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Ali v. Haese

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

February 23, 2017

OUATI K. ALI, Plaintiff,


          J.P. Stadtmueller, U.S. District Judge

         On December 19, 2016, the Court screened Plaintiff's original complaint. (Docket #8). The Court found that Plaintiff failed to state any viable claims for relief but permitted him to amend his complaint. Id. at 6-7. Plaintiff submitted an amended complaint on December 29, 2016. (Docket #9). The Court screened the amended complaint, finding that Plaintiff could proceed on a First Amendment claim against the prison chaplain, Michael Donovan (“Donovan”), the social service program director, Michelle Haese (“Haese”), and the warden, Scott Eckstein (“Eckstein”) for deprivation of the right to free exercise of Plaintiff's religion. (Docket #10). These Defendants allegedly caused or participated in causing Plaintiff's exclusion from participation in the 2016 Ramadan fast. See Id. at 5-8.

         Despite being permitted to proceed, on February 21, 2017, Plaintiff submitted yet another amended complaint. (Docket #17). As noted in the first screening order, the Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint, or portion thereof, if the prisoner has raised claims that are “frivolous or malicious, ” that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. § 1915A(b). All of the standards cited in the first screening order remain applicable here. (Docket #8 at 1-3).

         Plaintiff's allegations in the second amended complaint largely track those made in the first amended complaint. Compare (Docket #9), with (Docket #17). Because this is the Court's third screening order in the short life of this case thus far, it will for brevity's sake assume familiarity with its prior screening orders and discuss only Plaintiff's new allegations. See (Docket #8 and #10).

         First, with respect to his claim that Haese denied him the ability to participate in the 2016 Ramadan fast, Plaintiff adds a few new factual details. (Docket #17 ¶¶ 20-24). Likewise, Plaintiff has included more specific factual allegations about his free exercise claim against Eckstein. Id. ¶ 25. The Court has already permitted Plaintiff to proceed against these defendants on his First Amendment free exercise claim, and the additional detail Plaintiff has provided does not require the Court to revisit that decision. See (Docket #10 at 5-8).[1]

         Plaintiff's other new allegations are, however, problematic. He has added several pages of new claims arising from alleged misconduct occurring since December 31, 2016. See Id. ¶¶ 28-36. Plaintiff states that he wrote to Haese on that date with a complaint about rules in his new prison dorm, which he believed interfered with his daily prayers as a practicing Muslim. Id. ¶ 28. He claims he was transferred to this new dorm because Haese was in charge of his old dorm, suggesting that the prison was trying to avoid any possibility of the appearance of reprisal for the instant suit. See Id. Next, on January 6, 2017, Plaintiff was placed in segregation after he wrote a letter to the “Muslim Volunteer” at the Green Bay Correctional Institution. Id. ¶ 29. On January 9, 2017, Plaintiff received some of his property while in segregation, but many of his legal papers were missing. Id. ¶ 30.

         On January 13, 2017, Program Supervisor Catherine Francios (“Francios”) issued Plaintiff a major conduct report for “soliciting an employee, ” in violation of Wisconsin Department of Corrections rules. Id. ¶ 31. He concedes that “[t]he allegations were partially true, ” but asserts that “the merits could be contested by documents of authorization, evidence, and witnesses for the Plaintiff, during the hearing.” Id. Plaintiff believes he was denied that evidence however, since he next alleges that on January 23, 2017, Security Supervisor Brian Bauman (“Bauman”) denied Plaintiff's request for a witness to appear at his hearing on the conduct report. Id. ¶ 32. That same day, Plaintiff had sent Francios a request for documents and evidence underlying the conduct report. Id. ¶ 33. She did not respond. Id.

         On January 26, 2017, Plaintiff requested a postponement of the hearing since he did not have the documents he requested from Francios. Id. ¶ 34. The hearing examiner for the conduct report hearing, Patrick Brant (“Brant”), denied the request. Id. ¶ 35. Brant found the conduct report was valid, in whole or in part (Plaintiff does not say), and imposed 30 days of “disciplinary separation” as a sanction. Id.

         Finally, on February 16, 2017, Plaintiff alleges that he met with Lieutenant Faltyski, Program Review Committee Supervisor R. Mohnen, and Haese. Id. ¶ 36. During the meeting, Haese told Plaintiff that his medium-custody status was being revoked as a result of his receiving a major conduct report. Id. Plaintiff claims Haese had a conflict of interest during this meeting, presumably because she is a defendant in the instant suit. See id.

         On these allegations, Plaintiff re-alleges his claim that he was denied participation in the 2016 Ramadan fast in violation of his First Amendment right to the free exercise of his religion. Id. ¶ 37. He also adds, based on the new allegations arising since December 31, 2016, a claim for deprivation of procedural due process, as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, in connection with the disciplinary proceedings arising from the January 13, 2017 conduct report. Id.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 18 permits a plaintiff to bring in one lawsuit every claim he has against a single defendant. Fed.R.Civ.P. 18(a). However, to join multiple defendants in a single action, Rule 20 requires that the plaintiff assert at least one claim against all of them “arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences” and that “any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.” Id. 20(a)(2). Working together, these two rules mean that “[u]nrelated claims against different defendants belong in different suits” so as to prevent prisoners from dodging the fee payment or three strikes provisions in the Prison Litigation Reform Act. George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007). Consequently, “multiple claims against a single party are fine, but Claim A against Defendant 1 should not be joined with unrelated Claim B against Defendant 2.” George, 507 F.3d at 607.

         Applying the George rule to this case, the Court cannot allow any of Plaintiff's new allegations-those arising since December 31, 2016-to proceed. First, although Haese is named as a defendant in this case already, he cannot proceed against her on his vague allegations that she has retaliated against him for either exercising his First Amendment rights or by filing this lawsuit. See Woodruff v. Mason, 542 F.3d 545, 551 (7th Cir. 2008) (identifying elements of First Amendment retaliation claim). He has not even tried to make such a claim, see (Docket #17 ¶ 37), and even if he did, the reprisal allegations do not share any common question of law or fact with the existing free exercise claim against Haese, Eckstein, and Donovan, which arose many months prior. Plaintiff might have brought a retaliation claim against Haese had she been the only defendant here, but that is not the situation Plaintiff faces. As a result, these claims cannot proceed within the context of this litigation.[2]

         The same reasoning bars the joinder of Plaintiff's claims relating to the January 13, 2017 conduct report. The relevant defendants, Francios, Bauman, and Brant, have no connection whatsoever to the alleged misconduct surrounding the 2016 Ramadan fast. Whatever the merits of his claim for denial of procedural due process with respect to the conduct report, it has nothing to do with his First Amendment claim which much earlier and against different individuals. Consequently, George requires the dismissal of these defendants and Plaintiff's procedural due process claim related to the conduct report.[3]

         To reiterate: Plaintiff's new allegations in his second amended complaint relating to alleged misconduct occurring on or after December 31, 2016, cannot be brought in this lawsuit. The present action is confined to Plaintiff's allegations of wrongdoing in connection with the 2016 Ramadan fast; it is not a forum for him to air every new disagreement he might have with prison staff. For the reasons stated above and in the Court's prior screening orders, the Court again concludes that Plaintiff will be permitted to proceed only ...

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