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Dunkk v. U.S. Marshal Service

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

December 18, 2017

JEFFREY COLEMAN, No. 13853-028, RANDALL A. MILLER, QUINCY O. EDWARDS, JOSEPH K. RANDER, JAMAR JONES, and ANDREW DUNK, Plaintiffs,
v.
U.S. MARSHAL SERVICE, and RANDY COBB Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. Phil Gilbert United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court for case management. Plaintiff Coleman filed the instant action naming himself and five other individuals as Plaintiffs, all of whom are incarcerated at White County Jail (“Jail”). However, only Coleman signed the Complaint. Additionally, Coleman is the only Plaintiff to file an IFP Motion. (Doc. 3). The Complaint alleges Defendants have violated Plaintiffs' rights by subjecting them to unconstitutional conditions of confinement and by providing an unhealthy diet. Before the Court addresses the need for additional signatures on the Complaint, it is necessary to deal with some preliminary matters related to the attempt to jointly file this case as a group action including multiple plaintiffs.

         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 two 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, each plaintiff will be liable for another full filing fee for each new case. Plaintiffs may wish to take this ruling into account in determining whether to assume the risks of group litigation in the federal courts of the Seventh Circuit.

         Here, it appears that Coleman drafted the Complaint, as he is the only individual to have signed the pleading and to have submitted an IFP Motion. Therefore, the Court will designate him as the “lead” Plaintiff in this case. The non-lead Plaintiffs (Miller, Edwards, Rander, Jones, and Dunk) will be given an opportunity to withdraw from this litigation before the case progresses further. Each non-lead Plaintiff may wish to take the following into consideration 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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