Home > Journals > LAWREVIEW > Vol. 85 > No. 2 (2011)
Joining Behind Bars: Reconciling Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)(1) with the Prison Litigation Act
This Note explores the courts' competing approaches to cases involving joinder by IFP prisoners and endeavors to resolve this troublesome procedural issue. Part I of this Note reviews the history and purpose of Rule 20(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Part II discusses the legislative history and scope of the PLRA, focusing primarily on the IFP provisions contained in § 1915. Part III examines how courts have used the same four interpretive tools-plain meaning, legislative intent, implied repeals, and public policy arguments-to support three conflicting outcomes in PLRA-Rule 20(a)(1) cases: a per se rule against joinder, joinder with individual filing fees, and joinder with a collective filing fee. Part III also analyzes the Supreme Court's decision in Jones v. Bock, where the Court used these four interpretive tools to resolve a separate conflict between the PLRA and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This Part also asserts that, in light of its decision in Jones, the Court would likely permit joinder by IFP prisoner plaintiffs. However, Part IV.A argues that until the Court issues such a ruling, or Congress amends the PLRA to address joinder, it is best for lower courts to permit IFP prisoners to join as plaintiffs and pay a collective filing fee. Finally, Part IV.B urges the Supreme Court to resolve the split among the circuit courts by determining whether IFP prisoner plaintiffs may join in a single action.