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Aquila v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.

December 9, 2008

CHRISTIAN AQUILA, AND MELINA DOBRIKOVIC-AQUILA AND CHRISTIAN AQUILA, JR., A MINOR PLAINTIFFS
v.
NATIONWIDE MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David R. Strawbridge United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. Introduction

Presently before the Court is the "Motion Seeking Recusal of the Trial Judge" filed by counsel for Plaintiffs Christian Aquila, Sr. and Milena Dobrikovic, Frank J. Marcone, Esquire ("Marcone"), on November 17, 2008. (Doc. 87). Defendant Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company ("Nationwide") filed a response in opposition to the motion on November 28, 2008. (Doc. 89). For the reasons that follow, we will issue an Order denying the motion.

II. Legal Standard

The touchstone for a motion seeking the recusal of a presiding district court judge is 28 U.S.C. § 455 which provides, in pertinent part:

§ 455. Disqualification of justice, judge, or magistrate

(a) Any justice, judge, or magistrate of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.

While a litigant seeking recusal "need not show actual bias on the part of the court," recusal pursuant to § 455(a) is merited only where "a reasonable man, were he to know all the circumstances, would harbor doubts about the judge's impartiality under the applicable standard." Selkridge v. United of Omaha Life Ins. Co., 360 F.3d 155, 167 (3d Cir. 2004).

Conversely, a presiding district court judge bears the simultaneous and equal duty to not recuse himself where recusal is not warranted by the circumstances. Our Supreme Court has made clear that "a federal judge has a duty to sit where not disqualified which is equally as strong as the duty to not sit where disqualified." Laird v. Tatum, 409 U.S. 824, 837 (1972) (citations omitted) (emphasis in original) (Rehnquist, J.) (denying recusal motion); see also Petruska v. Gannon Univ., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 77768, *13 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 19, 2007) (citing Laird for same proposition).

Generally, motions seeking recusal must allege the existence of some "extra-judicial factor." United States v. Nation, 451 F.3d 189, 208 (3d Cir. 2006). An extra-judicial factor exists, for instance, where "a judge has acquired a dislike of a litigant because of events occurring outside of the courtroom," and in such case "a duty to recuse might ensue." Id. Where a motion fails to suggest the existence of an extra-judicial factor, recusal is only appropriate where the litigant demonstrates that the presiding judge possesses a "deep-seated or high degree of favoritism or antagonism that would make fair judgment impossible." United States v. Wecht, 484 F.3d 194, 213 (3d Cir. 2007) (internal quotations omitted). The Supreme Court has further noted:

First, judicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion. See United States v. Grinnell Corp., 384 U.S. at 583. In and of themselves (i.e., apart from surrounding comments or accompanying opinion), they cannot possibly show reliance upon an extra-judicial source; and can only in the rarest circumstances evidence the degree of favoritism or antagonism required (as discussed below) when no extra-judicial source is involved. Almost invariably, they are proper grounds for appeal, not for recusal. Second, opinions formed by the judge on the basis of facts introduced or events occurring in the course of the current proceedings, or of prior proceedings, do not constitute a basis for a bias or partiality motion unless they display a deep-seated favoritism or antagonism that would make fair judgment impossible.

Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555 (1994).

Here, Marcone sets out no allegations of misconduct in this case but rather asserts that recusal is necessary because of certain of the Court's rulings in a totally unrelated case, Schutter v. Herskowitz, Civil Action Number 07-3823 ("Schutter"). (Doc. 87 at 11). We thus proceed to set out the relevant details of the Schutter proceedings such as to determine whether Marcone has established that the Court has "a ...


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