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Biggins v. Denn

United States District Court, D. Delaware

May 31, 2018

MATT DENN, et al., Defendants.


         The plaintiff, James Arthur Biggins ("Biggins"), an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("VCC), Smyrna, Delaware, filed this lawsuit on December 4, 2017. (D.I. 3.) He proceeds pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis [1] He has also filed a motion for an emergency injunction. (D.I. 14.) The court now proceeds to review and screen the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A(a).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Biggins filed the complaint alleging violations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[2] The complaint states that Biggins filed two actions in the Delaware State Courts: Biggins v. Coupe, C.A. No. 16C-11-238 MMJ (Del. Super.) dismissed December 16, 2016, after Biggins was denied leave to proceed in forma pauperis, and Biggins v. Carney, C.A. No. K17C-02-038 JJC (Del. Super.) dismissed March 1, 2017, as factually and legally frivolous. (D.I. 3, Exs. A, B.) The instant complaint states, "the plaintiff consolidates both cases and delete[s] or add[s] some defendants for this court's review of merit and subsequent filing." (D.I. 3 at 2.) In his motion for injunctive relief Biggins states, "this is an action consolidated of two cases from the Delaware Superior Court involving multiple state and federal constitutional rights and statutes." (D.I. 14 at 1.) Biggins alleges he was denied access to the courts (apparently State court) because no avenues exist to correct mistakes.

         The complaint lists 92 defendants in its caption and raises three discrete claims: correctional staff deficiencies, medical staff deficiencies, and hazardous environment conditions. There is no prayer for relief.


         A federal court may properly dismiss an action sua sponte under the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b) if "the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 452 (3d Cir. 2013); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (in forma pauperis actions); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (actions in which prisoner seeks redress from a governmental defendant); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (prisoner actions brought with respect to prison conditions). The court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light most favorable to a pro se plaintiff. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). Because Biggins proceeds pro se, his pleading is liberally construed and his complaint, "however in artfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 94 (citations omitted).

         Rule 8(a)(1) states that a pleading that states a claim for relief must contain a demand for the relief sought. Rule 8(d)(1) states, in pertinent part, that "[e]ach allegation must be simple, concise and direct." Rule 20(1)(a)(2), which is also applicable, states, in pertinent part, as follows:

Persons may... be joined in one action as defendants 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)(A) and (B). "In exercising its discretion [to join parties], the District Court must provide a reasoned analysis that comports with the requirements of the Rule, and that is based on the specific fact pattern presented by the plaintiffs and claims before the court." Hagan v. Rogers, 570 F.3d 146, 157 (3d Cir. 2009); see also Boretsky v. Governor of New Jersey, 433 Fed.Appx. 73, 77 (3d Cir. 2011).


         Biggins frames this action as a consolidation of two cases he filed in the Delaware Superior Court, one of which was dismissed as factually and legally frivolous. Biggins did not see fit to provide either Superior Court complaint to the court, and neither is considered as a complaint filed in this court. The operative complaint is found at docket item 3. To the extent Biggins seeks to raise those claims dismissed on March 1, 2017, in Biggins v. Carney, C.A. No. K17C-02-038 JJC (Del. Super.), he is barred from doing so under the doctrine of claim preclusion which limits a party's ability to raise claims that either were or could have been litigated in a prior action. See Reaves v. Pennsylvania Board of Prob. & Parole, 580 Fed.Appx. 49, 52 (3d Cir. 2014) (unpublished). The complaint in C.A. No. K17C-02-038 JJC was dismissed as factually and legally frivolous and Biggins' appeal was dismissed after he failed to pay the filing. See Biggins v. Carney, No. 183, 2017 (Del. 2017) (appeal dismissed July 12, 2017, for failure to pay the filing fee). Moreover, Biggins may not use this court as a means to seek relief for claims considered and dismissed by the Delaware Courts. Allowing him to do so would allow him to use the federal courts to appeal state court judgments and, thus, would run afoul of the Rooker Feldman doctrine. See Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482 (1983).

         The complaint contain three discrete claims against 92 defendants in violation of Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a). Naming 92 defendants makes the complaint unmanageable. Moreover, the three discrete claims appear to have different factual and legal issues. While joinder is encouraged for purposes of judicial economy, the "Federal Rules do not contemplate joinder of different actions against different parties which present entirely different factual and legal issues." Zhu v. Countrywide Realty Co., Inc., 160 F.Supp.2d 1210, 1225 (D. Kan. 2001) (citation omitted). And, because none of the defendants are referred to in the complaint, it is impossible to determine whether the three discrete claims involve issues of law or fact common to all 92 defendants

         In addition, the complaint is deficiently pled. It consists of legal conclusions without supporting facts and fails to meet the pleading requirements of Iqbal See Ascroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). The instant complaint lists 92 defendants in its caption, none of whom are mentioned in the body of the complaint. The correctional staff deficiencies claim does not reference one defendant or any time-frame. Nor are there allegations that any action was taken against Biggins. The medical staff deficiencies claims contains no dates and no named defendants, but does refer to actions or inactions that Biggins claims violated his rights. Finally, the hazardous environment conditions claim does not reference a single defendant. Nor does it indicate whether Biggins is housed in or near the area where the asbestos removal is taking place. With regard to a time frame, it merely mentions that asbestos removal began in November 2016. Also, it is evident from their titles that many of the defendants hold supervisory positions, some defendants are immune from suit, and other defendants are not State actors. Finally, Biggins seeks to raise claims that have been considered and rejected by the Delaware Superior Court.

         "The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA"), which substantially changed the judicial treatment of civil rights actions by state and federal prisoners, also compels compliance with Rule 20. Specifically, under the PLRA the full filing fee must ultimately be paid in a non-habeas action. Allowing a prisoner to include a plethora of separate, independent claims, would circumvent the filing fee requirements of the PLRA." Mincy v. Klem, 2007 WL 1576444, at *1 (M.D. Pa. May 30, 2007). See George v. Smith,507 F.3d 605, 507 (7th Cir. 2007) ("The "[u]nrelated claims against different defendants belong in different suits, not only to prevent the sort of morass that this [multiple]-claim, [multiplej-defendant suit produced but also to ensure that prisoners pay the required filing fees."). See also Smith v. Kirby, 53 Fed.Appx. 14, 16 (10th Cir. 2002) (unpublished) (finding no abuse of discretion where district court ...

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