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Coleman v. Allison Social Worker

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 27, 2019

WENDELL COLEMAN, et al., Plaintiffs,
ALLISON SOCIAL WORKER, et al., Defendants.



         Wendell Coleman, an inmate currently at the Napa County Jail, filed this pro se prisoner's civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The complaint is now before the court for review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Coleman's request for appointment of counsel and his application to proceed in forma pauperis also are before the court for consideration.


         The complaint names seven people as plaintiffs, but is signed by only Wendell Coleman, who lists himself as “lead plaintiff, ” Docket No. 1 at 3, and contains only allegations about him.

         The complaint alleges the following about events and omissions occurring at Napa State Hospital: Therapist Sarah and social worker Allison have denied Coleman law library access for ten weeks. It took over six weeks to get copies made of documents that are pertinent to Coleman's legal actions. The mailroom delays mail. Coleman has “been denied access to religious services.” Docket No. 1 at 3.


         A. Dismissal Of Plaintiffs Other Than Wendell Coleman

         The complaint lists Wendell Coleman and six other persons as plaintiffs. (Coleman has filed several actions in which he lists additional inmates as plaintiffs. See, e.g., Coleman, et al. v. Nguyen, et al., No. 18-cv-3468 SI; Coleman, et al. v. Napa County Dep't of Corr., et al., No. 18-cv-4751 SI. In each action, the court dismissed the additional plaintiffs.) The use of co-plaintiffs presents a procedural problem unique to prisoner litigation. The court now considers whether the seven plaintiffs should proceed together in a single case or instead should each maintain a separate case. The court concludes that the plaintiffs should proceed in separate cases.

         “A district court possesses inherent power over the administration of its business.” Spurlock v. Federal Bureau of Investigation, 69 F.3d 1010, 1016 (9th Cir. 1995); see Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. Hercules Inc., 146 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 1998) (district court possesses inherent power to control its docket, as long as power is exercised in a manner consistent with rules and statutes). This power includes the authority to promulgate and enforce rules for the management of litigation and the court's docket. Spurlock, 69 F.3d at 1016 (citations omitted); see also Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 43 (1991) (inherent powers are tools for “‘control necessarily vested in courts to manage their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases'”).

         Basic case management principles of delay reduction and avoidance of confusion call for the plaintiffs' claims to proceed in separate cases. The main problem with having unrepresented inmates proceeding as co-plaintiffs is that inmates lack control over their ability to access each other to prepare documents and prosecute a case. Inmates are frequently moved; even inmates who initially are physically close to each other often do not remain so for the months or years that it takes for a case to work its way through to judgment.

         Here, although the seven plaintiffs apparently were in custody at the Napa State Hospital at some point, Coleman has been moved to the Napa County Jail while other plaintiffs apparently have not been moved (as they have not filed notices of change of address). The pro se plaintiffs do not now have ready access to each other. The plaintiffs' physical separation has and will impact this litigation because they are unable to work on the case together. The lack of coordination is already on display in the complaint, which consists of only Coleman's claims.

         The plaintiffs also may not have access to each other in the future to prepare documents and to discuss the case. Perhaps one plaintiff will be moved to a different facility (as Coleman has been) or be released from custody - all of which will make their joint prosecution of this case inordinately more difficult. The slow pace of plaintiffs' communications with each other will result in extensive delays at each point in the litigation where they are required to file anything with the court. As pro se plaintiffs, none of the plaintiffs have the authority to represent the others. See Russell v. United States, 308 F.2d 78, 79 (9th Cir. 1962) (“a litigant appearing in propria persona has no authority to represent anyone other than himself”). Thus, this case will be delayed as any potential filing from the plaintiffs is shuttled back and forth between the plaintiffs until all are comfortable signing it. One alternative is to permit the plaintiffs to file separate documents, but this essentially results in multiple cases within a case, which has few benefits to match the substantial confusion caused by it. Having the plaintiffs proceed separately will make their claims easier to manage and resolve.

         For these reasons, the court exercises its inherent power over the administration of its business and orders that each plaintiff other than Wendell Coleman must proceed in separate actions rather than proceeding as co-plaintiffs in this action. Huen Thach, Connie Bedwell, Bradley Harp, Michael Estes, Chad Watkins, and Marco Moon are now dismissed from this action. The dismissal is without prejudice to each of these persons filing a new complaint in which he or she asserts only his or her claims. All further filings by Coleman concerning his claims must be filed in the present case (i.e., No. 19-cv-964 SI) and must list only Wendell Coleman as a plaintiff.

         B. Review ...

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