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Alexander v. Carmin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland

November 7, 2018

SHAWN CARMIN, et al., Defendants.



         Jimmie D. Alexander is an inmate confined at the Kentucky State Reformatory in Eddyville, Kentucky. Proceeding without an attorney, Alexander has filed a civil rights complaint against prison officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. [R. 1.] By separate order, the Court granted Alexander pauper status in this proceeding. [R. 9.] Accordingly, the Court now conducts a preliminary review of Alexander's complaint. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A.

         Upon this initial review, the Court must dismiss any claim that is frivolous or malicious, that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). The Court affords Alexander's complaint a forgiving construction, accepting as true all non-conclusory factual allegations and liberally construing the legal claims in his favor. Davis v. Prison Health Servs., 679 F.3d 433, 437-38 (6th Cir. 2012).

         Alexander's claims arise from his incarceration at two different facilities- the Kentucky State Reformatory ("KSR") in Eddyville, Kentucky, and the Little Sandy Correctional Complex ("Little Sandy") in Sandy Hook, Kentucky. [R. 1.] Alexander alleges he was sexually assaulted by four different individuals at KSR and by one individual at Little Sandy. [Id.] In addition to his allegations of sexual assault, Alexander also mentions "theft of inmate property" and "refusal of medication and medical treatment" as grounds for relief in his complaint. [Id. at 4.]

         As a preliminary matter, the Court notes that Alexander has improperly joined the KSR claims and Little Sandy claims in the same action. The joinder of multiple claims against multiple defendants is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a), which states:

(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). Thus, under the plain language of Rule 20(a)(2), joinder is appropriate only if both requirements are met: (1) the plaintiffs 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 Alexander's complaint set forth claims of unconstitutional treatment against the KSR defendants arising from Alexander's confinement at that facility, as well as a separate claim of unconstitutional treatment against a Correctional Officer at Little Sandy. These claims do not arise out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences. Although the claims are based on the same legal theory-namely, that Alexander has been sexually assaulted in violation of his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment-they are still separate and independent claims. See Murriel-Don Coal Co. v. Aspen Ins. UK Ltd., 790 F.Supp.2d 590, 600 (E.D. Ky. 2011) ("[T]he test for joinder is not whether claims arise from the same source of law."). The two facilities are separate facilities with separate staff and procedures. Moreover, whether or not Alexander was sexually assaulted by KSR officials has no relevance as to whether or not he was also assaulted at Little Sandy, as Alexander has not claimed the institutions were operating pursuant to a shared policy or custom or that the two institutions were otherwise acting in concert. Accordingly, Alexander's KSR and Little Sandy claims are not properly joined. See, e.g., George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007) ("Unrelated claims against different defendants belong in different suits . . ..").

         Where, as here, a plaintiffs claims are improperly joined, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21 gives the Court broad discretion to sever the unrelated claims. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 21; Proctor v. Applegate, 661 F.Supp.2d 743, 7801 (E.D. Mich. 2009). Severing Alexander's action into two separate actions, though, is not appropriate, because Alexander's KSR claims are not properly filed in this district in the first instance. 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 Little Sandy claim was properly filed in the Eastern District of Kentucky, the events giving rise to the KSR claims occurred in Lyon County, Kentucky, which is located in the Paducah division of the Western District of Kentucky. See 28 U.S.C. § 97(b); Local Rule 3.1(b)(4).

         When a lawsuit is filed in the wrong district, the Court may either dismiss the case or transfer it to the proper district. 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). Typically, in the interests of justice and for the convenience of the parties and witnesses, the Court would simply transfer the action to the proper district for further review. However, "the plain language of [28 U.S.C. § 1404(a)] authorizes only the transfer of an entire action, not the transfer of individual claims within an action." In re Brand-Name Prescription Drugs Antitrust Litig., 264 F.Supp.2d 1372, 1377 (J.P.M.L. 2003)(citations omitted). Thus, "[a] court acting under section 1404(a) may not transfer part of a case while maintaining jurisdiction over another part." Id. See also Coast to Coast Health Care Services, Inc. v. Meyerhoffer, No. 2:10-CV-734, 2012 WL 169963, at *7 (S.D. Ohio Jan. 19, 2012) ("This Court does not have the authority or ability to parse or bifurcate this action, transferring some, but not all, of the case to [a different judicial district].")

         Here, Alexander's Little Sandy claim arose in this judicial district, and the Court retains jurisdiction over that claim. But the Court's only choice with respect to the KSR claims is to dismiss those claims without prejudice. If Alexander wishes to pursue those claims, he may do so in the Paducah Division of the Western District of Kentucky.[1]

         Finally, then, the Court turns to Alexander's claims arising from events that occurred at Little Sandy against the only named Little Sandy defendant, Correctional Officer Alexander Ledford. Although Alexander mentions theft and medical treatment as causes of action, he states no facts about those claims anywhere else in his complaint and he certainly does not describe any theft or inadequate medical care at Little Sandy. [See R. 1.] Therefore, to the extent Alexander wished to bring those claims against Little Sandy Correctional Officer Ledford, they will be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. However, the Court finds that Alexander's claim for a violation of his constitutional rights stemming from the alleged sexual assault warrants a response from Officer Ledford. ...

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