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Miles D. Thomas v. William Sandstrom; Amy Kaunas; Ken Hugendubler; the Harrisburg Area

December 6, 2011

MILES D. THOMAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILLIAM SANDSTROM; AMY KAUNAS; KEN HUGENDUBLER; THE HARRISBURG AREA HUMANE SOCIET; AND JOHN (AKA OFFICER WEAVER), DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Thomas seeks to have his case re-opened under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6). (Doc. 64.) Plaintiff argues that Judge Jones, who previously presided over this case, should have recused himself due to his personal animus toward plaintiff's attorney, Don Bailey. Defendants argue the motion should be denied because this Court does not have jurisdiction since the case is on appeal. Defendants further contend that plaintiff was represented by Andrew Ostrowski, Esq., not Don Bailey, and the "extraordinary circumstances" required to grant relief under 60(b)(6) are not present. The Court agrees that there are no extraordinary circumstances and will deny the motion.

BACKGROUND

In August 2009, plaintiff filed a complaint alleging civil rights violations by the defendants stemming from the taking of his dog. In January 2010, following voluntary mediation before Magistrate Judge Carlson, the parties agreed plaintiff's dog would be returned in exchange for plaintiff's execution of a General Release and dismissal of his claims. An order was then entered in February 2010 dismissing the case without prejudice to the right to reinstate the action within sixty days upon good cause shown. In March 2010, plaintiff filed a motion to reinstate his complaint. Magistrate Judge Carlson recommended the motion be denied and his recommendation was adopted by Judge Jones over plaintiff's objections in an order dated July 21, 2010. In August 2010, plaintiff appealed the July order to the Third Circuit. Then, several weeks ago, plaintiff filed the instant motion seeking to re-open the case. Plaintiff argues his case should be reopened because Judge Jones was biased against the attorneys who represented him in the suit, Don Bailey and Andrew Ostrowski. Judge Jones testified at Don Bailey's disciplinary hearing this past August. Plaintiff alleges the disciplinary hearing has brought to light a long standing history of prejudice against Mr. Bailey. Plaintiff also alleges at that time that during that hearing Judge Jones testified that he "turned Mr. Ostrowski in" to the Disciplinary Board in connection with plaintiff's case. The motion has been briefed and is ripe for review.

DISCUSSION

The motion to open judgment will be denied because the Court finds no exceptional circumstances requiring such relief under 60(b)(6).

Once a notice of appeal is filed, jurisdiction is no longer vested in the district court. Bensalem Twp. v. Int'l Surplus Lines Ins. Co., 38 F.3d 1303, 1314 (3d Cir. 1994) (internal citation omitted). Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 62.1:

If a timely motion is made for relief that the court lacks authority to grant because of an appeal that has been docketed and is pending, the court may:

(1) defer considering the motion;

(2) deny the motion; or

(3) state either that it would grant the motion if the court of appeals remands for that purpose or that the motion raises a substantial issue.

Rule 62.1 is a rather recent addition to the Federal Rules. It allows the district court to issue an indicative ruling on a motion for relief from judgment when ruling on such a motion is barred by a pending appeal. Advisory Committee notes on Rule 62.1 suggest that "[o]ften it will be wise for the district court to determine whether it in fact would grant the motion if the court of appeals remands for that purpose."Advisory Committee's Notes (2009). When the district court indicates that it would grant the motion for relief, the court of appeals may remand at its discretion. See Fed. R.App. P. 12.1(b). If the court of appeals remands to the district court, the court of appeals retains jurisdiction "unless it expressly dismisses the appeal." Id.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 455(a): "Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." Additionally under § 455(b), a judge must disqualify themselves where they have a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding."

The general purpose of Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) is "to strike a proper balance between the conflicting principles that litigation must be brought to an end and that justice must be done." Boughner v. Sec'y of Health, Educ. and Welfare, 572 F.2d 976, 977 (3d Cir.1978). "The decision to grant or deny relief pursuant to Rule 60(b) lies in the 'sound discretion of the trial court guided by accepted legal principles applied in light of all the relevant circumstances.' " Ross v. Meagan, 638 F.2d 646, 648 (3d Cir.1981). However, a "Rule 60(b) motion may not be used as a substitute for appeal, and ... legal error, without more, cannot justify granting a Rule 60(b) motion." Smith v. Evans, 853 F.2d 155, 158 (3d Cir.1988). Rule 60(b)(6) is a catchall provision which allows a court to relieve a party from the effects of an order for "any other reason justifying relief ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6). The United States Supreme Court has held that: "[Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6)] does not particularize the factors that justify relief, but we have previously noted that it provides courts with authority 'adequate to ...


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