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White v. Hansen

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 10, 2015

DONNIE D. WHITE, No. B31317 Plaintiff,
SHARON HANSEN, et al., Defendants.


MICHAEL J. REAGAN, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Donnie D. White, recently paroled from the Illinois Department of Corrections, ("IDOC") brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on that occurred while he was in prison. The initial complaint (Doc. 1) pertained to events at Pontiac Correctional Center and Tamms Correctional Center between January 2011 and when Plaintiff was released in April 2014. The blunderbuss complaint was dismissed without prejudice, and general guidance was offered for filing a viable amended complaint (Doc. 4). Plaintiff's amended complaint (Doc. 5) is now before the Court.

As a preliminary matter, Plaintiff has moved for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1) ( see Doc. 2).[1] Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1), a federal district court may allow a civil case to proceed without prepayment of fees, if the movant "submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all assets [he] possesses [showing] that the person is unable to pay such fees or give security therefor." Plaintiff has done so in the instant case, and it appears that he financially qualifies as a pauper. The motion (Doc. 2) will be granted, but the Court's inquiry does not end there.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), "at any time" a court can deny a qualified plaintiff leave to proceed as a pauper, or can dismiss a case if the action is clearly frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim or is a claim for money damages against an immune defendant. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). An action fails to state a claim if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The claim of entitlement to relief must cross "the line between possibility and plausibility. Id. at 557. An action or claim is frivolous if "it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Frivolousness is an objective standard that refers to a claim that "no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit." Lee v. Clinton, 209 F.3d 1025, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 2000). At this juncture, the factual allegations of the pro se pleading are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

The Amended Complaint

Plaintiff brings suit against 184 named defendants-IDOC officials, correctional officers, and medical staff (who presumably work at Tamms).[2] The incidents at issue are generally grouped by date[3] and revolve around incidents of excessive force and "felony battery" (which is not actionable in a civil case). Related claims are presented regarding the denial of medical care and the "conspiratorial" issuance of false disciplinary reports. Plaintiff attempts to tie 44 claims together by asserting two overarching claims, Counts 45 and 46.

Count 45, labeled "Code of Silence, " is, in effect, a conspiracy claim. Plaintiff argues that all of the conduct at issue in Counts 1-44 occurred due to a code of silence within the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC"), and at Tamms Correctional Center and Pontiac Correctional Center.[4] The thrust of the argument is that if the prison system worked correctly from top to bottom, nothing ill would ever befall an inmate.

Count 46, labeled "Supervisory Liability/Failure to Train and Supervise, " asserts that IDOC and Tamms officials face supervisory liability based on oral and written notice, as well as personal observation of the events underlying "Counts 8-65."[5]

Plaintiff prays for declaratory judgment, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief. (As explained relative to the original complaint, injunctive relief is unavailable now that Plaintiff has been released from prison.)

The 27-page amended complaint is relatively succinct-down to 46 counts from the 76 presented in the original complaint. Nevertheless, it must again be dismissed. Counts 45 and 46 fail, so there is no basis for joining all 46 counts in a single case. Although several of the 46 counts appear to state colorable constitutional claims, when the amended complaint is read as a whole there are too many faults and inconsistencies (even under the liberal notice pleading standard) for the Court to recognize and then sever claims, so as to not prejudice Plaintiff with respect to the two-year statute of limitations. Plaintiff will be afforded a final opportunity to present a properly pleaded complaint.


Counts 45 and 46, and the Joinder of Claims

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 18 generally permits a party to join "as many claims as it has against an opposing party." FED.R.CIV.P. 18(a). "Thus multiple claims against a single party are fine, but Claim A against Defendant 1 should not be joined with unrelated Claim B against Defendant 2." George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007). With that said, Rule 20 permits multiple defendants to be joined in a single action if: "(A) any right to relief is asserted against them 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 defendants will arise in the action." FED.R.CIV.P. 20(a)(2)(A), (B). Accordingly, "a suit complaining that A defrauded the plaintiff, B defamed him, C punched him, D failed to pay a debt, and E infringed his copyright" must be rejected. George, 507 F.3d at 607.

As already noted, the amended complaint presents 44 claims that are generally grouped around seven dates. The basic scheme is that on each date guards used excessive force against Plaintiff and committed "felony battery, " while others stood by and did nothing; then, Plaintiff was denied medical care for his injuries; and, in an act of "conspiracy, " he was issued a false disciplinary report. ...

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