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Daywitt v. Mesojedec

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

February 5, 2019

Kenneth Steven Daywitt, Merel Evans Bishop, and Bet Elohim Congregation, Plaintiffs,
v.
Chad Mesojedec, et al., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Leo I. Brisbois United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter comes before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge upon routine supervision of the cases that pend before the Court pursuant to a general assignment made in accordance with the provision of 28 U.S.C. § 636, and upon Plaintiffs' Applications to Proceeds in forma pauperis. [Docket Nos. 2, 3].

         Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges violations of Plaintiffs' religious rights, Plaintiffs' right to equal protection, and the Religious Land Use Institutionalized Persons Act. (Compl. [Docket No. 1]). The Complaint generally concerns how certain government officials overseeing the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (hereinafter “MSOP”) have handled requests made by certain individuals civilly committed to the MSOP who profess to adhere to Orthodox Judaism. (See, Id. at 3, 6-11). Plaintiffs contend that officials' handling of these requests has led to various legal violations, including violations of the United States Constitution, the Minnesota Constitution, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc to 2000cc-5 (RLUIPA). (See, Compl., [Docket No. 1], at 12-14).

         The Court first addresses Plaintiff “Bet Elohim Congregation.”[1] The Complaint describes the Bet Elohim Congregation as “the body of believers in which members of the Jewish community at MSOP-Moose Lake belong to.” (Compl., [Docket No. 1], at 3). Any claims by Plaintiff Bet Elohim Congregation in this litigation, as well as, Plaintiff Bet Elohim Congregation, must be dismissed. Plaintiffs are not represented here by an attorney-Daywitt and Bishop are representing themselves pro se, and do not purport to be lawyers-and it is well established that “pro se litigants may not represent the interests of other parties in federal litigation.” Prattville v. Warden of Fed. Prison Camp, No. 17-cv-5209 (MJD/TNL), 2018 WL 6182593, at *3 (D. Minn. Aug. 31, 2018) (citing statute and cases), report and recommendation adopted, 2018 WL 6179512 (D. Minn. Nov. 27, 2018). Daywitt and Bishop may be members of this congregation, but they cannot represent that separate party's interests in this matter. See, Prattville, 2018 WL 6182593, at *3. Daywitt's and Bishop's claims in this matter going forward are limited to their own individual claims against Defendants.

         Therefore, the undersigned recommends that any claims by Plaintiff Bet Elohim Congregation in this action be dismissed without prejudice.

         The Court next considers the propriety of the Complaint proceedings with Plaintiffs Daywitt and Bishop as co-Plaintiffs. The decision to prosecute this matter as one lawsuit with two separate plaintiffs creates needless procedural complexities that are likely to impede the expedient administration of justice. It is therefore recommended that this matter be split into two separate proceedings, one for each plaintiff. See, Acevedo v. Allsup's Convenience Stores, Inc., 600 F.3d 516, 521 (5th Cir. 2010) (noting that “district courts have the discretion to refuse joinder in the interest of avoiding prejudice and delay, ensuring judicial economy, or safeguarding principles of fundamental fairness, ” even where standard for joinder under Rule 20 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is otherwise met. (citations omitted)). For several reasons, the undersigned finds this to be the best course of action “to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of” this action. See, Fed.R.Civ.P. 1.

         First, both Plaintiff Daywitt and Plaintiff Bishop have applied for in forma pauperis (“IFP”) status. But it appears from the financial documents provided to the Court that both Plaintiffs may not independently qualify financially for IFP status.

         The IFP form submitted by Plaintiff Daywitt appears to indicate that he has averaged $5, 000.00 in employment income and $12, 000.00 in gift based income per month for the past twelve months. (Plf. Daywitt's IFP Application [Docket No. 2]). It is difficult to conclude, from the information available to the Court, that Daywitt would be unable to “afford the costs of proceeding without undue hardship or deprivation of the necessities of life.” Ayers v. Texas Dep't of Criminal Justice, 70 F.3d 1268, 1268 (5th Cir. 1995) (per curiam).

         This creates a problem not only for Daywitt, but for Bishop as well if this matter where to be permitted to proceed as one lawsuit. On the record presently before the Court, it is doubtful that Daywitt would be permitted to proceed without payment of the filing fee if he had brought this matter alone. If Daywitt cannot proceed IFP, then Bishop may not proceed IFP if they are jointly prosecuting this matter. See, Anderson v. California, No. 10-cv-2216 (MMA/AJB), 2010 WL 4316996, at *1 (S.D. Cal. Oct. 27, 2010) (noting that “if multiple plaintiffs seek to proceed in forma pauperis, each plaintiff must qualify for IFP status.”). But it appears Bishop would qualify financially for IFP status, at least when his applications is examined separately from Daywitt's application. Severing the plaintiffs into separate lawsuits will permit the litigants who are entitled to proceed IFP to do so.

         Second, as already noted the Complaint alleges violations of Religious Rights, Equal Protection, and Religious Land Use Institutionalized Persons Act. (Compl. [Docket No. 1]). At its core, the Complaint concerns how certain government officials overseeing the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (hereinafter “MSOP”) have handled requests made by certain individuals civilly committed to the MSOP who profess to adhere to Orthodox Judaism. (See, Id. at 3, 6-11). If any requests were made by one of the individual Plaintiffs, then the application of the law to that request would differ from the application of that law to a request by a separate Plaintiff. While Plaintiffs appear to argue their claims as a single unit, they are individual Plaintiffs with differing underlying facts. Put another way, while the legal claims raised by each of the Plaintiffs may be identical or similar, the facts related to each Plaintiff will be different.

         In addition, concerns regarding Rule 11 warrant not allowing multiple pro se Plaintiffs to proceed together in one action. Rule 11(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures provides that:

         By presenting to the court a pleading, written motion, or other paper-whether by signing, filing, submitting, or later advocating it-an attorney or unrepresented party certifies that to the best of the person's knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances:

(1) it is not being presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation;
(2) the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing ...

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