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Blevins v. Pearson

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

November 30, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on review of the amended complaint[1] submitted by plaintiff Jordan Mitchell Blevins, a Minnesota state prisoner. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. For the reasons discussed below, it is recommended that this action be dismissed in its entirety.


         Blevins was previously an inmate at the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center. Defendant Todd Pearson, a deputy at that facility, came to learn that Blevins is homosexual and made several derogatory comments about Blevins's sexual orientation in the presence of other inmates, including specifically “How long have you been gay Jordan?”; “You know my beliefs say its wrong”; “[the] Bible says you go to hell”; and “[the] Bible isn't wrong you are Jordan.” Am. Compl. at 10 [ECF No. 5-1]. Another deputy, defendant Andy Reinke, also made a comment to Blevins - “who got the furniture in the divorce, you or him?” - that Blevins regarded as derogatory. Id. at 6. Blevins filed a grievance about the comments, but Pearson was allowed to keep his job, which often included work in the food-service areas. Id. at 6. In an effort to avoid Pearson and in protest against the alleged mistreatment by jail officials, Blevins went 23 days without food. Id. at 6, 13. Blevins alleges that his grievances were ultimately ignored by defendant Macy Tesmer, the jail official responsible for handling such grievances. Id. at 6-7. That said, defendant Brian Howard, who is described by Blevins as “the jail administrator” and “top of the chain of command” at the jail, apologized for Pearson's comments a few weeks after they were made and ordered that Pearson no longer work around Blevins. Id. at 9.

         Unrelated to the above incidents, Blevins alleges that his parole agent, defendant Mary Eichten, attempted to interfere in romantic relationships between Blevins and two other individuals (a former boyfriend and Blevins's current husband). The nature of the interference is not entirely clear from the complaint, except insofar as Eichten placed several calls to the director of the facility where Blevins was then residing asking about Blevins's relationships. See Am. Compl. at 8. Eichten also made Blevins sign a “release” before marrying his now-husband. Id. Defendant Alex Bunger, a supervising agent, is alleged by Blevins to have ignored complaints about Eichten's behavior. Id. at 7.

         Finally, also unrelated to the above incidents, defendant Will White, another deputy at the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center, opened legal mail that had been sent to Blevins - the third time that Blevins's legal mail had been opened while incarcerated, though by all indications the first time that White had done so. See Am. Compl. at 7. A jail sergeant acknowledged to Blevins that White had improperly opened legal mail, “apologize[d] for our staff's error, ” and gave “White some training and some coaching in hopes that this does not happen again.” Id. at 12.

         II. ANALYSIS A. Joinder

         Blevins's claims can be grouped into three categories: (1) claims related to harassment while incarcerated at the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center; (2) claims related to alleged interference with romantic relationships by his parole officer; and (3) claims related to the opening of his legal mail. As an initial matter, it is doubtful that all three sets of claims should have been brought in a single lawsuit. Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2),

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.

         Seven defendants are named in the amended complaint. Four of the defendants (Pearson, Reinke, Tesmer, and Howard) relate to the first set of claims; the fifth and sixth defendants (Eichten and Bunger) relates to the second set of claims; and the seventh defendant (White) relates to the third set of claims. No question of law or fact is common among the three claims, and the “series of transactions or occurrences” related to each claim are entirely separable. “[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 . . . .” George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007). “[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.

         Rule 20(a)(2) serves two purposes in prisoner litigation. First, preventing the joinder of unrelated defendants in the same action prevents the “‘morass' produced by multi-claim, multi-defendants suits . . . .” Owens v. Hinsley, 635 F.3d 950, 952 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting George, 507 F.3d at 607). Second, the Prison Litigation Reform Act requires prisoners to pay the filing fee for all civil actions (albeit in installments if proceeding in forma pauperis (“IFP”)), and it limits the number of meritless lawsuits and appeals that a prisoner may file before eligibility for IFP status is thereafter revoked. See George, 507 F.3d at 607 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b), (g)). A prisoner who might otherwise be required to pay multiple filing fees for multiple lawsuits might therefore hope to avoid this obligation by combining unrelated claims against unrelated defendants into a single action-with the added hope that “a single non-frivolous claim in a blunderbuss complaint [could make] the suit as a whole non-frivolous.” Id.

         Nevertheless, despite this substantial problem of misjoinder-and because dismissal of the entire action is necessary anyway-this Court will consider the amended complaint as pleaded, with all three sets of claims. Blevins is warned, however, that future complaints submitted in federal court must comply with Rule 20 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or Blevins will ...

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