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Oden v. True

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 29, 2018

CHRISTOPHER W. ODEN, DARYL HAMPTON, JASON NIELSON, RANDALL PETERSON, TIMOTHY LOGHRY, SR., JOSEPH STOTERAU, CHRISTIAN IGLESIAS, JASON SMITH, EARNEST HALL, CRAIG ARMSTRONG, BRAD MONKMAN, BENJAMIN WINTERS, JEFFERY BROTHERS, OLLIE BROWN, DANIEL HAMMER, ROY PARRY, GREGORY ROBINSON, SHANE ELDER, RANDALL CAUSEY, DAVID HARPER, MICHAEL SNYDER, SCOTT SULLIVAN, CHRISTOPHER HARRIS, JONATHAN VIDLAK, DAVID HOFFARTH, PERNELL JONES, CHRISTOPHER BAILY, MATTHEW SISNEROS, JACK GRUBB, JERALD SIMS, CONNER WEBB, TERRELL CLEGGETT, MARTIN VAN DEURZEN, JAMES SAY, CORY CUNNINGHAM, DARRELL STEWART, BRENT BAILY, JACOB HOBART, ISAAC JOHNSON, REGINALD THURMOND, JASON DUNLAP, JOHN PELTZ, and TED DURAN, Plaintiffs,
v.
WILLIAM B. TRUE, DONALD S. BOYCE, JEFF SESSIONS, and MARK INCH, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          MICHAEL J. REAGAN United States Chief District Judge

         This matter is before the Court for case management. The Complaint (Doc. 1, p. 2) names 43 individuals as plaintiffs who, according to the Complaint, are incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. The Complaint sets forth claims against four defendants and alleges that the Defendants subjected the Plaintiffs to unconstitutional conditions of confinement in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Doc. 1). Under the circumstances, the Court deems it necessary to address several preliminary matters before completing a review of this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         Signatures

         While the Complaint was submitted with a page with each of the Plaintiffs' signatures, it is unclear whether the purported Plaintiffs intended for their signatures to signal their Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 certifications to the court, subjecting them to potential sanctions, or if this is simply a list of the intended plaintiffs and their signatures. Adding to this ambiguity is a signature page after the Complaint's statement of claim, on which Plaintiff Oden alone swears under penalty of perjury that the “list of signed Plaintiffs agrees to all allegations filed herein.” (Doc. 1, pp. 2, 10). Because it is unclear whether each of the Plaintiffs, other than Oden, have complied with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11, the Court will order each plaintiff wishing to proceed in this action, other than Plaintiff Oden, to submit a properly signed complaint, along with their Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis or filing fee, or risk dismissal from the action.

         Group Litigation by Multiple Prisoners

         Plaintiffs may bring their claims jointly in a single lawsuit if they so desire. However, the Court must admonish them as to 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.” Nonetheless, 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.

         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 Circuit 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 ten plaintiffs, the plaintiffs' postage and copying costs of filing motions, briefs or other papers in the case will be ten times greater than 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. According to the Seventh Circuit, 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 into account this ruling in determining whether to assume the risks of group litigation in the federal courts of the Seventh Circuit.

         Because not every prisoner is likely to be aware of the potential negative consequences of joining group litigation in federal courts, the Seventh Circuit suggested in Boriboune that district courts alert prisoners to the individual payment requirement, as well as the other risks prisoner pro se litigants face in joint pro se litigation, and “give them an opportunity to drop out.” Id. at 856. Therefore, in keeping with this suggestion, the Court offers all of the plaintiffs, other than Plaintiff Oden, whom it designates as the “lead” plaintiff[1] in this case, an opportunity to withdraw from this litigation before the case progresses further. Each plaintiff may wish to take into consideration the following points in making his or her decision:

• He or she will be held legally responsible for knowing precisely what is being filed in the case on his or her behalf.
• He or she 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 or she will incur a strike if the action is dismissed as frivolous or malicious or for failure to state a claim ...

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