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Johnson v. Kruse

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 13, 2018

ANTHONY JOHNSON, # 38651-044, Plaintiff,
v.
DOUGLAS KRUSE, ZELLDA BELL, JAMES CROSS, OFFICER MILES, S. WHITE, and Mr. ALBERT, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. PHIL GILBERT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court for consideration of Defendants' Motion to Sever Claims (Doc. 26). Defendants argue that not all of them are properly joined in the same lawsuit in light of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)(2), which provides that defendants may be joined in the same action if (1) the plaintiff asserts at least one claim against each defendant “with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences;” Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2)(A), and (2) “any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2)(B).

         Defendants filed the motion and mailed a copy to Plaintiff at her address of record at FCI Beckley on December 28, 2017. (Doc. 26, p. 6). More than 14 days have elapsed since that date, and Plaintiff has not submitted a response. See SDIL-LR 7.1(g). The Court has some concern over whether Plaintiff in fact received her copy of the motion, in light of the return of the Court's correspondence mailed to her at the FCI-Beckley address on January 18, 2018, as undeliverable. (Doc. 29).[1] The online inmate locator records[2] of the Bureau of Prisons indicate that Plaintiff has been transferred to another prison, but as of the date of this order, Plaintiff has not yet submitted a notice of change of address to the Court. Nonetheless, this motion is ripe for ruling, and shall be granted in part.

         Defendants' motion focuses on Counts 5 and 6 in this action, which the Court described in the merits review order as follows:

Count 5: Plaintiff was targeted for discriminatory cell searches and confiscation of her undergarments because of her transgender status, in violation of her right to equal protection, by Bell (in October 2012), Cross and Albert (in March 2014), White (in October 2014), and Miles (in January 2016).
Count 6: The confiscation of Plaintiff's undergarments by Bell (in October 2012), Cross and Albert (in March 2014), White (in October 2014), and Miles (in January 2016), constituted deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical/mental health need for those items to address her gender dysphoria.

(Doc. 11, p. 10). Defendants argue that because of the time that elapsed between the various cell searches, and the fact that each search was conducted by a different individual Defendant (or pair of Defendants in the case of the March 2014 search), the searches should not be considered part of the same “series of transactions or occurrences” within the meaning of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)(2). If each cell search is deemed to be a distinct occurrence, then the claims that arose from each search should proceed against the respective Defendant(s) in separate lawsuits.

         There is no hard and fast rule to determine whether a set of events is sufficiently logically connected to comprise a “series” of transactions which would allow the claims against multiple Defendants to be properly joined in the same action. See Wright, Miller, & Kane, 7 Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. § 1653 (3d ed.). Temporal proximity of the events is a factor, but is not the only consideration. The Court does not adopt Defendants' position that the cell searches were entirely unrelated events. However, upon reconsideration, neither is it clear that the cell searches amounted to a logically related pattern of events sufficient to bring the claims against the various Defendants together under the provisions of Rule 20(a)(2). The Court shall therefore exercise its discretion to sever Plaintiff's claims against some of the Defendants into separate actions, pursuant to Rule 20(a)(2) and Rule 21.

         Defendants suggest that this action should be severed into 5 suits, splitting up the claims in Counts 5 and 6 according to the dates when the cell searches were conducted: one case against Cross and Kruse (who are also named together in Counts 1 and 2), one against Bell, one against Miles, one against White, and one against Albert. (See Doc. 26, p. 5). However, this proposal overlooks the fact that Albert participated with Cross in the March 2014 cell search that gave rise to part of the claims in Counts 5 and 6.[3] As such, Plaintiff's claims against Cross and Albert arising from the March 2014 search are properly joined in the same action, as are the claims in Counts 1 and 2 against Cross and Kruse.

         The claims against Kruse, Cross, and Albert shall therefore remain in this case. The claims against Bell, Miles, and White shall be severed into 3 new cases. Each of the cases shall contain a portion of Counts 5 and 6, corresponding to the dates on which each Defendant searched Plaintiff's cell. Plaintiff will be responsible for an additional $350.00 filing fee in each new case.

         IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Defendants' Motion to Sever Claims (Doc. 26) is GRANTED IN PART insofar as the claims against Bell, Miles, and White are SEVERED into 3 new cases as directed below. The motion is DENIED IN PART in that the claims against Albert shall not be severed, but shall remain in the instant action.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the claims remaining in this action consist of:

Count 1: Dr. Kruse and Warden Cross were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious medical/mental health needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, by discontinuing Plaintiff's prescription medication, refusing to provide alternative medication, denying a lower-bunk permit, and denying hair-removal products, starting in August 2012;
Count 2: Dr. Kruse and Warden Cross violated Plaintiff's Fifth Amendment right to equal protection by discriminating against her based on her transgender status, by denying her medical ...

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