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Unitt v. Bennett

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

April 10, 2018




         Pro se litigant Lee P. Unitt has filed a Complaint concerning various conditions of her confinement at MCI Framingham. See Dkt #1. Summonses have not been issued pending the court's preliminary review of the pleading pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under this statute, the court may dismiss a prisoner's complaint sua sponte if it is “frivolous, 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.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         For the reasons set forth below, the court concludes that Unitt has improperly joined claims and parties and has failed to state a claim for relief with regard to some of her claims. If she wishes to pursue any of her claims, she must file amended pleadings to cure these deficiencies.


         I. Overview of the Complaint

         Unitt complains of four different categories of misconduct at MCI Framingham: denial of access to the courts; inadequate medical care; exposure to contaminants; and retaliation for submitting grievances. Unitt states that she brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (§ 1983), the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Toxic Substance Control Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2692 (TSCA). Unitt represents that she has exhausted relevant administrative remedies. Unitt submitted approximately 575 pages of documents as exhibits to the Complaint. She identifies thirty individuals as defendants. The court summarizes each category of allegations.

         A. Denial of Access to the Courts (¶¶ 30-53)

         Under the heading of “Denial of Access to the Courts, ” Unitt sets forth various allegations concerning storage and retrieval of her legal documents, limitations on copying documents, the prison administration's definition of “legal” documents, the superintendent's refusal to allow Unitt's family to pick up a document from her that was to be filed in court, and the denial of a grievance as untimely.

         B. Inadequate Medical Care (¶¶ 54-127)

         Unitt's Complaint presents a panoply of allegations of misconduct with regard to the medical care she has received at MCI Framingham, which she has broken down into the following subcategories: (a) failure to maintain an adequate system of filing and modification to inmate medical files; (b) failure to maintain accurate medical records; (c) rendering of medical services provided by unqualified personnel; (d) failure to provide access to medical specialists; (e) failure to follow the directions of outside specialists; (f) failure to provide adequate medical coverage; (g) charging inmates a monetary fee to view their medical records; (h) interference with medical care and mental health; (i) ineffective medical grievance procedures; and (j) non-medical personnel substituting their judgment for that of medical professionals. In addition, she alleges that certain defendants violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act by denying her requests for reasonable accommodations. She further alleges that the defendants denied her right to informed consent.

         C. Exposure to Environmental Contaminants (¶¶ 128-134)

         According to Unitt, inmates were evacuated from certain units at MCI Framingham in October 2016. Unitt had understood that the evacuation was because of contamination by black mold, asbestos, and other substances, but Massachusetts Department of Correction (“DOC”) officials informed Unitt that the units were evacuated so the windows could be replaced and that no health hazards existed. Unitt alleges that the DOC failed to adequately test the units for contaminants and to follow proper procedures while replacing the windows to ensure proper encapsulation and removal of polychlorinated biphenyls (“PCBs”). Unitt further claims that inmates from another DOC facility performed labor on the window replacements.

         D. Retaliation for Exercising Constitutional Rights (¶¶ 135-163)

         Unitt claims that various defendants retaliated against her for filing grievances or otherwise complaining of allegedly unlawful conduct in the following manners: (1) wrongly suspending her grievance privileges, claiming that she had filed more than five grievances in a week; (2) refusing to assign her a lower classification for which she was clearly qualified; (3) issuing false disciplinary reports, ostensibly for misusing the microwave oven, facing the wrong direction while sitting outside in the unit yard, and improperly wearing shorts she had purchased from the DOC; and (4) denying needed medication, on the pretext that Unitt had refused to take her medications according to the proscribed schedule.

         E. Toxic Substance Control Act (¶¶ 164-173)

         Unitt alleges that she has been and continues to be exposed to unsafe levels of PCBs at MCI Framingham, resulting in injury and risk of future injury.

         II. Other Motions

         On January 10, 2018, Unitt filed a motion for leave to supplement her Complaint. See Dkt #10. In the proposed supplemental pleading, Unitt complains of restrictions on the copying of legal documents, further exposure to contaminants, and a disciplinary sanction of the loss of canteen privileges for 60 days. See Dkt #10-1. In a separate motion, she asks that the approximately 255 pages of exhibits to the proposed supplemental pleading be sealed because they “contain medical records and information not only of Unitt but of other individuals.” Dkt #11 at 1.

         Unitt also filed two largely duplicative motions for emergency injunctive relief. See Dkt #12, Dkt #13. In these motions, Unitt asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction and to enjoin the defendants from requiring her and other inmates to move to a unit at MCI Framingham in which new windows have recently been installed. She also asked the court to issue an order revoking a 60-day canteen suspension sanction and to enjoin enforcement of MCI Framingham's policy concerning the photocopying of legal documents. On February 5, 2018, the court entered an order denying these motions. See Dkt #14.


         I. Improper Joinder of Parties and Claims

         As a threshold matter, the Complaint will not go forward in its present form because Unitt has improperly joined parties and claims.

         A. Rules Governing Joinder of Parties and Claims

         Rule 18(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides: “A party asserting a claim . . . may join, as independent or alternative claims, as many claims as it has against an opposing party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 18(a). However, “[d]espite the broad language of Rule 18(a), plaintiff may join multiple defendants in a single action only if plaintiff asserts at least one claim to relief against each of them that arises out of the same transaction or occurrence and presents questions of law or fact common to all.” 7 Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 1655 (3d ed. 2009) (emphasis added). Rule 18(a) permits multiple claims against a single party, but it does not permit the joinder of unrelated claims against different defendants. Under Rule 20(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, persons may be joined as defendants in a single action if “there 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). “Thus, multiple claims against a single party are fine, but Claim A against Defendant 1 should not be joined with unrelated Claim B against Defendant 2. Unrelated claims against different defendants belong in different ...

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