United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM ORDER Re: ECF No. 40.
MAUREEN P. KELLY, Chief Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Brandon Patrick Link ("Plaintiff") brings this civil rights action against Defendants Officer Todd A. Adamski, Liberty Transportation, Inc., Joseph Huth, Marc Palla, and Landmark Leasing, Inc., following Plaintiff's allegedly unlawful arrest relative to a missing truck that he had leased from Landmark Leasing, Inc. as part of his employment with Liberty Transportation, Inc. Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Recuse Magistrate Judge Maureen P. Kelly. ECF No. 40. For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be denied.
Section 455(a) provides that "any justice, judge, or magistrate of the United States shall disqualify [herself] in any proceeding in which [her] impartiality might reasonably be questioned." 28 U.S.C. § 455(a). "The inquiry under section 455(a) is whether the record, viewed objectively, reasonably supports the appearance of prejudice or bias.'" Pondexter v. Allegheny Cnty. Hous. Auth., 2012 WL 1621370, at *2 (W.D. Pa. May 9, 2012), quoting United States v. Pungitore, 2003 WL 22657087, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 24, 2003), quoting Securities and Exchange Comm'n v. Antar, 71 F.3d 97, 101 (3d Cir.1995), overruled on other grounds by Smith v. Berg, 247 F.3d 532, 534 (3d Cir. 2001). "A party seeking recusal need not show actual bias on the part of the court, only the possibility of bias." In re Prudential Ins. Co. Am. Sales Practices Litig, 148 F.3d 283, 343 (3d Cir. 1998). A judge, however, is presumed to be impartial and thus the party seeking disqualification has a substantial burden and must assert "objective facts" that demonstrate "an appearance of impropriety." Phillips v. James, 2014 WL 1652914, at *4-5 (W.D. Pa. Apr. 23, 2014), quoting United States v. Martorano, 866 F.2d 62, 68 (3d Cir. 1989). See Pondexter v. Allegheny Cnty. Hous. Auth., 2012 WL 1621370, at *2. The test is whether a reasonable person with knowledge of all the facts would conclude that the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned. In re Prudential Ins. Co. Am. Sales Practices Litgit., 148 F.3d at 343. See Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 548 (1994).
It is, however, "vital to the integrity of the system of justice that a judge not recuse [herself] on unsupported, irrational or highly tenuous speculation."" Pondexter v. Allegheny Cnty. Hous. Auth., 2012 WL 1621370, at *2, quoting McCann v. Commc'n. Design Corp., 775 F.Supp. 1506, 1523 (D. Conn. 1991). Thus, "the judge has an affirmative duty not to recuse [herself] if the movant fails to establish a reasonable doubt concerning [her] impartiality.'" Id., quoting Grand Entertainment Group Ltd. v. Arazy, 676 F.Supp. 616, 619 (E.D. Pa. 1987). Furthermore, "when proceedings are brought under 28 U.S.C. § 455(a), a judge need not accept as true the motion's factual allegations, but may contradict them with facts drawn from [her] own personal knowledge." Id . quoting Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, Inc. v. American Bar Ass'n, 872 F.Supp. 1346, 1349 (E.D. Pa. 1994).
Here, Plaintiff seeks my recusal because he and I are "engaged in a Judicial Conduct complaint, " which Plaintiff contends creates a "conflict of interest" that would render it unfair for me to oversee this case. ECF No. 40, p. 2. As any number of courts have held, however,
"the mere filing of a complaint of judicial misconduct is not grounds for recusal, since it would be detrimental to the judicial system if a judge had to disqualify himself anytime someone filed a complaint about his conduct." Def.'s Opp. Br. 5 (citing Prall v. Bocchini, No. 10-1228, 2011 WL 3651345 at *3 (D.N.J. Aug. 19, 2011) (citing Ginsberg v. Evergreen Sec., Ltd., 570 F.3d 1257, 1265 (11th Cir. 2009)); see also United States v. Moskovits, No. 87-284-1, 1994 WL 583179 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 26, 1994) (holding that no personal bias per se arises upon the mere filing of a Judicial Council complaint in part because "[i]f the simple act of filing a complaint, even one which would later prove meritless, would necessitate the recusal of the judge who was the subject of the complaint, litigants would have free reign to wantonly require the recusal of judges at will").
McHale v. Kelly, 2012 WL 6088178, at *2 (D.N.J. Dec. 6, 2012). See Azubuko v. Royal, 443 F.3d 302, 304 (3d Cir. 2006) (finding that there was no basis to warrant the District Court Judge's recusal under 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) based on an alleged conflict of interest notwithstanding the fact that the plaintiff had a lawsuit pending in which the District Judge was a named defendant); Tilli v. Ford, 2013 WL 5410957, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 24, 2013) ("the mere fact that Plaintiff had at one time filed a complaint against me is not sufficient to establish that recusal is warranted"). See also In re Bush, 232 F.Appx. 852, 854 (11th Cir. 2007) (the district court judge did not abuse his discretion in denying Bush's motion for recusal which was based on the fact that Bush had sued the judge); In re Taylor, 417 F.3d 649, 652 (7th Cir. 2005) ("a per se rule of disqualification [under § 455(a)] would allow litigants to judge shop by filing a suit against the presiding judge); United States v. Studley, 783 F.2d 934, 940 (9th Cir. 1986) (a judge is not disqualified by a litigant's suit or threatened suit against him). As such, the fact that Plaintiff has filed a Complaint of Judicial Misconduct against me does not provide the basis for recusal. Accordingly, the following Order is entered:
AND NOW, this 22nd day of July, 2015, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion to Recuse Magistrate Judge Maureen P. Kelly, ECF No. 40, is DENIED.
In accordance with the Magistrate Judges Act, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), and Rule 72.C.2 of the Local Rules of Court, the parties are allowed fourteen (14) days from the date of this Order to file an appeal to the District Judge which includes the basis for objection to this Order. Any appeal is to be submitted to the Clerk of Court, United States District Court, 700 Grant Street, Room 3110, ...