United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
William C. Lee, Judge United States District Court
the court is the seventh complaint (DE 35) filed in this case
by Jerome Williams, a pro se prisoner. This complaint, like
the six previous complaints (DE 1, 7, 11, 13, 16, and 32),
contains unrelated claims. This is not news to Mr. Williams.
The court told (DE 6, 9, 15, and 27) him about this problem
four times. “Unrelated claims against different
defendants belong in different suits . . ..” George
v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007).
pro se prisoner files a suit with unrelated claims, the court
has several options. Wheeler v. Wexford Health Sources,
Inc., 689 F.3d 680, 683 (7th Cir. 2012). It is the
practice of this court to notify the plaintiff and allow him
to decide which claim (or related claims) to pursue in the
instant case - as well as to decide when or if to bring the
other claims in separate suits. Id. (“The
judge might have been justified in directing Wheeler to file
separate complaints, each confined to one group of injuries
and defendants.”). This is the fairest solution because
“the plaintiff as master of the complaint may present
(or abjure) any claim he likes.” Katz v.
Gerardi, 552 F.3d 558, 563 (7th Cir. 2009). In this
case, the court has Dated this repeatedly. The court has been
unduly patient, but Williams will not limit his claims.
Despite his refusal to comply with the orders of this court,
it would nevertheless be unjust to dismiss this case pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) because other
options are more appropriate.
court could properly limit this case by picking a claim (or
related claims) for him because “[a] district judge
[can] solve the problem by . . . dismissing the excess
defendants under Fed.R.Civ.P. 21.” Wheeler at
683. But this option is fraught with complications. Which
defendants are excess? Which claim should remain? The one
against the first listed defendant? The one first discussed
in the body of the complaint? The one most extensively
discussed? The one joining the most defendants? The one
joining the most claims? Should the court pick one that
states a claim even if it is not among those options? There
is no consistently equitable way to answer these questions
except where the complaint raises a claim plausibly alleging
imminent danger of serious physical injury. If any of Mr.
Williams' complaints had presented such a claim, the
court would have proceeded with it rather than delaying this
case by asking him to file an amended complaint. But such is
not the case here.
the court could split the unrelated claims because “[a]
district judge [can] solve the problem by severance (creating
multiple suits that can be separately screened) . . ..”
Id. Normally this option is also fraught with
complications. Prisoners, even indigent ones, must pay the
filing fee eventually because pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1915(b)(1), “if a prisoner brings a civil action . . .
the prisoner shall be required to pay the full amount of a
filing fee . . ..” Lucien v. DeTella, 141 F.3d
773, 776 (7th Cir. 1998). Multiple cases mean multiple filing
fees and the possibility of multiple strikes.
Unrelated claims against different defendants belong in
different suits, not only to prevent the sort of morass that
this 50-claim, 24-defendant suit produced but also to ensure
that prisoners pay the required filing fees - for the Prison
Litigation Reform Act limits to 3 the number of frivolous
suits or appeals that any prisoner may file without
prepayment of the required fees. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).
George was trying not only to save money but also to dodge
that rule. He hoped that if even 1 of his 50 claims were
deemed non-frivolous, he would receive no
“strikes” at all, as opposed to the 49 that would
result from making 49 frivolous claims in a batch of 50
George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007).
Normally, it is the prisoner plaintiff who should make the
decision whether to incur those additional filing fees and
bear the risk of additional strikes. But this is not a normal
case. Mr. Williams has been given too many chances already to
limit his complaint to related claims. Though he has clearly
not chosen to file multiple lawsuits - he has unequivocally
chosen to proceed on every one of his unrelated claims
despite having been told that can only happen if he files
multiple lawsuits. It is generally not the best option for
the court to split unrelated claims into separate cases, but
Mr. Williams has refused to select related claims on which to
proceed in this case and so here this is the best remaining
final issue needs to be addressed. This case is old and much
of the delay is attributable to the court's failure to
rapidly screen Mr. Williams' amended complaints which
were not responsive to this court's orders. The first
complaint was screened in three days. The second complaint
was screened in two weeks. Thereafter, the court took
progressively longer to screen the subsequent complaints
because other filings - including many by inmates - were
considered more urgent. It is apparent now that the court
waited too long (and afforded Mr. Williams too many chances)
to split these unrelated claims. Nevertheless, it is
impossible to go back in time. However, going forward, Mr.
Williams needs to be more responsive to this court's
complaint names ten defendants and the claims against each
defendant are conveniently presented in ten numbered
sections. In Sections 1 and 2, Mr. Williams alleges that
Superintendent Ron Neal and Executive Assistant Howard Morton
retaliated against him by denying the restoration of good
time credits because he filed a lawsuit. These claims are
related and will remain in this case to be screened pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A in a separate order.
Section 3, Mr. Williams alleges that Law Library Supervisor
Besse Leonard retaliated against him by denying him access to
the law library on July 29, 2015, because he filed a lawsuit.
In Section 4, he alleges that Lt. Williams retaliated against
him by denying him access to the library on July 30, 2015,
because he filed a lawsuit. He also alleges Lt. Williams
retaliated against him by forcing him to walk down
“main street” to Internal Affairs in shackles on
August 4, 2015, because he filed a lawsuit and spoke to
internal affairs. In Section 5, he alleges that Officer
Canchola retaliated against him by forcing him to walk from
Internal Affairs down “main street” in shackles
on August 4, 2015, because he filed a lawsuit. In Section 6,
he alleges that Executive Assistant Vicki Long retaliated
against him by refusing to allow him to appeal a grievance
about these events because he filed a lawsuit. These claims
constitute a related series of occurrences and will be split
into a separate lawsuit.
Section 7, Mr. Williams alleges that Captain Yancy retaliated
against him by placing him in segregation with restrictions
after he fought with another inmate on July 31, 2015, because
he filed a lawsuit. In Section 8, he alleges that Lt. Huff
retaliated against him by taking his typewriter on July 31,
2015, when he was in segregation because he filed a lawsuit.
In Section 9, he alleges that Case Manager Mayes retaliated
against him by refusing to allow him to file a grievance or
send a letter about these events because he filed a lawsuit.
In Section 10, Mr. Williams alleges that Case Manager Taylor
retaliated against him by preventing him from presenting a
self-defense argument during a prison disciplinary hearing
about the July 31, 2015, fight because he filed a lawsuit.
These claims constitute a related series of occurrences and
will be split into a separate lawsuit.
these reasons, the court:
DISMISSES Law Library Supervisor Besse Leonard, Lt. Williams,
Officer Canchola, Executive Assistant Vicki Long, Captain
Yancy, Lt. Huff, Case Manager Mayes, and Case Manager Taylor;
DIRECTS the clerk to open a new case with the amended
complaint (DE 35) against Law Library Supervisor Besse
Leonard, Lt. Williams, Officer ...