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Henderson v. Manis

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

June 6, 2019

CARL A. MANIS, et al., Defendants.


          Pamela Meade Sargent United States Magistrate Judge

         In this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the pro se prisoner plaintiff attempts to join together in one case three, unrelated legal claims concerning different events and time periods, and naming nearly two dozen prison officials as defendants. As it stands, the Complaint runs afoul of joinder restrictions set forth in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the filing fee requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, (“PLRA”). For the reasons herein explained, the court will sever the Complaint into three separate civil actions, have them docketed as such, and require the plaintiff to consent to paying the filing fee for each case that he intends to pursue.


         Henderson's three claims, based on events at Wallens Ridge State Prison, (“Wallens Ridge”), are as follows:

1. On December 27, 2018, in retaliation for Henderson's filing of grievances and a lawsuit against prison officials, Wallens Ridge officers J. Clark, M. Sluss, E. Orr, Ramey, T. N. Baily, N. Presley, and L.T. Hall used excessive force against him and placed him in ambulatory restraints, in violation of the First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and committed state law assault and battery on Henderson;
2. Beginning in February 2017, and continuing through the present, Henderson has been denied appropriate medication and dietary accommodations for his gastric and digestive disorders by defendants Happy Smith, Benny Mullins, T. Townsend, Carl A. Manis and the Health Services Director for the Virginia Department of Corrections, (“VDOC”), in violation of the Eighth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, (“ADA”), and the Rehabilitation Act; and
3. Beginning December 18, 2018, by order of Major Anderson, Henderson has been subjected to four strip searches per day and two cell searches per shift; during the cell searches, officers disorder his legal and religious materials; and other officers have sexually harassed him during the strip searches, in violation of the First and Eighth Amendments as well as the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act and the “Amendments Act.” The defendants named to this claim are Major Anderson, C/O Moseley, I.N. McCoy, C/O Chandler, C/O Eldridge, Sgt. Ferguson, C/O Ramey, N. Presley, M. Sluss, and J. Clark.

         The heading of the Complaint also names defendants who do not appear anywhere in Henderson's description of his claims: the VDOC and Karen A. Stapleton. The court will assume for purposes of this Opinion that Henderson intends for these defendants to be named to each of his three claims.


         The present Complaint is not consistent with Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rules 18 and 20, regarding the permissible joinder of claims and parties in one federal civil action. Rule 18(a) only allows a plaintiff to join “as many claims as it has against an [one] opposing party” (emphasis added). On the other hand, Rule 20 allows the joinder of several parties only if the claims arose out of the same transaction or occurrence or series thereof and contain a question of fact or law common to all the defendants. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 20. Thus, if the claims arise out of different transactions and do not involve all defendants, joinder of the claims in one lawsuit should not be allowed.

         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, 2009 WL 484457, at *2 (D. Kan. Feb. 26, 2009). These procedural rules apply with equal force to pro se prisoner cases. Indeed, “[r]equiring adherence in prisoner suits to the federal rules regarding joinder of parties and claims prevents ‘the sort of morass [a multiple claim, multiple defendant] suit produce[s].'” Green, 2009 WL 484457, at *2 (quoting George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007)).

         In addition, to allow Henderson to pay one filing fee, yet join disparate legal claims against multiple parties, concerning multiple different events and factual and legal issues, flies in the face of the letter and spirit of the PLRA. PLRA restrictions on prisoner-filed civil actions include: requiring full payment of the filing fee for any civil action or appeal submitted by a prisoner - through prepayment or through partial payments withheld from the inmate's trust account; authorization of court review and summary disposition of any claim or action that is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a valid claim upon which relief can be granted or seeks relief against persons immune from such relief; and a “three strike” provision, which prevents a prisoner from proceeding without prepayment of the filing fee if the prisoner's 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(b), (e), and (g), and 1915A. “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). Requiring compliance with the joinder rules “prevents prisoners from ‘dodging' the fee obligation and ‘3-strikes' provision of the PLRA.” Green, 2009 WL 484457, at *2. To allow plaintiff to essentially package several lawsuits into one complaint would undercut the PLRA's three-strikes provision and its filing fee requirement.[1]

         Where there is misjoinder of parties, the Federal Rules authorize the court, on its own initiative at any stage of the litigation, to drop any party. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 21 (“Misjoinder of parties is not a ground for dismissing an action. On motion or on its own, the court may at any time, on just terms, add or drop a party. The court may also sever any claim against a party”). Thus, the court has inherent power to control its docket and the disposition of its cases with “economy of time and effort” for the court and the parties. See Landis v. North American Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254-55 (1936); Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1260 (9th Cir. 1992).

         As stated, Henderson's Complaint may not proceed as it is presently constituted, because it improperly joins together multiple claims and multiple defendants. It is actually three separate lawsuits bundled into one omnibus Complaint: one lawsuit about excessive force, use of ambulatory restraints and retaliation; one lawsuit about medical care and diet; and one lawsuit about strip searches, sexual harassment, cell searches and retaliation. Accordingly, the court will sever Henderson's Complaint into three separate lawsuits and have the severed claims each docketed under a separate case number in which all further proceedings on that claim ...

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