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Regassa v. Sanders

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 15, 2017

ADMASSU REGASSA, No. 09303-007, Plaintiff,
K. SANDERS, et al., Defendants.


          J. Phil Gilbert, U.S. District Judge

         Plaintiff Admassu Regassa, presently incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois (“USP Marion”), brings this pro se action for deprivations of his constitutional rights by persons acting under the color of federal authority pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents of the Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) and the Federal Torts Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671-2680. Plaintiff asserts claims against 116 defendants at three different institutions (USP Marion (Illinois), USP Lewisburg (Pennsylvania), and FCC Allenwood (Pennsylvania)) for conduct that spans approximately five years. (Doc. 1). In connection with his claims, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief. (Doc. 1, pp. 81-87). The Complaint is a total of 87 typewritten pages (single spaced) and includes 214 pages of exhibits.

         This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the Complaint (Doc. 1) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         Preliminary Matter

         Approximately one week after filing his Complaint, Plaintiff began filing voluminous supplemental exhibits with the Court. (Docs. 5, 7-13). The Court does not accept piecemeal pleadings. Accordingly, the subsequently filed exhibits have been disregarded and the Clerk of the Court shall be instructed to strike the same from the record. Id.

         Merits Review - Applicable Standards

         Section 1915A

         Under Section 1915A, the Court is required to promptly screen prisoner complaints to filter out nonmeritorious claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).[1] The Court is required to dismiss any portion of the Complaint that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, Courts “should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements.” Id.

         Federal Rules of Civil Procedure - Rule 8

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, in order to state a claim, a pleading must provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(1). “Rule 8(a) requires parties to make their pleadings straightforward, so that judges and adverse parties need not try to fish a gold coin from a bucket of mud.” United States ex rel. Garst v. Lockheed-Martin Corp., 328 F.3d 374, 378 (7th Cir. 2003). Although a district court is “not authorized to dismiss a complaint merely because it contains repetitious and irrelevant matter, . . . dismissal of a complaint on the ground that it is unintelligible is unexceptional. Length may make a complaint unintelligible, by scattering and concealing in a morass of irrelevancies the few allegations that matter.” Id. (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         Under Rule 8, Plaintiffs are also required to associate specific defendants with specific claims, so that defendants are put on notice of the claims brought against them and so they can properly answer the complaint. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Merely invoking the name of a potential defendant is not sufficient to state a claim against that individual. See Collins v. Kibort, 143 F.3d 331, 334 (7th Cir. 1998). Moreover, vague references to a group of “defendants, ” without specific allegations tying the individual defendants to the alleged unconstitutional conduct, do not raise a genuine issue of material fact with respect to those defendants. See Alejo v. Heller, 328 F.3d 930, 936 (7th Cir. 2003) (finding dismissal of named defendant proper where plaintiff failed to allege defendant's personal involvement in the alleged wrongdoings); Starzenski v. City of Elkhart, 87 F.3d 872, 879 (7th Cir. 1996).


         As a part of screening, the Court is also allowed to sever unrelated claims against different defendants into separate lawsuits. See George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007). In George, the Seventh Circuit emphasized that the practice of severance is important, “not only to prevent the sort of morass” produced by multi-claim, multi-defendant suits “but also to ensure that prisoners pay the required filing fees” under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Id. This practice is encouraged. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has recently warned district courts not to allow inmates “to flout the rules for joining claims and defendants, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 18, 20, or to circumvent the Prison Litigation Reform Act's fee requirements by combining multiple lawsuits into a single complaint.” Owens v. Godinez, 860 F.3d 434, 436 (7th Cir. 2017). See also Wheeler v. Talbot, ___ F. App'x ___, 2017 WL 2417889 (7th Cir. 2017) (district court should have severed unrelated and improperly joined claims or dismissed one of them).

         The first step in assessing whether claims and defendants have been properly joined is to apply Rule 20 governing party joinder. See Intercon Research Assn., ltd. V. Dresser Industries, Inc., 696 F.2d 53, 57 (7th Cir. 1982) (“joinder of claims under Rule 18 becomes relevant only after the requirements of Rule 20 relating to joinder of parties has been met with respect to the party against whom the claim is sought to be asserted.”); Fed.R.Civ.P. 18, Committee Comments.[2] Pursuant to Rule 20, a plaintiff may join multiple persons in one action as defendants only if the claims (1) are transactionally related and (2) present a question of law or fact common to all defendants. Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2)(A)(B). Once defendants are properly joined under Rule 20, Rule 18 may be applied. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 18.

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff generally alleges that “over the years” various officials have violated his rights and treated him unfairly. (Doc. 1, p. 62). Plaintiff periodically alleges that he has been the victim of a conspiracy. However, Plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged a conspiracy claim against any single defendant, let alone as to all 116 defendants.[3] Moreover, Plaintiff does not assert a single claim against all 116 defendants.

         The Complaint includes a plethora of allegations focusing on conduct occurring at three federal penitentiaries, located in two different states, during a five year period: (1) USP Lewisburg (March 22, 2012 through May 27, 2015); (2) FCC Allenwood (May 27, 2015 through November 19, 2015); and USP Marion (March 21, 2016 through approximately June 2017). Although Plaintiff asserts similar claims against officials at these institutions (e.g., retaliation, false disciplinary reports, excessive/unwarranted restrictions), the claims against the various officials at the different institutions are not transactionally related.

         USP ...

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