The opinion of the court was delivered by: ZIEGLER
Pending before the court is the motion of plaintiffs for relief from judgment or order, pursuant to Rule 60 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff, Marcia Welch, commenced this civil action for declaratory and injunctive relief and damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985(3). Plaintiff also moved for certification of a class and the motion was granted by District Court Judge Maurice B. Cohill, Jr. The class is comprised of female members of Wildwood Golf Club and female spouses of club members who had privileges at the club from July 11, 1988 to July 11, 1990. In their amended complaint, plaintiffs alleged that Wildwood's rules are discriminatory because only male members are able to continue as Class A members upon the death of, or divorce from, their spouses. Plaintiffs also claimed that Wildwood unlawfully restricts the access of women to tee times, tennis courts, and to the "all male" 19th Hole bar and grill. Welch is an ex-spouse of a former member of Wildwood, who sought to have her husband's membership transferred to her after their divorce. She also brought a supplemental state law claim alleging tortious interference with her business relations and with prospective contractual relations.
By memorandum opinion and order dated February 16, 1995, the Honorable Donald J. Lee granted summary judgment in favor of defendants with respect to the alleged violations of §§ 1983 and 1985(3), and remanded Welch's state law claim to the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs failed to file a timely notice of appeal with respect to the judgment. Thereafter, the court determined on August 10, 1995, that defendants were the prevailing parties and therefore entitled to attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The district court judge appointed a special master to determine the amount of the fee award. Plaintiffs filed the instant motion for relief from judgment on January 16, 1996, eleven months after the entry of final judgment. By order dated February 9, 1996, Judge Lee referred plaintiffs' Rule 60 motion to the Chief Judge of this court for disposition. For the reasons that follow, plaintiffs' motion will be denied.
In their motion, plaintiffs allege that the Honorable Donald J. Lee, to whom this action was reassigned in May 1994, failed to disclose "an actual or apparent conflict of interest that may have substantially affected his judgment." In particular, they contend that Judge Lee's sons are employed by the law firm of Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, P.C., which "regularly and routinely" represents defendants in legal matters. Plaintiffs allege that attorneys Andrew Kimball and Eugene Scanlon, who are employed by Dickie McCamey, represented defendants "in the early stages of this complaint." Further, they claim that Dickie McCamey's representation of the defendants in this case was known to Judge Lee as a result of statements contained in a brief filed by the law firm of Eckert, Seamans, Cherin & Mellott on October 11, 1991. See Def. Br. in Opposition to Pl. Second Motion to Compel.
Plaintiffs conclude that Judge Lee's alleged interests in protecting the employment of his sons at Dickie McCamey, and their share of income received from providing legal services to defendants may have affected his impartiality as to the merits of the claims, and the question whether the action was frivolous. As such, plaintiffs claim that Judge Lee had a duty to disqualify himself under 28 U.S.C. § 455.
Under subsection (a) of the statute, a judge must "disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." 28 U.S.C. § 455(a). Subsection (b)(5)(iii) provides that a judge must recuse himself when "he or his spouse, or a person within the third degree of relationship to either of them, or the spouse of such a person . . . is known by the judge to have an interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding." Id. § 455(b)(5)(iii).
Plaintiffs urge that "the decision of the Judge in this matter as to the merits of the Claim of Plaintiff and as to the award of attorney's fees to the prevailing defendant should be vacated and the case should be reassigned to another Judge." We disagree.
Although plaintiffs' motion does not specify the provision of Rule 60 upon which they rely, we will assume that the basis for the motion is "any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment." Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(6). We will further assume that plaintiffs are proceeding under Rule 60(b)(6) because the basis for their motion does not fall within the language of any other section of the Rule.
The decision whether to grant relief under Rule 60(b)(6) is committed to the sound discretion of the district court, and is reviewable only for an abuse of discretion. Resolution Trust Corp. v. Forest Grove, Inc., 33 F.3d 284, 288 (3d Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 130 L. Ed. 2d 803, U.S. , 115 S. Ct. 923 (1995); Lasky v. Continental Prods. Corp., 804 F.2d 250, 256 (3d Cir. 1986). Rule 60 does not substitute for an appeal of the underlying judgment. Travelers Ins. Co. v. Liljeberg Enters., Inc., 38 F.3d 1404, 1408 (5th Cir. 1994). Although Rule 60(b)(6) does not provide a specific time frame within which a motion must be made, the motion must be filed within a "reasonable time" of the entry of judgment. Liljeberg v. Health Servs. Acquisition Corp., 486 U.S. 847, 863, 100 L. Ed. 2d 855, 108 S. Ct. 2194 (1988). "What is a reasonable time must depend to a large extent upon the particular circumstances alleged." Lasky, 804 F.2d at 255.
Defendants first argue that plaintiffs have failed to establish that the motion was filed within a "reasonable time" because it is not supported by an affidavit or sworn statement that addresses when or how the alleged facts became known to plaintiffs or their counsel. Although plaintiffs' motion does not contain such a statement, plaintiffs have subsequently filed declarations by Marcia Welch and her counsel. Welch asserts that in late November or early December of 1995, an acquaintance who is an attorney with Dickie McCamey told her that two of Judge Lee's sons were employed by Dickie McCamey. She avers that she informed her counsel, Deborah Iwanyshyn and Bruce Bagin, of the discovery at a meeting on January 12, 1996. Iwanyshyn and Bagin claim that they were not previously aware of the fact that Judge Lee's sons are employed by the firm of Dickie McCamey. Bagin asserts that he prepared the instant motion immediately after Welch disclosed the information.
Although plaintiffs aver in their affidavits that the motion was filed within a "reasonable time," we are troubled by several facts. First, counsel for plaintiffs could have discovered the facts alleged to require the recusal of Judge Lee before judgment was entered on February 16, 1995, and presented the issue to the district court judge for resolution. Second, plaintiffs have not suggested that Judge Lee concealed either his relationship to his sons, or their employment at Dickie McCamey.
Third, plaintiffs' motion was filed after the Court of Appeals dismissed both their appeal of the final judgment,
and their appeal of the order of August 10, 1995, awarding attorneys' fees to defendants.
And fourth, plaintiffs have publicly suggested, without any evidentiary basis, that the court's opinion of August 10, 1995, was drafted by law clerks having a bias in favor of large law firms that may eventually employ them. In light of these factors, one might conclude that plaintiffs' attacks on the impartiality of the district court judge are motivated by their displeasure with the adverse decision on the merits and their failure to file a timely appeal to the Court of Appeals, rather than a reasonable doubt as to the judge's impartiality. Nevertheless, we will assume that plaintiffs' motion was filed within a "reasonable time" as required by Rule 60 because we conclude that the motion must be denied on the merits.
We will first discuss plaintiffs' argument that the district court judge was required to disqualify himself under 28 U.S.C. § 455(a). As the Supreme Court has recently clarified, the test for recusal under § 455(a) is the appearance of a wrongful or inappropriate bias or prejudice, not whether the judge actually harbored such a bias against a party or a party's counsel. Liteky v. United States, 127 L. Ed. 2d 474, U.S. , 114 S. Ct. 1147, 1154 (1994). The test focuses on the appearance of bias or prejudice because "the very purpose of § 455(a) is to promote confidence in the judiciary by avoiding even the appearance of impropriety whenever possible." Liljeberg, 486 U.S. at 865. However, in determining whether the appearance of bias exists, "a judge must consider whether a reasonable person knowing all the circumstances would harbor doubts concerning the judge's impartiality." Jones v. Pittsburgh Nat'l Corp., 899 F.2d 1350, 1356 (3d Cir. 1990).
After considering the relevant circumstances, we conclude that no reasonable person would question Judge Lee's impartiality in this case. Just as a judge must disqualify himself if the motion establishes a reasonable doubt as to the judge's impartiality, a judge has an equally affirmative duty to preside in the absence of such proof. Massachusetts Sch. of Law at Andover, Inc. v. American Bar Ass'n, 872 F. Supp. 1346, 1348 (E.D.Pa. 1994). Although attorney Kimball has confirmed by affidavit that Judge Lee's sons are employed as associate attorneys by Dickey McCamey, they have not performed any legal services in connection with Wildwood or this litigation. Moreover, he states that their compensation and employment are "in no way tied to or contingent upon" any work that Dickie McCamey has done for Wildwood.
Attorneys Kimball and Scanlon also assert that neither they nor any other attorney employed by Dickie McCamey represented any of the defendants in the instant litigation. Kimball states that he and the firm were retained to provide legal advice in connection with possible litigation by Welch which ended "when the complaint in the captioned case was filed and Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott was retained to represent the defendants in that case." Because the sons of the district court judge never represented defendants, and because their firm has ...