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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

         Plaintiff David Bentz, currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”), brought this pro se civil rights action, along with multiple other plaintiffs, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on March 27, 2017. (Doc. 1). Though this case has yet to receive preliminary review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court has issued several orders in it to address various preliminary issues. In the course of addressing these issues, it has come to the Court's attention that Plaintiff Bentz appears to have intentionally committed a fraud on the Court by submitting at least one document in this action on which at least one, if not more, signatures were forged or otherwise included as a result of subterfuge.


         This action was opened on March 27, 2017 after the Complaint (Doc. 1) was received. Because the Complaint was unsigned, the Court entered an Order on March 30, 2017 notifying the Plaintiffs that, pursuant to Rule 11(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "[e]very pleading, written motion, and other paper must be signed . . . by a party personally if the party is unrepresented." (Doc. 3). The Court directed the Clerk to send a copy of the 50-page Complaint to each plaintiff so that any plaintiff who desired to participate in this lawsuit could return a signed copy in compliance with Rule 11. Id. Soon thereafter, on April 7, 2017, a batch of Motions for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (Docs. 5-16) were filed. Some of these appear to be handwritten by Plaintiff Bentz, with signatures of other plaintiffs and occasional additional information included on the motions in different handwriting. (Docs. 5-8, 11-14).

         On April 10, 2017, the First Amended Complaint (Doc. 99), originally construed as a Motion to Certify Class (Doc. 25), was filed by Plaintiff Bentz. At the end of the First Amended Complaint is a page numbered “50-A, ” which includes a “Declaration Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11” that states:

I, the undersigned, certify to the best of my knowledge, information, and belief that this Complaint is in full compliance with Rule 11(a) and (b) of the Federal Rule[s] of Civil Procedure. The undersigned also recognizes that failure to comply with Rule 11(a) and (b) may result in sanctions, monetary or non-monetary, pursuant to F.R.C.P. Rule 11(c).

(Docs. 25, 99, p. 51).

         Beneath the declaration are signatures for fifteen of the named plaintiffs in this action, including for Plaintiffs Bentz, Reed, Barry, Nelson, Abdullah, Perez, Daniel Diaz, Fields, Hunt, Morgan, Stanford, Barnwell, Sharp, Blaney, and Jones. Id. Despite their apparent signatures on the pleading, several plaintiffs have submitted filings that have cast doubt on whether their signatures on the pleading are legitimate or, if they signed the document, whether they were aware that they were signing a pleading for a lawsuit, and if so, whether they were aware of the contents of the pleading.

         The Court will begin with the most damning statements made by Bentz's fellow plaintiffs. Plaintiff John Anthony Reed, whose name appears directly below Plaintiff Bentz's on the First Amended Complaint, claims that he “did not sign” the First Amended Complaint or the Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis filed under his name, claiming that he “believe[s] David Robert Bentz had somehow doctored [his] signature to appear on those” documents. (Doc. 119, p. 2). He also notes that Bentz would have had access to his signature because he signed a witness document for Bentz in 2015. Id. Plaintiff Keith Nelson similarly claims that he neither filed nor signed “one single piece of paper” in this action prior to his attempts to remove himself from the action. (Doc. 126, p. 1). He also asserts that he “never gave consent to be added to his lawsuit” and “never saw the handwritten copy of the motion for in forma pauperis that allegedly had ‘[his]' signature attached to it.” (Doc. 111, p. 1); (Doc. 128, p. 1).

         Plaintiff Robert Hunt claims that he does “not know what this case is and . . . never gave anyone permission to put [his] name on any complaint.” Plaintiff Muhammad Abdullah admits that the signature on the First Amended Complaint is his but then adds that he “was not aware that [he] was pleading for this lawsuit prior to signing it.” (Doc. 109, p. 1). Plaintiff Markus Barry asserts that he “never signed [the Complaint] initially, ” and that “prior to signing [the First Amended Complaint], [he] was not afforded an opportunity to review” it. (Doc. 52, p. 1); (Doc. 95, p. 1). Similarly, Daniel Diaz claims that he never saw or reviewed the “motion or lawsuit” that was filed. (Doc. 94, p. 1). Finally, Plaintiff Jesse Perez asserts that he has “nothing to do with the civil suit filed by Mr. Bentz” without his permission and “[has] not or will not be submitting any complaints through a third party.” (Doc. 120, pp. 2-3). Signatures for each of the aforementioned plaintiffs are included on the First Amended Complaint submitted by Bentz.

         Other plaintiffs whose signatures did not appear on the First Amended Complaint also submitted letters to the Court that call into question whether they ever consented to be added as plaintiffs to this lawsuit at all. Brandon Harris requested to be removed from the suit on April 28, 2017, and in his request, he noted that he “[has] not signed, nor [is he] interested in signing [his] name to any complaints, motions nor petitions concerning the said cause.” (Doc. 60, p. 1). Further, on April 10, 2017, Plaintiff Wiggins submitted a letter to the Court asking, in part, “what the actual complaint is.” (Doc. 21, p. 1).

         Additionally, Bentz has repeatedly attempted to file Motions and other documents on behalf of all Plaintiffs without their having signed the documents, even after being warned that doing so was improper and in violation of Rule 11. See (Docs. 3, 29, 37, 50, 85, 125) (warnings); (Docs. 19, 36, 44, 67, 89, 110, 113) (stricken documents). Bentz has also filed notices to the Court stating that the plaintiffs in this action signed the original Complaint (Doc. 1). See (Docs. 71, 122). He claims that he lost the declaration page with those signatures and filed the original Complaint without realizing it was absent. (Doc. 122). His claims do not address the aforementioned plaintiffs' claims that Bentz added them to this action without their permission, forged their signatures, and/or used their signatures on a filing that they did not have an opportunity to review.

         Notably, Bentz has been warned recently that sanctions would be imposed against him for attempting to deceive the Court. Bentz v. Maue, Case No. 16-cv-1349-DRH (S.D. Ill. Feb. 10, 2017) (“Maue 2017”), Doc. 11.[1] In fact, in Maue 2017, the Court outlined two recent instances that Bentz appeared to have attempted to deceive the Court. The first occurred in Bentz v. Maue, 16-cv-854 (S.D. Ill. Sept. 22, 2016) (“Maue 2016”), which was dismissed with prejudice for reasons that included Plaintiff making false allegations regarding his financial status in his Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis.

         The second attempt at deception took place in Maue 2017. In that case, the complaint was severed, and Plaintiff Bentz received a strike pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). Maue 2017, Doc. 6. Bentz then filed a motion for reconsideration claiming that he intended the complaint in Maue 2017 to be filed as an amended complaint in Maue 2016. Maue 2017, Doc. 10. The Court found that those arguments were entirely unfounded and contradicted by the complaint itself. See Maue 2017, Doc. 11. The Court also noted that Bentz appeared to be ...

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