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Sanford v. CoreCivic

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

November 18, 2019

GERALD A. SANFORD, SR., Plaintiff,
CORECIVIC, ET AL., Defendants.



         On June 28, 2019, Plaintiff Gerald A. Sanford, Sr., who is incarcerated at the South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton, Tennessee, filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and a motion to proceed in forma pauperis in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. (ECF Nos. 1 & 2.) Sanford's complaint concerns events that allegedly occurred while he was incarcerated at the Hardeman County Correctional Facility (HCCF) in Whiteville, Tennessee. (ECF No. 1 at 2.) United States District Judge William L. Campbell, Jr., granted the motion to proceed in forma pauperis, assessed the civil filing fee pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a)-(b), and transferred Sanford's case to this Court. (ECF No. 9.) Sanford also filed motions for service on the Defendants, to set a hearing on the motion, and for a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order. (ECF Nos. 3, 4, 5, 13, 14.) On October 2, 2019, this Court denied those motions and directed the Clerk to modify the docket with Sanford's correct location. (ECF No. 15.)

         Sanford initially sued only CoreCivic and Correctional Officer Aaron Ivey, asserting claims of excessive force and denial of due process. (ECF No. 1 at 4-7.) On August 21, 2019, Sanford filed an amended complaint restating the allegations and claims in the original complaint, (ECF No. 12 at 1-8, 19-28), and joining additional Defendants Margaret Armour, Helen Colby, Linda Green, LaToya Jackson, John Johnson, and Joseph Medina. Sanford alleges these new Defendants denied him access to the law library, denied him access to the courts, and unlawfully retaliated against him. (Id. at 8-19, 28-30).

         The proper joinder of parties in a single lawsuit is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20.[1] Rule 20(a)(2) governs the joinder of Defendants and provides that multiple Defendants may be joined in one action 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.

         The Seventh Circuit has cogently explained how Rule 20(a)(2) applies to prisoner plaintiffs:

[M]ultiple 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 this [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 appeal 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); see also Dykes v. Benson, No. 1:18-cv-664, 2018 WL 3708054, at *4 (W.D. Mich. Aug. 2, 2018) (“Permitting improper joinder in a prisoner civil rights action also undermines the purpose of the PLRA, which was to reduce the large number of frivolous prisoner lawsuits that were being filed in the federal courts.”).

         The new claims in the amended complaint are misjoined in this action because they are completely unrelated to the claims in Sanford's initial complaint and seek relief against entirely unrelated Defendants. However, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21 provides that “[m]isjoinder 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.” The Court finds that severing the additional claims raised in the amended complaint against Defendants Armour, Colby, Green, Jackson, Johnson, and Medina and opening them as a new action is the appropriate remedy for the misjoinder. The initial complaint, (ECF No. 1), is the only operative complaint in this case, number 19-1139.[2] The Clerk shall record the Defendants as CoreCivic and Correctional Officer Aaron Ivey.

         Sanford alleges that on June 18, 2018, he was ordered to report to work in HCCF's kitchen. (ECF No. 1 at 2.) When his cell door did not open, he pushed the call button to request his release to go to the kitchen on time. (Id. at 3.) Sanford heard only static as a response and told the officers on the other end that he could not hear them. (Id.) He eventually told them to open his door if he could hear them, and his door was opened. (Id.) Sanford went to the control booth to tell the officers that he could not hear them in his cell. (Id.) Defendant Ivey was on duty and told Sanford, “Every time I work over here you got a problem.” (Id.) Sanford insisted Ivey was thinking of someone else, but Ivey began to swear at Sanford, telling him, “Yo b---h a-- want a problem, you gon' get one today.” (Id.) Sanford allegedly said nothing and left for the kitchen. (Id.)

         As Sanford walked down the hallway to the kitchen, he heard a door close behind him. (Id. at 3-4.) He then heard a male voice yelling obscenities at him and turned around to see Defendant Ivey coming quickly towards him. (Id. at 4.) Sanford “was forced to take a defensive stance because it appeared [Ivey] was coming to have a physical altercation.” (Id.) Ivey said to Sanford, “"I told yo b---h a-- you was gon' have a problem.” (Id.) Sanford asked Ivey what was wrong, and Ivey responded by pulling out his CO2 spray, a chemical agent. (Id.) Sanford cried out, “Don't spray me!”, but Ivey still sprayed Sanford with ...

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