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Bjork v. Slaughter

United States District Court, D. Montana, Helena Division

October 9, 2019



          Dana L. Christensen, Chief Judge United States District Court

         On August 26, 2019 United States Magistrate Judge John T. Johnston entered his Order and Findings and Recommendations recommending that certain claims of inmate Chad Eric Bjork's Amended Complaint be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)(2). (Doc. 32.) Bjork timely objects and so is entitled to de novo review of those findings to which he specifically objects. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). This Court reviews for clear error those findings to which no party objects. United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003); Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985). Clear error exists if the Court is left with a "definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. Syrax, 235 F.3d 422, 427 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted).


         On December 13, 2018 Bjork filed his original Complaint (Doc. 2) and shortly thereafter filed a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order (Doc. 4). On April 8, 2019 Judge Johnston screened Bjork's Complaint, determined it was nonfrivolous, and ordered Christine Slaughter, Tom Bolton, Sam Jovanovich, and Randall Jones to respond to Bjork's allegations. (Doc. 10.) Generally, the Complaint alleged that: (1) Jones used excessive force and retaliated against Bjork; Bolton conducted an unreasonable strip search; (3) Jovanovich acquiesced in both of these incidents and further retaliated against Bjork; and (4) that Slaughter retaliated against Bjork for requesting accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act in a disciplinary hearing. (Doc. 2.) On June 6, 2019, Defendants answered the Complaint. (Doc. 14.) Then, on July 22, 2019 Bjork filed an Amended Complaint seeking to add 16 additional defendants and 17 additional claims. (Doc. 22.) Judge Johnston determined that the lion's share of these claims were factually unrelated and asserted against new defendants, and therefore inappropriately joined in this lawsuit. (Doc. 32 at 1.) However, the Magistrate Judge recommended that the claims against Defendants Rees, Stray and Cobban proceed and ordered those defendants to respond to the Amended Complaint. (Id.)


         Permissive joinder of parties is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20. The rule provides that defendants may be joined in one action if: "(1) a right to relief [is] asserted by, or against, each plaintiff or defendant relating to or arising out of the same transaction or occurrence; and (2) some question of law or fact common to all the parties will arise in the action." League to Save Lake Tahoe v. Tahoe Reg'l Planning Agency, 558 F.2d 914, 917 (9th Cir. 1977). Even when the requirements for permissive joinder are met, a court may exercise discretion to deny joinder to avoid prejudice, delay, ensure judicial economy, and safeguard principles of fairness. Seely v. Baca, No. 315CV00118MMDVPC, 2016 WL 829915, at *1 (D. Nev. Mar. 1, 2016); Coleman v. Quaker Oats Co., 232 F.3d 1271, 1296 (9th Cir. 2000).

         When it comes to claims brought under the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), joinder is scrutinized more carefully in order not to frustrate the filing fee requirements. See Seely, 2016 WL 829915, at *2; Hubbard v. Haley, 262 F.3d 1194, 1197-98 (11th Cir. 2001).

         Judge Johnston determined that most of Bjork's new claims raised in the Amended Complaint ought to be dismissed as failing to meet Rule 20's requirements. The Magistrate Judge determined that many of the newly added claims involved separate factual scenarios, different legal theories, occurred at separate times, and/or were asserted against different defendants. (See Doc. 32 at 4-6.) Bjork now attempts to overcome this challenge, by alleging that all claims are related because they are all part of an institutional "campaign of harassment." (Doc. 35 at 1.) This is not the sort of specific objection that is entitled to de novo review. The Court will review for clear error.

         Even though claims asserted by pro se litigants are entitled to greater leniency, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), Bjork fails to allege facts sufficient to support this theory. For example, he does not allege that any of the defendants were motivated or inspired to cause him harm because they saw one another doing so. He does not allege any conspiracy or shared purpose that caused each participant to act towards a broader objective to harm him. In short, the Amended Complaint does nothing more than cite a series of individual instances accompanied by the conclusion that these defendants "acted in concert" towards a "campaign of harassment." (Doc. 35 at 3.) Joining each of these defendants together in a single action is improper under Rule 20 and would circumvent the requirements of the PLRA.

         Next, Bjork specifically objects to the dismissal of the claims against Karen Peterson, Den Lemon, Mike Fletcher, Michele (Shelly) Steyh, and Sergeant Machler. The Court will review these claims de novo.

         I. Karen Peterson

         Bjork asserts that Peterson and Slaughter acted in concert to deny Plaintiff his due process rights at a disciplinary hearing. (Doc. 35 at 1.) The Complaint alleges that Slaughter retaliated against Bjork for requesting disability accommodation by finding him guilty of disciplinary violations on this basis. (Doc. 2 at 13.) The Complaint does not go into much detail on how or when this occurred. The Amended Complaint alleges that Peterson searched Bjork's legal filings and took portions of his legal mail and then wrote him up for a disciplinary infraction. (Doc. 22 at 22.) Bjork seems to allege that the disciplinary infraction was a result of Bjork exercising his constitutional right to access the courts. Even if the Court assumes that that the disciplinary violation filed by Peterson was the same violation that Slaughter determined Bjork was guilty of, there is not a sufficient factual nexus to properly join Peterson in this matter. Bjork has not alleged anything to show that the women were "in concert" with one another, for example, that Slaughter asked Peterson to file a grievance against Bjork in order to punish him or that Peterson was a part of that adjudication process. Peterson will not be joined.

         II. Den Lemon

         The Amended Complaint alleges that Den Lemon caused damage to Bjork's inner ear when he intentionally blasted a crackling and popping noise over the intercom in Bjork's unit for sadistic and malicious pleasure. (Doc. 19 at 44.) Bjork subsequently filed a grievance against Lemon and was then subjected to verbal harassment from Lemon for doing so. (Id.) In his objections, Bjork argues that this act was taken as part of the "campaign of harassment" involving Slaughter and Rees. (Doc. 35 at 2.) There is no indication from the Amended Complaint that this incident with Bjork's ear resulted in any disciplinary action taken against him. Thus, there are no facts or legal theories that involve Slaughter. Furthermore, the Amended Complaint does not allege a retaliation claim against Rees. Bjork accuses Rees of denial of medical care for failing to treat many of his ailments, including his ear. Bjork's claim against Rees arises ...

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