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Blood v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

April 24, 2009

GEORGE WILLIAM BLOOD AND SRIKANTH RAGHUNATHAN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conaboy

Magistrate Judge Blewitt

MEMORANDUM

Here we consider Plaintiffs' Objections to Magistrate Judge Blewitt's Order Dated March 17, 2009. (Doc. 15.) In his order, Magistrate Judge Blewitt concluded that Plaintiffs should not be permitted to proceed jointly in the above-captioned action. (Doc. 14.) With their objections, filed on April 2, 2009, Plaintiffs present several bases for the Court to reject the Magistrate Judge's determination. (Doc. 15.) For the reasons discussed below, we concur with the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that the Plaintiffs in this action should not be allowed to proceed jointly.

I. Background

Plaintiffs are both inmates at the Federal Prison Camp at Lewisburg ("FPC-Lewisburg"), Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 14 at 1.) They filed their four-count pro se Complaint (Doc. 1) in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on January 29, 2009, and the Complaint was transferred to this Court on February 3, 2009. (Doc. 5.) In their Complaint, Plaintiffs assert that they each have pending, or are preparing to file, cases in at least two other district courts of courts of appeal. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 3-4.) Plaintiffs assert that on April 21 and 29, 2008, Lewisburg staff received and opened Plaintiff Raghunathan's legal mail and enclosed documents (criminal case docket) without him present, denied him possession of his criminal case docket and returned the legal documents without him having had an opportunity to review them. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.) Plaintiffs further assert that on June 26, 2008, Lewisburg staff received and opened Plaintiff Blood's legal mail and enclosed documents (criminal case docket) without him present and returned it without him having had an opportunity to review it. (Id. ¶ 7.) They also assert that Lewisburg staff received and opened "Plaintiffs' legal mail, not in the presence of inmate, and then delivered to inmate through the regular mail system."*fn1 Plaintiffs allege this mail was clearly identified as coming from an attorney, contained legal documents and was clearly marked "LEGAL MATERIAL - TO BE OPENED IN INMATE'S PRESENCE ONLY" on July 31, 2008. (Id. ¶ 10.) Plaintiffs make an assertion identical to that of April 26, 2008, regarding mail received and opened on August 11, 2008. (Id. ¶ 14.) The Complaint also indicates Plaintiff Blood complained of at least some of these events and received responses to same. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 8-9, 11-13.)

Based on the events relating to Plaintiffs' legal mail, including the responses received to complaints to prison officials, on January 29, 2009, Plaintiffs filed their pro se Complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against the Federal Bureau of Prisons. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiffs assert that jurisdiction is based on 28 U.S.C. § 1361 (Doc. 1 at 3), an action to compel an officer of the United States to perform a duty, and 28 U.S.C. § 1331, federal question jurisdiction. The four counts contained in the Complaint are identified as follows: Count 1, a Request for Preliminary Injunction and Permanent Injunction, which seeks to enjoin and restrain Defendant from "[i]nhibiting or restricting Plaintiff's from physically receiving and possessing all of their legal materials" (Doc. 1 at 9); Count 2, claiming Defendant violated 28 C.F.R. § 543.11 (id.); Count 3, claiming Defendant has acted contrary to its Program Statement 1315.07 (id. at 10); and Count 4, claiming Defendant has misapplied Program Statement 1351.05 in violation of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights (id. at 12).

On February 3, 2009, the District of Columbia District Court transferred this case to the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (Doc. 5.) Since neither Plaintiff filed a proper in forma pauperis motion and authorization form, a 30-day Administrative Order was issued directing Plaintiffs to pay the filing fee or to file their own in forma pauperis motions and authorization forms. (Doc. 8.)

Plaintiff Raghunathan filed a proper in forma pauperis motion and authorization form for himself on March 5, 2009. (Docs. 10 and 11.) Plaintiff Blood did not file a motion or authorization form. In a letter to the Clerk of Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania dated March 1, 2009, and docketed on March 5, 2009, Plaintiffs explained, among other things, that they were enclosing one application to proceed in forma pauperis and one authorization form to have the full amount of the filing fee withdrawn from Plaintiff Raghunathan's account. (Doc. 12 at 1.) On March 11, 2009, the Clerk of Court sent an Administrative Order to the FCPLewisburg warden directing him to deduct the entire filing fee for the case from Plaintiff Raghunathan's inmate account.*fn2 (Doc. 13.)

The Magistrate Judge found "Plaintiffs are attempting to impermissibly join their separate claims which assert independent claims arising out of incidents unique to them." (Doc. 14 at 2.) Magistrate Judge Blewitt also concluded that Plaintiffs seek to improperly join in the paying of a single filing fee for this action and that each Plaintiff must pursue his separate and distinct claims in his own civil rights action. (Doc. 14 at 3.) The Magistrate Judge noted that no motion for class certification had been filed and, although Plaintiffs are confined in the same prison and allege similar improper conduct related to their legal mail and access/possession of legal materials, each Plaintiff must exhaust his own administrative remedies. (Id.) The Magistrate Judge also concluded that Plaintiffs are not entitled to relief under 28 U.S.C. § 1361. (Doc. 14 at 7.)

Plaintiffs object to the Magistrate Judge's Order on several grounds. (Doc. 15 at 2.) Plaintiffs first assert that the Court misconstrues/misapprehends Plaintiffs' action in that the Court considers the facts related to, and bases of, the action to be claims themselves. (Id.) Plaintiffs specifically identify the following claims: (a) Defendant violated 28 C.F.R. § 543.11; (b) Defendant acted contrary to Program Statement 1315.07; and (c) Defendant willfully misapplied Program Statement 1351.05 in violation of Plaintiffs' First, Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.*fn3

(Id.) They assert that because the Lewisburg staff reported that they were following program statements promulgated by the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") in Washington, the Federal Bureau of Prisons is the proper Defendant. (Doc. 15 ¶ 5.) We find the most succinct statement of Plaintiffs' claim in Plaintiffs' motion to reconsider the United States District Court of the District of Columbia's order transferring the case to the this Court: "The Plaintiffs alleged that the only event forming the basis of Plaintiffs' Complaint happened at the National Office of the B.O.P., . . . when the B.O.P. promulgated Program Statement 1351.0[5]*fn4 , which is in violation of Constitutional Amendments First, Fifth, Sixth, CFR Ch. 5 543.11 and B.O.P. Program Statement 1315.07." (Doc. 9 ¶ 2(A).)

Plaintiffs further object to the Magistrate Judge's Order with the assertion that the filing fee of $350.00 is for the action and should not be levied on each individual Plaintiff in this action because the Court's Order regarding IFP filings allows for multiple plaintiffs to file jointly and pay only one fee. (Doc. 15 ¶ 6 (citing Doc. 15 Exhibit A).) Plaintiffs next claim that joinder is proper under Rule 20 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in that they meet the requirements for permissive joinder set out in that rule. (Doc. 15 ¶ 9.) Plaintiffs also claim that exhaustion of administrative remedies is futile because BOP personnel have admitted that the conduct complained of is based on official BOP policies and they do not contest the facts asserted in this case. (Doc. 15 ¶ 10.) Finally, Plaintiffs reassert their right to relief under 28 U.S.C. § 1361. (Doc. 15 ¶ 11.)

II. Discussion

Plaintiffs' objections to the Report and Recommendation highlight the interplay between two statutory provisions--Rule 20 Joinder which addresses the permissive joinder of multiple plaintiffs and/or defendants in one action and 28 U.S.C. ยง 1915 which governs in forma pauperis proceedings and imposes limitations on in forma pauperis actions brought by prisoners. Because our decision rests on the propriety of joinder in this case, we will first address Plaintiffs assertion that ...


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