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Bilal v. Lawrence Correctional Center

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 17, 2019

TARIQ K. BILAL, and CARLOS H. GARCIA, #M41479 Plaintiffs,



         This matter is before the Court sua sponte for case management. Plaintiffs Tariq Bilal and Carlos Garcia bring this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the rape of Plaintiff Garcia by his cellmate. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs are requesting money damages.

         Although both Plaintiffs have signed the Complaint, it is not entirely clear whether they both intended to bring claims, and if so, whether they intended to bring their claims jointly. The events giving rise to this civil rights complaint occurred while Plaintiff Garcia, who is presently incarcerated at Pontiac Correctional Center, was housed at Lawrence Correctional Center (“Lawrence”) and pertain only to him. Further, the address associated with Plaintiff Bilal is a residential address in White Plains, New York. Because of Plaintiff Bilal's residential address and the absence of any allegations pertaining to Plaintiff Bilal, the Court cannot ascertain whether he was ever incarcerated at Lawrence. Finally, one Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 2) is signed by Plaintiff Garcia, while the other (Doc. 3) is signed by both Plaintiffs, Garcia and Bilal. 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. The Court must advise them of the consequences of proceeding in this manner, however, including their filing fee obligations, and give them an opportunity to withdraw from the case or sever their claims into individual actions.

         The Seventh Circuit addressed the difficulties in administering group prisoner Complaints in Boriboune v. Berge, 391 F.3d 852 (7th Cir. 2004). 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 rules of civil procedure 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 decision 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, a prisoner in a joint action is required to pay a full civil filing fee, just as if he had filed the suit individually.

         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 for filing motions, briefs, or other papers will be twice as much as that of 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. On the other hand, a prisoner litigating jointly assumes those risks for all of the claims in the group Complaint, whether or not they concern him personally. Also, 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, each of which involves an additional filing fee obligation and the risk of a “strike” within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). Plaintiffs may wish to consider Boriboune and the afore-mentioned factors in determining whether to assume the risks of group litigation.

         The Court further notes that multi-plaintiff suits, particularly ones such as this where all the plaintiffs may not remain at the same location during the proceedings, may be difficult to coordinate. For example, if Plaintiffs desire to continue this litigation as a group, any proposed amended complaint or other document filed on behalf of multiple Plaintiffs must be signed by each of the Plaintiffs. As long as the Plaintiffs appear without counsel in this action, each Plaintiff must sign documents for himself. See Lewis v. Lenc-Smith Mfg. Co., 784 F.2d 829, 831 (7 Cir. 1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 11. A non-attorney cannot file or sign papers for another litigant. Plaintiffs are WARNED that future group motions or pleadings that do not comply with this requirement shall be stricken pursuant to Rule 11(a).

         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. In keeping with this suggestion, the Court offers Plaintiff Bilal an opportunity to withdraw from this litigation before the case progresses further.[1] Plaintiff may wish to take into consideration the following points 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.
• If, at the time of filing, Plaintiff Bilal was a “prisoner” pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(h), he will incur a strike if the action is dismissed as frivolous or malicious or for failure to ...

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