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Firestine v. St. Clair County Jail

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 2, 2017

ANTHONY FIRESTINE, #455139, BILLY SEALS, #5450, MONTRAE HARDY, #11036, DWAYNE BECK, #441070, JOSEPH TUNSTALL, #22697, DAVID SCHAUB, #315207, and STEVEN JOHNSON, #430881, Plaintiffs,
v.
ST. CLAIR COUNTY JAIL, PHILLIP McLAUREN, SGT. BOUJACK, SGT. NICHOLS, SGT. MASSEO, SGT. COOK, R. SMITH, ARAMARK, MARY DAVIS, And ST. CLAIR COUNTY MEDICAL STAFF, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. Phil Gilbert United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court for case management. The Complaint was filed by seven St. Clair County Jail (“Jail”) inmates, including Anthony Firestine, Billy Seals, Montrae Hardy, Dwayne Beck, Joseph Tunstall, David Schaub, and Steven Johnson. Plaintiffs filed this civil rights action pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In the Complaint, Plaintiffs claim that they have been subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement at St. Clair County Jail and been denied access to any meaningful grievance process. (Doc. 1, pp. 5-6). Together, they seek monetary damages and injunctive relief. (Doc. 1, p. 7).

         Plaintiff Firestine signed the Complaint, along with all six of his co-plaintiffs. (Doc. 1, pp. 7-9). All seven individuals also submitted a single Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP Motion”), but excluded a certification page as well as a certified copy of each inmate's trust fund account statement for the six month period immediately preceding this action (i.e. covering the period from November 30, 2016 through June 1, 2017). Each plaintiff was required to submit a separate IFP Motion, along with a certified copy of his trust fund statement for the relevant time period. Each Plaintiff must resubmit a properly completed IFP Motion, along with a certified copy of his trust fund statement, or pay the full $400.00 filing fee for this action according to the deadline and instructions in the below disposition. Failure to do so will result in the dismissal of that plaintiff from this action. However, the obligation to pay the filing fee shall survive such dismissal.

         Under the circumstances, the Court deems it necessary to address several other preliminary matters as well before screening 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 court 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 three plaintiffs, the plaintiffs' postage and copying costs of filing motions, briefs or other papers in the case will be three 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 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 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 Firestine, 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 warranted in any aspect of the case.
• He will incur a strike if the action is dismissed as frivolous or malicious or for failure to state a claim upon ...

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