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Villagran v. Williams

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

April 16, 2018

MICHAEL ASAD VILLAGRAN, #834583, and DENZIL LAWRENCE, Plaintiffs,
v.
BRUCE WILLIAMS, WILL MILLER, and CHESTER MENTAL HEALTH CENTER, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STACI M. YANDLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court for case management. The Complaint (Doc. 1) was filed by two individuals who are in custody at Chester Mental Health Center (“Chester”). Together, they filed a Complaint that sets forth claims against three defendants for retaliation, discrimination, and due process violations. (Doc. 1).

         Plaintiff Villāgrān signed the Complaint and filed a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (“IFP”) (Doc. 1, pp. 6-7); (Doc. 2). Plaintiff Lawrence did not sign the Complaint, nor has he filed an IFP Motion or paid the filing fee for this action. 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.

         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 inmate Complaints. District courts are required to accept joint Complaints filed by multiple inmates if the criteria for 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.” Nevertheless, a district court may turn to other civil rules to manage a multi-plaintiff case. For example, 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 inmate 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 inmate in a joint action is required to pay a full civil filing fee, just as if he had filed the suit individually.

         The Seventh Circuit identified at least two other reasons an inmate 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 two times greater than if there was a single plaintiff.

         Second, an inmate 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, an inmate 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, the unrelated claims may be severed into one or more new cases. If that occurs, the plaintiffs will be liable for another full filing fee for each new case.

         Because not every inmate 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, since the Court designates Plaintiff Villāgrān as the lead plaintiff[1] in this case, the Court offers Plaintiff Lawrence an opportunity to withdraw from this litigation before the case progresses further. Plaintiff Lawrence may wish to take into consideration the following factors 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 ...

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