United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
JOHN K. ADAMS, # A-97885, Plaintiff,
MENARD CORRECTIONAL CENTER HEALTH CARE ADMINISTRATOR, WEXFORD HEALTH SOURCES, DAVID KETTLEKAMP, and JEFF LESTER, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL, District Judge.
Plaintiff John K. Adams, who is currently incarcerated at Dixon Correctional Center ("Dixon"), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Now before the Court for consideration is Plaintiff's first amended complaint (Doc. 12). In it, Plaintiff brings two distinct sets of claims: (1) those arising from his confinement at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard") from 2011-13; and (2) those arising after his release on parole in February 2013. Within each of these categories, Plaintiff's claims are numerous and, due to poor handwriting, difficult to decipher.
What is clear is that Plaintiff has attempted to improperly join unrelated claims against different defendants in a single action, in violation of Rules 18 and 20 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See FED. R. CIV. P. 18, 20. He has also filed a pleading that is largely illegible and written in narrative form, in violation of Local Rule 5.1(b) and Rule 10 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See SDIL-LR 5.1(b); FED. R. CIV. P. 10.
Before the Court conducts its preliminary review of this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, Plaintiff will be required to address these deficiencies by filing a second amended complaint. Instructions for doing so are set forth in this Order. Plaintiff is warned that failure to comply with this Order will likely result in dismissal of the action under Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Rule 18 permits a party to join "as many claims as it has against an opposing party." FED. R. CIV. P. 18(a). Rule 20 permits a plaintiff to join as many defendants as he wants in a single action, as long as "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 "any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action." FED. R. CIV. P. 20(a)(2)(A), (B). Under these rules, the Seventh Circuit has held that "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).
The law is clear. Unrelated claims against different defendants belong in separate lawsuits. Id. at 607. A litigant "cannot throw all of his grievances, against dozens of different parties, into one stewpot." Wheeler v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., 689 F.3d 680, 683 (7th Cir. 2012). This prohibition against multi-defendant, multi-claim suits avoids the procedural "morass" often associated with such cases, while ensuring that prisoners pay the necessary fees and incur strikes in a manner that is consistent with the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"). George, 507 F.3d at 607 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b), (g)).
The amended complaint violates the rules of joinder. See FED. R. CIV. P. 18, 20. The pleading includes two sets of claims. The first pertains to the conditions of Plaintiff's confinement at Menard from 2011-13; Menard's health care administrator and Wexford Health Sources are identified in connection with these claims. The second relates to the conditions that Plaintiff encountered when he was released on parole in February 2013; David Kettlekamp (parole officer) and Jeff Lester (parole supervisor) are named in connection with these claims. The two sets of claims should have been filed as two separate lawsuits (and possibly more). Instead, Plaintiff improperly brought both in a single action. Plaintiff now has two options to correct this error.
Plaintiff's first option is to proceed with only one set of claims by drafting a second amended complaint that focuses only on one set of claims and omits the other (e.g., his second amended complaint would either focus on the claims arising at Menard or the claims arising during his release on parole, but not both, under this scenario). If Plaintiff chooses this course of action, he will incur only one filing fee, assuming that his first set of claims all relate to one another. The other set of claims would be considered abandoned by omission in this action. See Taylor v. Brown, ___ F.3d ___, 2014 WL 9865341, at *5 (7th Cir. June 2, 2015) (amendment of complaint is a proper method for "adding or dropping parties and claims" when they are misjoined).
Plaintiff might wonder what happens to the abandoned claims. These claims are not lost forever, by virtue of his choice to "abandon" them in this action. Rather, they are considered dismissed without prejudice from this action. This means that Plaintiff is free to file a separate action in order to pursue the "abandoned" claims. When doing so, he must remain mindful of the applicable statute of limitations, which "for [Section] 1983 actions in Illinois is two years." O'Gorman v. City of Chicago, 777 F.3d 885, 889 (7th Cir. 2015). A new complaint filed in a separate action will not relate back to the original complaint that he filed in this action for statute of limitations purposes.
Plaintiff's second option would be to re-plead both sets of claims in his second amended complaint and let the Court decide how to divide them into one or more additional cases. If he chooses this route, Plaintiff must file a second amended complaint setting forth each set of claims in separate sections, entitled "Claims Arising at Menard" and "Claims Arising During Plaintiff's Release on Parole." In each section, Plaintiff must set forth, in numbered paragraphs, what each defendant did to violate his rights. See FED. R. CIV. P. 10. He should be careful to state exactly when, where, and by whom his rights were violated. To the extent possible, Plaintiff should also include the factual allegations in chronological order. At the conclusion of each section, he is required to set forth his request for relief, as it relates to that section.
If Plaintiff chooses this latter route, the Court will exercise its inherent authority under Rule 21 to sever claims against different defendants into separate actions. See FED. R. CIV. P. 21 ("On motion or on its own, the court may at any time, on just terms, add or drop a party... [or] sever any claim...."). The Court will then open one or more additional cases for each of the severed claims. A separate filing fee will be assessed in each new action, and Plaintiff will be obligated to pay the filing fee in all of the severed cases, as well as this one, whether or not the case survives threshold review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Each case will be separately screened pursuant to Section 1915A. See Wheeler, 689 F.3d at 683 (district court may "creat[e] multiple suits" before preliminary review in a misjoinder situation).
In fact, Plaintiff should be aware that the Court may exercise its authority under Rule 21 to sever unrelated claims against different defendants into separate actions, regardless of which option he chooses. The Court is simply allowing him the first opportunity to decide which claims to pursue in each action before taking this decision out of his hands and, along with it, any control over the additional filing fees he may incur.
Plaintiff shall have thirty-five (35) days from the date of this Order to decide which of these two paths he wishes to take. If he opts to take the first path, he must file a "Second Amended Complaint" that refers to this case number and includes only one set of claims (either those claims arising at Menard or those claims arising after his release on parole). If he opts to take the second path, he must file a "Second Amended Complaint" that also refers to this case number and clearly divides the two sets of claims into separate sections, clearly setting forth when, where, and by whom his rights were violated. As discussed in more detail below, the pleading must be legible. Either way, the Court will defer its preliminary review of the pleading pursuant to Section 1915A, until ...