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Bentz v. Godinez

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 17, 2017

DAVID ROBERT BENTZ, et al., Plaintiffs,
SALVADOR GODINEZ, et al., Defendants.


          MICHAEL J. REAGAN United States Chief 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 March 27, 2017 by 27 inmates that at one time were incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”). (Doc. 1). Despite the fact that this action has not yet received preliminary review, it has a long procedural history. Most important to this history for the purpose of this Order is that the Court entered a preliminary order in this matter on April 12, 2017. (Doc. 29). In it, each plaintiff, aside from the lead plaintiff David Bentz, was ordered to advise the Court in writing, no later than April 27, 2017, whether he wished to pursue his claims in group litigation. Id. Plaintiffs were also advised to ensure they submitted a signed Complaint in compliance with Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to avoid dismissal from the action. Id. Many of the plaintiffs have been dismissed from this action at their request, for failure to submit a signed complaint, for failure to pay the filing fee or submit a motion to proceed in forma pauperis, or for failure to comply with an order of the Court. Plaintiff Blaney requested to proceed in a separate action, so he was dismissed from this action and his claims were severed into a new one. Four of the original plaintiffs, Bentz, Fields, Elias Diaz, and Crenshaw, remain in this action after taking the necessary steps per this Court's orders to be included. See (Docs. 13, 16, 25, 31, 76, 80, 81, 93, 102, 105, 116).

         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 claims in a separate action. But before doing so, each remaining plaintiff, other than Plaintiff Bentz who will remain in this action and will not be granted leave to file an amended complaint at this time, must file an amended complaint in his separate case because the First Amended Complaint (Doc. 99) does not survive screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.


          The First Amended Complaint lists 27 individuals who were or are in custody at Menard as plaintiffs. (Doc. 99). Together, they set forth claims against over 100 defendants. (Doc. 99, pp. 1-3). In the First Amended Complaint, the plaintiffs seek to bring a plethora of claims for conditions of confinement, retaliation, deliberate indifference to health and safety, access to the courts, due process, and conspiracy under the First, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as Illinois law. (Doc. 99). The plaintiffs seek monetary damages and injunctive relief addressing the plaintiffs' numerous grievances related to cell size, lockdowns, cell lighting, cell shelving, cell outlets, plumbing, exercise equipment, bedding, activity scheduling, cleaning supplies, state pay, out-of-cell time, soap, harassment, job assignments, recreational activities, educational and rehabilitation programs, food portions, staff unions, staff accountability, meal timing, food tray materials, and the law library. (Doc. 99, pp. 44-50).

         The Court entered a preliminary order in this matter on April 12, 2017. (Doc. 29). There, the Court explained the difficulties associated with group litigation. Id. 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, or be obligated to pay a filing fee. See Boriboune v. Berge, 391 F.3d 852 (7th Cir. 2004).

         Plaintiffs Fields, Elias Diaz, and Crenshaw took the necessary steps to remain together in this group litigation. Lead plaintiff Bentz was not required to respond in order to remain in this action. The rest of the plaintiffs in this action have previously been dismissed for various reasons. After conducting a preliminary review of the First Amended Complaint, the Court will discuss why group litigation of the remaining plaintiffs' claims is inappropriate.

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

         The First Amended 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).

         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) ...

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