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George v. Smith

United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

October 17, 2007, Submitted; November 9, 2007, Decided

No. 07-1325

Opinion

 [*606] 

EASTERBROOK, Chief Judge. Larry George, one of Wisconsin's prisoners, sued 24 persons who have had some role in his confinement--guards, wardens, nurses, members of the parole board, and more. His sprawling complaint charges some defendants with failing to provide adequate medical care, others with censoring his mail, yet others with mishandling his applications for parole, and so on. The district court dismissed some of his claims on the pleadings, see George v. Smith, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16139 (W.D. Wis. Aug. 2, 2005), and the rest on summary judgment, seeGeorge v. Tritt, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2421 (W.D. Wis. Jan. 10, 2007), George v. Smith, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92290 (W.D. Wis. Dec. 12, 2006),  [**2] and 467 F. Supp. 2d 906 (W.D. Wis. 2006).

 [*607]  The district court did not question George's decision to join 24 defendants, and approximately 50 distinct claims, in a single suit. It should have done so. The controlling principle appears in Fed. R. Civ. P. 18(a): ] "A party asserting a claim to relief as an original claim, counterclaim, cross-claim, or third-party claim, may join, either as independent or as alternate claims, as many claims, legal, equitable, or maritime, as the party has against an opposing party." Thus ] 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. Unrelated claims against different defendants belong in different suits, not only to prevent the sort of morass that this 50-claim, 24-defendant suit produced but also to ensure that prisoners pay the required filing fees--for the Prison Litigation Reform Act limits to 3 the number of frivolous suits or appeals that any prisoner may file without prepayment of the required fees. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). George was trying not only to save money but also to dodge that rule. He hoped that if even 1 of his 50 claims were deemed non-frivolous,  [**3] he would receive no "strikes" at all, as opposed to the 49 that would result from making 49 frivolous claims in a batch of 50 suits. The district judge likewise assumed that a single non-frivolous claim in a blunderbuss complaint makes the suit as a whole non-frivolous.

In allowing George to pursue this mishmash of a complaint, the district court may have been influenced by Boriboune v. Berge, 391 F.3d 852 (7th Cir. 2004). In 2002 the district court had ruled that multiple prisoners cannot join as plaintiffs in a civil suit, notwithstanding the first sentence of Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a):] "All persons may join in one action as plaintiffs if they assert any right to relief jointly, severally, or in the alternative in respect of or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences and if any question of law or fact common to all these persons will arise in the action." ] We held in Boriboune that the PLRA does not supersede Rule 20, though it does require each plaintiff to pay a separate filing fee and expose each plaintiff to a "strike" if any claim in the consolidated complaint is frivolous. After Boriboune the district court has taken an anything-goes  [**4] approach. But Boriboune does not require this. It holds that the Rules of Civil Procedure apply to suits by prisoners. See also, e.g., Pratt v. Hurley, 79 F.3d 601 (7th Cir. 1996) (a district court may not limit prisoners to one civil case on file at a time).

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507 F.3d 605 *; 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 26128 **

LARRY GEORGE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. JUDY SMITH, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 05-C-0403-C--Barbara B. Crabb, Chief Judge.

George v. Smith, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16139 (W.D. Wis., Aug. 2, 2005)George v. Smith, 467 F. Supp. 2d 906, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93242 (W.D. Wis., 2006)George v. Smith, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92290 (W.D. Wis., Dec. 12, 2006)George v. Tritt, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2421 (W.D. Wis., Jan. 10, 2007)

Disposition: AFFIRMED.

CORE TERMS

district court, prison, frivolous, join, advertisements, atlas

Civil Procedure, Pleading & Practice, Joinder of Claims & Remedies, Joinder of Claims, In Forma Pauperis, Prisoners, General Overview, Misjoinder, Parties, Joinder of Parties, Civil Rights Law, Prisoner Rights, Prison Litigation Reform Act, Three Strikes Provision, Protection of Rights, Welfare, Freedom of Speech, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Freedoms, Freedom of Speech, Forums, Criminal Law & Procedure, Postconviction Proceedings, Imprisonment, Pleadings, Complaints, Requirements for Complaint, Scope, Appeals, Frivolous Appeals, Discipline, Immunity From Liability, Local Officials, Individual Capacity, Scope, Law Enforcement Officials, Prison Officials, Safety