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Riddick v. Department of Corrections

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

December 26, 2017

STEVEN RIDDICK, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Glen E. Conrad Senior United States District Judge.

         Steven Riddick, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging multitudinous violations of his constitutional rights. Upon review of the record, the court concludes that Riddick's initial complaint is so factually and legally deficient that the action must be summarily dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim.

         I.

         Riddick, now incarcerated at Red Onion State Prison ("Red Onion"), submitted his 126-page § 1983 complaint in June 2017. In that pleading, he names 56 defendants and complains about various incidents and frustrations he has experienced at Red Onion or other Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC") prison facilities since 2007. Riddick has greatly slowed the court's screening of his claims by filing eight motions seeking to amend the action to add claims and name more defendants. As relief, Riddick wants to recover monetary damages; to have the money from his inmate savings account transferred to his spend account; to be transferred to Sussex I or II State Prison "so [he] can get proper medical care and medicine for [his] HSVI infection"; and to leave segregation without participating in a program. (Id. at 3.)

         II.

         As an initial concern, Riddick's pleading defies the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governing joinder of claims and defendants in a single civil action. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 18 and 20. Rule 18(a) allows a plaintiff to bring multiple claims, related or unrelated, in a lawsuit against a single defendant. On the other hand, Rule 20 allows the joinder of several defendants in one civil action only if the claims "ar[ose] out of the same transaction or occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences" and contain a "question of law or fact common to all defendants." Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2)(A) and (B). Under these rules, "a plaintiff may name more than one defendant in a multiple claim lawsuit only if the claims against all defendants arose out of the same incident or incidents and involve a common factual or legal question." Green v. Denning, No. 06-3298, 2009 WL 484457, at *2 (D. Kan. Feb. 26, 2009) (emphasis added). These procedural rules apply with equal force to pro se prisoner cases. Id. Riddick's pleading clearly violates Rule 20 by attempting to join, in one omnibus civil action, multiple, disjointed and unrelated claims from widely differing time periods against dozens of defendants. The only fact his claims have in common is his incarceration, and the legal questions his claims raise are vastly different. Such diverse fact patterns and claims cannot properly be presented in one § 1983 complaint.[1]

         In addition, permitting Riddick to consent to pay the filing fee for one civil case, and at the same time, to pursue dozens of disparate claims against 56 parties and concerning unrelated events and transactions in that one case, flies in the face of the letter and spirit of the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"). PLRA restrictions on prisoner-filed civil actions include: full exhaustion of available administrative remedies before bringing a federal lawsuit; full payment of the filing fee in any civil action or appeal; authorization of court review and summary disposition of claims that are frivolous or malicious or fail to state a valid claim upon which relief can be granted; and a "three strike" provision that prevents a prisoner from proceeding without prepayment of the filing fee if the prisoner's past litigation in federal court includes three or more cases dismissed as frivolous, malicious, or as stating no claim for relief. See gen. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915, 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). "Congress enacted PLRA with the principal purpose of deterring frivolous prisoner litigation by instituting economic costs for prisoners wishing to file civil claims." Lyon v. Krol. 127 F.3d 763, 764 (8th Cir. 1997). Strict compliance with federal joinder rules "prevents prisoners from 'dodging' the fee obligation and '3-strikes' provision of the PLRA." Green. 2009 WL 484457, at *2. As the court noted in Green:

To permit plaintiff to proceed in this single action on unrelated claims against different defendants that should be litigated in separate action(s') would allow him to avoid paying the filing fees required for separate actions, and could also allow him to circumvent the three strikes provision for any new and unrelated claims that might be found to be "strike" under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

Id. at *3.

         Thus, to allow Riddick to essentially package many lawsuits into one complaint would undercut the PLRA's three-strikes provision and its filing fee requirement.[2] Moreover, Riddick admits in his complaint that as to many of his allegations, he did not exhaust administrative remedies as required before filing his lawsuit. See Ross v. Blake, U.S., 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1856 (2016) (holding that under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), exhaustion of available administrative remedies before filing in federal court is "mandatory"). Because Riddick's complaint, even liberally construed, fails to state claims surviving the required screening under § 1915A, however, the court will dismiss the action under that provision.

         III.

         The court is required to dismiss any action or claim filed by a prisoner against a governmental entity or officer if the court determines the action or claim is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). To state a claim, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim of relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal. 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twomblv. 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Mere "legal conclusions" and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements" are not factual allegations and need not be accepted as true. Id. "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Id. at 679. On the other hand, the court may dismiss as frivolous any claim based on "an indisputably meritless legal theory, " "claims of infringement of a legal interest which clearly does not exist, " or claims where the "factual contentions are clearly baseless." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989).

         A. Time-barred Claims

         Section 1983 permits an aggrieved party to file a civil action against a person for actions taken under color of state law that violated his constitutional rights. See Cooper v. Sheehan, 735 F.3d 153, 158 (4th Cir. 2013). No federal statute of limitations applies in § 1983 actions. Accordingly, such actions are governed by the state statute of limitations applicable for general personal injury cases in the state where the alleged constitutional violations occurred. Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 239-40 (1989). Virginia's statute for general, personal injury claims, Va. Code Ann. § 8.01-243(a), requires that such claims be brought within two years from the time when the action accrues. A claim under § 1983 accrues when the ...


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