties improperly joined may be dropped pursuant to Rule 21, and separate trials may be ordered pursuant to Rule 42(b). Boriboune, 391 F.3d at 854.
In reconciling the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act with Rule 20, the Seventh Circuit determined that joint litigation does not relieve any prisoner of the duties imposed upon him under the Act, including the duty to pay the full amount of the filing fees, either in installments or in full if the circumstances require it. Id. In other words, each prisoner in a joint action is required to pay a full civil filing fee, just as if he had filed the suit individually.
The Circuit noted that there are at least two other reasons a prisoner may wish to avoid group litigation. First, group litigation creates countervailing costs. Each submission to the Court must be served on every other plaintiff and the opposing parties pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5. This means that if there are six plaintiffs, the plaintiffs' postage and copying costs of filing motions, briefs or other papers in the case will be six times greater than if there was a single plaintiff.
Second, a prisoner litigating on his own behalf takes the risk that "one or more of his claims may be deemed sanctionable under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11." Boriboune, 391 F.3d at 854-55. According to the Seventh Circuit, a prisoner litigating jointly assumes those risks for all of the claims in the group complaint, whether or not they concern him personally. Furthermore, if the Court finds that the complaint contains unrelated claims against unrelated defendants, those unrelated claims may be severed into one or more new cases. If that severance of claims occurs, each plaintiff will be liable for another full filing fee for each new case. Plaintiffs may wish to take into account this ruling in determining whether to assume the risks of group litigation in the federal courts of the Seventh Circuit.
Because not every prisoner is likely to be aware of the potential negative consequences of joining group litigation in federal courts, the Seventh Circuit suggested in Boriboune that district courts alert prisoners to the individual payment requirement, as well as the other risks prisoner pro se litigants face in joint pro se litigation, and "give them an opportunity to drop out." Id. at 856. Therefore, in keeping with this suggestion, the Court offers all Plaintiffs, other than Plaintiff Howe, whom it designates as the "lead" Plaintiff in this case, an opportunity to withdraw from this litigation before the case progresses further. Each Plaintiff may wish to take into consideration the following points in making his decision:
He will be held legally responsible for knowing precisely what is being filed in the case on his behalf.
He will be subject to sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 if such sanctions are found ...