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Covington v. Wisconsin Department of Corrections

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

September 26, 2016

REO COVINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM M. CONLEY DISTRICT JUDGE

         In his proposed civil complaint, pro se plaintiff Reo Covington contends that prison staff at the Oshkosh and Racine Correctional Institutions violated his rights under the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes and state law. He has also submitted multiple requests for preliminary injunctive relief (dkts. ##8, 13, and 18), and two motions for assistance in recruiting counsel. (Dkts. ##2, 9). Having been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis and made an initial partial payment of the filing fee, the next step would normally be for the court to screen Covington's complaint as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.[1] The court cannot conduct the required screening, however, because Covington's amended complaint violates Rule 20 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         Rule 20 prohibits litigants from bringing unrelated claims against different defendants in a single action. As explained in more detail below, Covington's complaint contains at least three, unrelated claims against different defendants. Accordingly, Covington must choose which lawsuit he wishes to pursue as Case No. 16-cv-217.

         Once Covington has made his selection, the court will then screen that claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The other, unrelated claims will be dismissed without prejudice to bringing them in separate lawsuits, provided the applicable statute of limitations has not expired. As for Covington's other pending motions, his requests for injunctive relief and for assistance in recruiting counsel will be denied for the reasons explained below.

         OVERVIEW OF ALLEGATIONS[2]

         While incarcerated at Racine Correctional Institution ("RCI"), Covington alleges that he was given a program review hearing regarding his placement, program needs, and eligibility for Wisconsin's Early Release Program ("ERP"). The program review committee rejected Covington's request to be enrolled in the ERP on the ground that his mental illnesses made him ineligible. Instead, they transferred him to Oshkosh Correctional Institution ("OCI") to participate in alcohol and drug abuse programming.

         While incarcerated at OCI, Covington alleges that he was subjected to a sexual assault by a prison doctor, harsh conditions of confinement in observation, denial of adequate treatment for his mental health needs and violation of his right to practice his religion.

         OPINION

         I. Rule 20.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 20 prohibits a plaintiff from asserting unrelated claims against different defendants or sets of defendants in the same lawsuit. Multiple defendants may not be joined in a single action unless the plaintiff: (1) asserts at least one claim to relief against each defendant that arises out of the same transaction or occurrence or series of transactions or occurrences; and (2) presents questions of law or fact common to all. George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007). Covington's complaint includes at least three claims against different sets of defendants, ranging from his allegations about the program review hearing to sexual assault to denial of mental healthcare.

         Although Fed.R.Civ.P. 18 allows a party to join unrelated claims against defendants in a single suit, this rule applies only after the requirements for joinder of parties have been satisfied under Rule 20. See Intercon Research Assn., Ltd. v. Dresser Ind., Inc., 696 F.2d 53, 57 (7th Cir. 1983). As a result, the core set of allowable defendants must be determined under Rule 20 before a plaintiff may join additional unrelated claims against one or more of those same defendants under Rule 18. Fed.R.Civ.P. 18(a).

         Applying Rules 18 and 20 to Covington's complaint, his allegations may be grouped into three possible, separate lawsuits consisting of the following claims:

Lawsuit #1: Covington's claims that his rights under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act were violated at RCI when he was denied ...

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