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Bennett v. Mays

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

June 19, 2019

COREY BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
TONY MAYS, ET AL., Defendants. COREY BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
KELLY HUNT, ET AL., Defendants. COREY BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
TONY PARKER, Defendant. COREY BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
TONY PARKER, ET AL., Defendants. COREY BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
TONY PARKER, ET AL., Defendants. COREY BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
TONY MAYS, ET AL., Defendants. COREY BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
TONY MAYS, ET AL., Defendants. COREY BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
TONY MAYS, ET AL., Defendants.

          Trauger Judge

          ORDER

          ALISTAIR E. NEWBERN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Corey Bennett, an inmate at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution (“RMSI”) in Nashville, Tennessee, has eight pro se civil rights actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 currently pending before the Court. Bennett is well known to this Court and has long been subject to the “three-strikes” provision of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) because he has filed many more than three federal cases that were dismissed as frivolous, malicious, or for failure to state a claim. In a hearing held in 2015, Bennett admitted to the Court that he files these actions based on false allegations when he becomes frustrated with the fact of his incarceration. Bennett made the same admission regarding a number of cases filed in 2018. In 2015 and again in 2018, the Court warned Bennett that continuing to make such false statements could result in sanctions or criminal prosecution and dismissed the actions.

         Bennett did not stop filing lawsuits, however, and his conduct has become increasingly vexatious. In March 2018, Bennett began a practice of falsely listing other inmates as co-plaintiffs in his cases, as he has done in seven of the eight pending actions. This is an abuse of the federal courts and places significant burdens on the inmates on whose behalf Bennett fraudulently claims to be acting. Because Bennett has not stopped his behavior in the face of the Court's prior orders, a more severe sanction is warranted. The Court will therefore not consider any individual other than Bennett to be a plaintiff in any of Bennett's pending cases and Bennett will be barred from filing any future civil complaint in this Court listing anyone other than himself as a plaintiff. If Bennett violates this sanction by continuing to name other individuals as co-plaintiffs, the Court will impose increasingly severe sanctions against him in the form of monetary penalties, additional filing restrictions, or both.

         I. Background

         A. Frivolous Litigation

         By the time Bennett filed his first case in the Middle District of Tennessee in August 2014, he was already a “three-striker” under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), having had more than three cases dismissed as frivolous, malicious, or for failure to state a claim. (No. 3:14-cv-01691, Doc. No. 3 at 2.)[1] Since then, all told, Bennett has filed forty-seven cases in this district regarding his conditions of confinement, all of which have been dismissed. These dismissals fall roughly into three categories: (1) cases dismissed for failure to prosecute or to pay the filing fee after a determination that Bennett did not qualify for the “imminent-danger exception” to the three-strikes provision;[2] (2) cases that Bennett moved to voluntarily dismiss after a defendant filed an answer or motion to dismiss;[3] and (3) cases dismissed as a direct result of Bennett's representations at a Court hearing.[4]

         In a few of these cases, Bennett did not allege that he was in imminent danger of serious physical injury.[5] More frequently, however, Bennett explicitly acknowledged the imminent-danger exception and presented allegations specifically crafted to overcome the three-strikes barrier. These allegations of imminent danger are extremely serious and often graphically detailed. Their general theme is that Bennett has been subjected to repeated physical and sexual assault by authority figures and other inmates and that various officials have refused to investigate these incidents.[6] Bennett has also alleged that prison personnel put his life in danger by spreading harmful information about him to other inmates, [7] arranging for inmates who want to kill him to be near him, [8] and refusing to investigate an inmate's harassment of his family members.[9]

         In two hearings in this Court, however, Bennett admitted that his extraordinarily troubling allegations of imminent danger were fabricated. First, in a December 2015 hearing before Magistrate Judge Brown, Bennett readily conceded that he has “mental health problems, ” and “when [he] get[s] frustrated, . . . the only way to cope . . . with [his] frustration . . . is [to] file . . . frivolous lawsuits[.]” (No. 3:15-cv-00937, Doc. No. 50 at 13.) Magistrate Judge Brown asked Bennett, “you keep alleging this imminent harm. And so you're admitting that all of this stuff that you've filed . . . is just frivolous[?]” (Id. at 14.) “Yes, sir, ” Bennett responded, “and it's not going to happen no more. . . . I'm trying to do better, but I do got mental health and behavior problems.” (Id.) Bennett further explained his behavior by stating that he had “a lot of traumatizing things happen in [his] past in [his] childhood, ” and that he has “flashbacks and [goes] though a lot of stuff” when he is placed in a “maximum security cell” or a “lockdown unit.” (Id. at 30-31.) The Court dismissed Bennett's action with prejudice on the basis that his claims were frivolous and recommended that Bennett receive a mental health evaluation. (Id., Doc. No. 59.)

         Second, on February 26, 2018, this Magistrate Judge held a consolidated hearing in seven cases in which Bennett again alleged that he had suffered physical and sexual assaults by prison staff.[10] The Court appointed counsel for Bennett and, at the beginning of the hearing, Bennett's counsel moved to voluntarily dismiss all seven actions with prejudice. (See, e.g., No. 3:17-cv-01467, Doc. No. 38 at 2.) The defendants did not oppose voluntary dismissal but sought the imposition of a pre-filing protocol to discourage Bennett from filing meritless actions in the future. (See, e.g., id.) The Magistrate Judge entered a Report and Recommendation recommending that Bennett's cases be voluntarily dismissed with prejudice and that the Court decline to impose pre-filing restrictions because they were not necessary in light of the filing requirements imposed on all prisoners by the PLRA. (See, e.g., Id. at 2, 6.) The Magistrate Judge also found, however, that Bennett “ha[d] admitted in various ways that [the allegations in his seven pending actions] were without merit, and the Court will consider that history in its evaluation of any future actions [Bennett] might file.” (See, e.g., Id. at 6.) Bennett did not file objections to the Report and Recommendation, and the Court adopted it. (See, e.g., id., Doc. No. 39.)

         B. Misrepresentations Regarding Other Inmates as Co-Plaintiffs

         Within two weeks of the February 2018 hearing, Bennett made his first attempt to include other inmates as co-plaintiffs without their authorization.[11] (No. 3:18-cv-00273.) Over the next two months, he filed a total of five more complaints including multiple plaintiffs.[12] Some of the inmates named in these actions filed unprompted notices or motions stating that they had not agreed to be plaintiffs.[13] Because only Bennett had signed the complaints, the Court found him to be the sole plaintiff in these actions and dismissed the cases.[14]

         Apparently in response, Bennett changed his strategy. In two actions filed in July 2018, Bennett listed fellow inmate Andrew Jones as a co-plaintiff and included what was purportedly Jones's signature on the complaints.[15] The Court expressed skepticism that Jones's signature was authentic for many reasons, including that Jones was also a defendant in one of the cases.[16] The Court asked Jones to state whether he had agreed to be a co-plaintiff.[17] Jones responded that he “unequivocally and vehemently denies” signing the complaints and pursuing any action with Bennett. (No. 3:18-cv-00619, Doc. No. 6 at 1.) The Court again found Bennett to be the only plaintiff and dismissed these two cases.[18]

         Finally, in his most recently dismissed case, Bennett filed a complaint listing thirteen other inmates as co-plaintiffs. (No. 3:19-cv-00320, Doc. No. 1 at 3-4.) Bennett represented on the complaint form that there was an “attached sworn and notarized affidavit signed by all plaintiffs listed in this case, ” (id. at 14), but there was no such attachment included. The Court, therefore, found Bennett to be the only plaintiff and dismissed the case. (Id., Doc. No. 3.) Bennett appealed, and the Court denied him permission to proceed as a pauper on appeal. (Id., Doc. Nos. 7 and 9.) The appeal is pending before the Sixth Circuit.

         II. Bennett's Pending Cases

         Bennett includes other inmates as co-plaintiffs in seven of his eight pending actions.[19] All seven complaints bear signatures represented to be those of the other named inmates.[20] Four cases include documents manipulated to show that these individuals agreed to be co-plaintiffs.[21] The remaining three involve larger numbers of additional plaintiffs and do not include any documentation of their intent to join the litigation.[22]

         A. Four Cases Involving Manipulated Documents

         Case No. 3:19-cv-00406 (“Case 406”), Case No. 3:19-cv-00457 (“Case 457”), Case No. 3:19-cv-00470 (“Case 470”), and Case No. 3:19-cv-00471 (“Case 471”) include apparently manipulated documents-affidavits and in forma pauperis applications-intended by Bennett to show the other inmates' voluntary participation in the lawsuits.

         In Case 406, Bennett filed an in forma pauperis application and two affidavits purportedly from co-plaintiff David McDonald. The documents submitted under McDonald's name appear to be sworn and notarized and state that McDonald wants to be a party to the lawsuit and ask the Court to allow the affidavit to serve as his permission to be named. (Case 406, Doc. No. 2 at 3, 5, 7.) But on the notarized page of these documents, the “David McDonald” signature is directly next to a signature that has been thoroughly scribbled out with a pen. (Id.) Although it is impossible to make out every letter of the inked-out signature, its contours plausibly correspond to the name “Corey Bennett” or “Corey Alan Bennet.” (Id. at 6.) Given Bennett's litigation history and the progression in his abusive litigation tactics, there is only one reasonable inference ...


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