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Cross v. McLaurin

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 25, 2017



          J. Phil Gilbert, United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court for case management. The Complaint was filed by five St. Clair County Jail ("Jail") inmates, including Cedric Cross, Larry Williams, Daniel Pippins, Courtney McNeal, and Christopher Furr. 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. Together, they seek monetary damages and injunctive relief. All five Plaintiffs have signed the Complaint.

         The action was opened without payment of the filing fee or the filing of a Motion and Affidavit to Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs. Accordingly, on July 5, 2017, the Clerk of Court sent Plaintiffs a letter (Doc. 2) advising that Plaintiffs must prepay the full filing fee or file an IFP Motion within thirty days. Plaintiffs were also directed to provide a certified copy of their trust fund account statements for the 6-month period immediately preceding the filing of this action (i.e. 1/1/2017 through 7/5/2017). To date, only one Plaintiff, Daniel Pippins, has filed an IFP Motion and trust fund account statement. (Doc. 3).

         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.

         IFP Motion or Filing Fee

         The Court hereby extends Plaintiffs' deadline for prepaying the full filing fee or filing an IFP Motion to August 24, 2017. The Court advises Plaintiffs that each Plaintiff is required to submit a separate IFP Motion, along with a certified copy of his trust fund statement for the relevant time period, or pay the full $400.00 filing fee for this action. Submissions must be according to the 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.

         Dismissal of Plaintiff Christopher Furr

         Plaintiff Christopher Furr has filed a Motion to Withdraw from the Case. (Doc. 4). The Motion to Withdraw shall be GRANTED. Plaintiff Christopher Furr shall be terminated as a party to this action. He shall not be obligated to pay a filing fee or receive a “strike” for this action under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). His claims are considered dismissed without prejudice, but he must bring a separate action, if he wishes to pursue the claims in the future.

         Group Litigation by Multiple Prisoners

         Plaintiffs may bring their claims jointly in a single lawsuit if they so desire. However, the Court must caution them regarding 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.” That said, 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 decisions 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.

         Additionally, 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 Court 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 2 plaintiffs, the plaintiffs' postage and copying costs of filing motions, briefs or other papers in the case will be double what it would be 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. 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, the plaintiffs will be liable for another full filing fee for each new case. See George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605 (7th Cir. 2007). The Seventh Circuit in Owens v. Godinez, 860 F.3d 434 (7th Cir. 2017), recently issued strong encouragement to ...

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