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Augusta v. Employees of Vandalia Correctional Center

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 1, 2017

QUENNEL AUGUSTA, SHAWN J. FLORES, Plaintiffs,
v.
EMPLOYEES OF VANDALIA CORRECTIONAL CENTER, STEPHANIE WAGGONER, EMPLOYEES OF IDOC BRUCE RAUNER, JOHN BALDWIN, RANDY PFISTER, CORRECTIONAL OFFICER, S, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STACI M. YANDLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court for case management. The Complaint in this case was filed by two Vandalia Correctional Center (“Vandalia”) inmates: Quennel Augusta and Shawn J. Flores. Plaintiffs filed the action pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs claim that they have been subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement at Vandalia and at Stateville correctional centers. Together, they seek monetary damages. Both Plaintiffs have signed the Complaint.

         Plaintiffs have also jointly filed a Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (Doc. 2) and a Motion for Recruitment of Counsel (Doc. 3). Both motions are signed by both Plaintiffs. 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.

         Group Litigation in Federal Courts

         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 district courts to enforce the directive of George. 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 Pippins, whom it designates as the “lead” Plaintiff in this case, [1] 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 which relief may be granted.
• In screening the complaint, the Court will consider whether unrelated claims should be severed and, if it decides severance is appropriate, he will be required to prosecute his claims in a separate action and pay a separate filing fee for each new action.
• Whether the action is dismissed, severed, or allowed to proceed as a group complaint, he will be required to pay a full filing fee, either in installments or in full, depending on whether he qualifies for ...

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