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Harris v. Rubin

March 29, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Susan D. Wigenton, United States District Judge



1. Plaintiff submitted for filing a civil complaint and an application to proceed in this matter in forma pauperis. See Docket Entry No. 1. Plaintiff's submission qualifies him for in forma pauperis status.

2. Plaintiff's complaint names, as Defendants in this matter, two persons: (a) Ann R. Rubin ("Rubin"), who was, apparently, the prosecutor in Plaintiff's criminal proceedings; and (b) Mr. Cobrut ("Cobrut"), a social worker. See Docket Entry No. 1, at 4-5.

3. Plaintiff's allegations against both Defendants are less than of exemplary clarity. The best this Court can surmise, Plaintiff asserts that Rubin used a "fake" indictment number to prosecute Plaintiff, plus Plaintiff's allegations vaguely suggest that Rubin was somehow connected to the execution of Plaintiff's arrest warrant. See id. at 6. These allegations indicate that the events underlying Plaintiff's challenges against Rubin took place sometimes during the 1993-to-1996 period. See id.

4. Plaintiff's allegations about Cobrut are even less clear, since Plaintiff merely asserts that, many months or even years after the events underlying his challenges against Rubin, Plaintiff asked Cobrut to "help with [Plaintiff] with [a certain] matter," but -- after Cobrut "got upset with [Plaintiff -- Plaintiff] stop[ped] speaking to [Cobrut] and wrote [Cobrut] up." Id. Finally, Plaintiff asserts that, on some unspecified date (and, seemingly, many months or even years after the events related to Plaintiff's friction with Cobrut), Plaintiff came to the mess hall at one of his prior places of confinement and had an unspecified someone cut Plaintiff's face. See id.

5. Rule 20(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure limits the joinder of defendants, and Rule 18(a), governs the joinder of claims. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 18(a), 20(a)(2). Rule 20(a)(2) provides: "Persons... may be joined in one action as defendants if: (A) any right to relief is asserted against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and (B) any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action." Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(2)(A) and (B). Rule 18 (a) provides: "A party asserting a claim... may join, as independent or alternative claims, as many claims as it has against an opposing party." Fed. R. Civ. P. 18(a). Wright & Miller's treatise on federal civil procedure explains that, where multiple defendants are named, the analysis under Rule 20 precedes that under Rule 18:

Rule 20 deals solely with joinder of parties and becomes relevant only when there is more than one party on one or both sides of the action. It is not concerned with joinder of claims, which is governed by Rule 18. Therefore, in actions involving multiple defendants Rule 20 operates independently of Rule 18...

Despite the broad language of Rule 18(a), plaintiff may join multiple defendants in a single action only if plaintiff asserts at least one claim to relief against each of them that arises out of the same transaction or occurrence and presents questions of law or fact common to all...

Charles Allen Wright, Arthur R. Miller, Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice & Procedure Civil 3d §1655; see also United States v. Mississippi, 380 U.S. 128, 143 (1965) (where county registrars were alleged to be carrying on activities which were part of a series of transactions or occurrences the validity of which depended upon questions of law or fact common to all of them, joinder of registrars in one suit as defendants was proper under Rule 20(a)); Ross v. Meagan, 638 F. 2d 646, 650 n.5 (3d Cir. 1981), overruled on other grounds by, Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 328 (1989) (joinder of defendants is not permitted by Rule 20 unless both commonality and same transaction requirements are satisfied). Consequently, a civil plaintiff may not name more than one defendant in his original or amended complaint unless one claim against each additional defendant is transactionally related to the claim against the first defendant and involves a common question of law or fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(2). As the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently explained, a prisoner may not join in one case all defendants against whom he may have a claim, unless the prisoner satisfies the dual requirements of Rule 20(a)(2):

Thus multiple claims against a single party are fine, but Claim A against Defendant 1 should not be joined with unrelated Claim B against Defendant 2. Unrelated claims against different defendants belong in different suits, not only to prevent the sort of morass that [a multi]-claim, [multi]-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)...

A buckshot complaint that would be rejected if filed by a free person - say, a suit complaining that A defrauded the plaintiff, B defamed him, C punched him, D failed to pay a debt, and E infringed his copyright, all in different transactions - should be rejected if filed by a prisoner.

George v. Smith, 507 F. 3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007).

6. Here, it is apparent that Plaintiff's allegations against Rubin, Cobrut and the unspecified individual allegedly responsible for the cut of Plaintiff's face ensued from entirely unrelated transactions. In light of the vagueness of Plaintiff's claims against Cobrut and Plaintiff's failure to even name the defendant responsible for the cut of Plaintiff's face (as well as in light of Plaintiff's failure to clarify the dates of these events and to detail the relevant circumstances), the Court will construe ...

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