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Smith v. Bond County Jail

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 17, 2017

JEREMY K. SMITH, SERGIO SALTER, DAVID ROBERTSON, DEVELL CURRY, LISA NIEPERT, BAYLEIGH HARTMAN, MICHELLE WILLIAMS and PATRICIA HOXSEY, Plaintiffs,
v.
BOND COUNTY JAIL, and JEFF BROWN, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. Phil Gilbert United States District Judge

         This matter is, once again, before the Court for case management and for preliminary review of the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The action was originally filed on January 6, 2017 by eight detainees at Bond County Jail (“Jail”) in Greenville, Illinois. (Doc. 1). The Court entered a preliminary order in this matter on February 2, 2017. (Doc. 7). In it, each plaintiff, aside from the lead plaintiff Jeremy Smith, was ordered to advise the Court in writing, no later than March 6, 2017, whether he or she wished to pursue his or her claims in group litigation. Id. Two of the original plaintiffs, Lisa Niepert[1] and Michelle Williams, have asked to remain parties to this group action. (See Docs. 14, 16). The remaining five plaintiffs failed to respond to the Court's preliminary order.

         As an initial matter, the Court concludes that joinder is not appropriate. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)-(b), 21; Chavez v. Illinois State Police, 251 F.3d 612, 632 (7th Cir. 2001). Therefore, each remaining plaintiff will be required to pursue his or her claims in a separate action. But before doing so, each remaining plaintiff must file an amended complaint in his or her separate case because the original complaint (Doc. 1) does not survive screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         Background

         The Complaint was filed by 8 individuals who were or are in custody at the Jail. (Doc. 1) Together, they set forth claims against the Sheriff of Bond County Illinois, Jeff Brown, and the Jail itself. (Doc. 1, p. 1). In the Complaint, the plaintiffs claim that there is black mold in the “bullpen” of the Jail as well as in the living areas of the female plaintiffs. (Doc. 1, p. 3). They also claim that “living in black mold is dangerous to their lives” and that they have symptoms of sneezing, coughing, headaches, nausea, and severe stomach cramps and diarrhea. (Doc. 1, p. 3). The plaintiffs seek monetary damages and permanent injunctive relief. (Doc. 1, p. 4).

         The Court entered a preliminary order in this matter on February 2, 2017. (Doc. 7). There, the Court explained the difficulties associated with group litigation. (Doc. 7, pp. 2-4). The Court warned the plaintiffs of the risks and costs inherent in such proceedings. Id. Plaintiffs were then given an opportunity to withdraw from the group litigation. See Boriboune v. Berge, 391 F.3d 852 (7th Cir. 2004).

         Every plaintiff was ordered to advise the Court in writing whether he or she wished to continue as a plaintiff in the group action on or before March 6, 2017. (Doc. 7, p. 6). Any plaintiff who wanted to pursue his or her claims individually in a separate lawsuit was ordered to so advise the Court in writing by the same deadline, and the Court would sever that plaintiff's claims into a new action and assess a filing fee in the severed case. Id. The plaintiffs were informed that the only way to avoid the obligation to pay a filing fee was to request dismissal from the action in writing by this deadline. The Court explicitly stated that “[a]ny plaintiff who simply does not respond to this Order on or before March 6, 2017 will be obligated to pay the filing fee and will also be dismissed from this action for want of prosecution and/or failure to comply with a court order under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b).” (Doc. 7, p. 7) (emphasis in original).

         Plaintiffs Lisa Niepert (Docs. 15, 16) and Michelle Williams (Doc. 14) indicated that they wish to proceed together in this group litigation. Plaintiffs Sergio Salter, David Robertson, Devell Curry, Bayleigh Hartman, and Patricia Hoxsey failed to respond to the Court's order by the deadline, thereby triggering an obligation to pay the filing fee for this action despite being dismissed for want of prosecution and/or failure to comply with a court order under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b). Lead plaintiff Jeremy Smith was not required to respond in order to remain in this action. Below, the Court will discuss why group litigation of the plaintiffs' claims is inappropriate.

         Merits Review Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

         The Complaint is now subject to preliminary review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides:

(a) Screening - The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.
(b) Grounds for Dismissal - On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint-
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

         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 any reasonable person would find meritless. Lee v. Clinton, 209 F.3d 1025, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 2000). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted 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. At this juncture, the factual allegations of the pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         Based on the allegations of the Complaint, the Court finds it convenient to designate a single count in this pro se action. The parties and the Court will use this designation in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court.

Count 1 - Unconstitutional conditions of confinement claim against defendants for subjecting plaintiffs to health risks from the black-mold contamination in the bullpen of the Jail ...

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