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Putnam v. Shelby County

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Frankfort

May 31, 2018

TERRY MICHAEL PUTNAM, Plaintiff,
v.
SHELBY COUNTY, KENTUCKY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Terry Michael Putnam is an inmate confined at the Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington, Kentucky. Proceeding without an attorney, Mr. Putnam has filed a civil rights complaint against prison officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and a motion to proceed in forma pauperis. [R. 1; R. 3.] The Court has reviewed the fee motion and will grant the request on the terms established by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b). Because Mr. Putnam has been granted pauper status in this proceeding, the $50.00 administrative fee is waived. District Court Miscellaneous Fee Schedule, § 14.

         The Court must conduct a preliminary review of Mr. Putnam's complaint because he has been granted permission to pay the filing fee in installments and because he asserts claims against government officials. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A. A district court must dismiss any claim that 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. Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). When testing the sufficiency of his complaint, the Court affords it a forgiving construction, accepting as true all non-conclusory factual allegations and liberally construing its legal claims in the plaintiff's favor. Davis v. Prison Health Servs., 679 F.3d 433, 437-38 (6th Cir. 2012).

         Mr. Putnam's claims arise from his incarceration at two different facilities—the Shelby County Jail and the Oldham County Jail.[1] In his complaint, Mr. Putnam alleges that, although he was initially arrested in Shelby County and booked into the Shelby County Jail, he was immediately transferred to the Oldham County Jail. He was housed in the Oldham County Jail from January 6, 2016 until approximately August 1, 2016. Mr. Putnam alleges that, while he was housed in the Oldham County Jail, he was improperly placed in solitary confinement and was refused access to both a medical doctor and a psychiatrist. He alleges that these actions constitute violations of his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

         Mr. Putnam further alleges that he was transferred back to the Shelby County Jail on September 2, 2016, where he remained until approximately June 28, 2017. Mr. Putnam alleges that he was again refused access to both a medical doctor and a psychiatrist by officials at the Shelby County Jail. He alleges that these actions constitute additional violations of his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

         As an initial matter, Mr. Putnam has improperly joined the Shelby County claims and the Oldham County claims in one action. The joinder of multiple claims is governed by Rule 18 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 18(a) states that “[a] party asserting a claim, counterclaim, crossclaim, or third-party claim may join, as independent or alternative claims, as many claims as it has against an opposing party.” Where, as here, a plaintiff attempts to join claims against multiple defendants, Rule 20(a) provides the governing rule:

(2) Persons . . . may be joined in one action as defendants if:
(A) 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
(B) any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(2)(emphasis added). Thus, under the plain language of Rule 20(a)(2), joinder is appropriate only if both requirements are met: (1) the plaintiff's claims arise from the “same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences;” and (2) “any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.” Id.

         The allegations in Mr. Putnam's complaint set forth Eighth Amendment Claims against the Oldham County Defendants arising from Mr. Putnam's confinement in the Oldham County Jail and a separate Eighth Amendment claim against the Shelby County Defendants arising from his confinement in the Shelby County Jail. However, there is no factual overlap between Mr. Putnam's Oldham County and Shelby County claims. Rather, these facilities are separate facilities with separate staff and procedures. Moreover, whether or not Mr. Putnam was denied access to medical care by the Oldham County officials has no relevance as to whether or not he was also denied access to medical care by the Shelby County officials. For all of these reasons, Mr. Putnam's Oldham and Shelby County claims do not arise out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences.

         To be sure, Mr. Putnam does allege that he was denied medical treatment at both the Shelby County Jail and the Oldham County Jail. Although these claims are based on the same legal theory, they are completely separate and independent claims. Indeed, “the test for joinder is not whether claims arise from the same source of law.” Murriel-Don Coal Co. v. Aspen Ins. UK Ltd., 790 F.Supp.2d 590, 600 (E.D. Ky. 2011). Accordingly, Putnam's Oldham County claims are not properly joined with his Shelby County claims. George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007) (“Unrelated claims against different defendants belong in different suits...”).

         Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that “[m]isjoinder of parties is not a ground for dismissing an action. On motion or on its own, the court may at any time, on just terms, add or drop a party. The court may also sever any claim against a party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 21. Under this Rule, the Court “has broad discretion ‘to order a severance to avoid causing unreasonable prejudice and expense to the defendant ... and to avoid great inconvenience in the administration of justice.'” Proctor v. Applegate, 661 F.Supp.2d 743, 781 (E.D. Mich. 2009)(quoting Nail v. Michigan Dep't of Corrections, 2007 WL 4465247, *3 (E.D. Mich. 2007)(alterations in original). After carefully considering the issues and weighing its options under Rule 21, the Court concludes that the most economical and just manner in which to proceed is to sever Mr. Putnam's Eighth Amendment Claims against the Shelby County defendants from his unrelated claims against the Oldham County Defendants.

         However, adding another wrinkle to this case, Mr. Putnam's Oldham County claims are not properly filed in this district. A plaintiff must file a civil rights action in a district where one defendant resides if all defendants reside in the same state, or in a district where a substantial part of the relevant events occurred. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). While the Shelby County claims were properly filed in this district, the events giving rise to the Oldham County claims occurred in Oldham County, Kentucky, which is located in the Louisville division of the Western District of Kentucky, ...


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