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Stechauner v. Jess

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

July 26, 2019

MATTHEW C. STECHAUNER, Plaintiff,
v.
CATHY JESS, et al., Defendants.

          SCREENING ORDER

          WILLIAM E. DUFFIN U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Matthew Stechauner, who is representing himself, filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendants violated his constitutional rights. He also filed a motion to proceed without prepayment of the civil case filing fee under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and a motion to appoint counsel. This decision resolves Stechauner's motions and screens his complaint.

         1. Motion for Leave to Proceed without Prepayment of the Filing Fee

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) applies to this case because Stechauner was incarcerated when he filed his complaint. 28 U.S.C. § 1915. That law allows a court to give an incarcerated plaintiff the opportunity to proceed with his case without prepaying the civil case filing fee as long as he meets certain conditions. One of those conditions is that the plaintiff pay an initial partial filing fee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b). Once the plaintiff pays the initial partial filing fee, the court may allow him to pay the balance of the $350 filing fee over time through deductions from his prisoner account. Id.

         On June 13, 2019, the court ordered Stechauner to pay an initial partial filing fee of $1.02; he paid the fee about a week later. Accordingly, the court will grant his motion to proceed without prepayment of the filing fee. Stechauner will have to pay the remainder of the fee over time in the manner described at the end of this order.

         2. Screening the Complaint

         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 legally “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. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         To state a cognizable claim under the federal notice pleading system, a plaintiff is required to provide a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To state a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: 1) he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and 2) the deprivation was visited upon him by a person or persons acting under color of state law. Buchanan-Moore v. County of Milwaukee, 570 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Kramer v. Village of North Fond du Lac, 384 F.3d 856, 861 (7th Cir. 2004)); see also Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980).

         Additionally, under the controlling principle of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 18(a), “[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 PLRA. George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007). “A party asserting a claim . . . may join, as independent or alternate claims, as many claims as it has against an opposing party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 18(a). Under this rule, “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. Joinder of multiple defendants into one case is proper only if “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 any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2).

         Stechauner's complaint violates Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 18 and 20 because it advances unrelated claims against different sets of defendants. First, Stechauner alleges that a correctional officer gave him the wrong medication dosage, which resulted in him having to go to the emergency room. He alleges that the prison's policy of allowing correctional officers to hand out medication instead of requiring nurses to hand out medication violates his rights under the Eighth Amendment. The court will refer to these allegations as Lawsuit #1.

         He next alleges that a correctional officer refused to give him copies of notarized documents before mailing the documents to the court, thereby violating his right to access the courts. The court will refer to these allegations as Lawsuit #2.

         He also alleges that, on multiple occasions, some of the defendants allowed him to hurt himself while he was housed in segregation. He asserts that no one stopped him from choking himself with his bedsheet, banging his head and punching the cell walls until his head and hands were swollen and bloody, and/or cutting himself with a razor. Stechauner alleges that he did not receive adequate medical care after some incidents. He also alleges that, after one of the incidents, his injuries were so significant that he had to go to the emergency room. The court will refer to these allegations as Lawsuit #3.

         Finally, Stechauner asserts that some of the defendants failed to protect him from other inmates who were sexually harassing and assaulting him. (It is not clear from Stechauner's allegations how these defendants knew that Stechauner was being harassed/assaulted by other inmates.) The court will refer to these allegations as Lawsuit #4.

         Under Rules 18 and 20, Stechauner cannot pursue Lawsuits #1, 2, 3, and 4 in a single case. The lawsuits do not involve all of the same defendants nor do they have questions of law and fact in common. That does not mean that Stechauner cannot pursue all four of the lawsuits. It means only that he must pursue each one in a separate case and pay a separate filing fee for each case. The court ...


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