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Klayman v. Judicial Watch

June 25, 2009

LARRY KLAYMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JUDICIAL WATCH, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Currently pending before the Court is Plaintiff Larry Klayman's ("Klayman") [298] Motion for Recusal and/or Disqualification, in which Klayman argues that this Court should recuse itself pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455(a). Klayman contends that recusal is warranted because the Court's rulings in this case, along with the fact that the undersigned was appointed by former President William J. Clinton, create an appearance of bias against him. Defendants oppose the motion, arguing that Klayman has failed to set forth sufficient grounds for recusal pursuant to section 455(a) and that Klayman's motion is an attempt to further delay litigation of the above-captioned case. Upon searching consideration of Plaintiff's Motion for Recusal and/or Disqualification, Defendants' Opposition, Plaintiff's Reply, the relevant case law, and the entire record herein, the Court shall DENY Plaintiff's motion. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that recusal is neither required nor warranted.

I. BACKGROUND

The Court shall assume familiarity with the numerous opinions issued by both this Court and Magistrate Judge Alan Kay, which set forth in detail the factual background and allegations of this case, and shall therefore provide only a brief summary of the instant case as is necessary to provide context for resolution of the motion now before the Court. See Klayman v. Judicial Watch, Inc., Civil Action No. 06-670, 2007 WL 140978 (D.D.C. Jan. 17, 2007); Klayman v. Judicial Watch, Inc., Civil Action No. 06-670, 2007 WL 1034936 (Apr. 3, 2007); and Klayman v. Judicial Watch, Inc., Civil Action No. 06-670, 2007 WL 1034937 (Apr. 3, 2007) (hereinafter "Klayman I"). Defendant Judicial Watch, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization formed under the laws of the District of Columbia and headquartered in the District of Columbia. Klayman I, 2007 WL 1034937, *2. Defendant Fitton is President of Judicial Watch, Defendant Orfanedes is the Secretary and a Director of Judicial Watch, and Defendant Farrell is a Director of Judicial Watch. Id. Plaintiff Larry Klayman is the self-described founder and former Chairman, General Counsel and Treasurer of Judicial Watch, who resides in and practices law in the State of Florida. Id. Klayman, an attorney, is currently representing himself pro se in this matter.

Klayman's Second Amended Complaint and Judicial Watch's Amended Counterclaim in this action include various legal claims stemming from events that occurred after Klayman left Judicial Watch in September 2003. Id. Many of these claims arise out of the Severance Agreement entered into by Klayman and Judicial Watch on September 19, 2003. Id. The Court need not address the specifics of the parties' claims at this time, other than to note that, inter alia, Klayman asserts claims against the Defendants under the Lanham Act for unfair competition in the form of false advertising and false endorsements and for breach of contract relating to the Severance Agreement. 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 97-106; 115-162. Judicial Watch asserts counterclaims against Klayman under the Lanham Act for trademark infringement, unfair competition in the form of false advertising and false association, and cybersquatting. Am. Count. ¶¶ 84-116.

II. LEGAL STANDARD AND DISCUSSION

As explained above, Klayman moves to recuse this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455(a), which permits a litigant to seek recusal of a federal judge "in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." In assessing section 455(a) motions, the D.C. Circuit applies an "objective" standard: "Recusal is required when 'a reasonable and informed observer would question the judge's impartiality.'" S.E.C. v. Loving Spirit Found. Inc., 392 F. 3d 486, 493 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (quoting United States v. Microsoft Corp., 253 F.3d 34, 114 (D.C. Cir. 2001), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 952 (2001))). Here, Klayman alleges two sources of alleged bias that he contends would cause a "reasonable and informed observer" to question this Court's impartiality. First, Klayman contends that various rulings issued by the Court in this case create an appearance of bias against him. Pl.'s Mot. at 2-4. Second, Klayman argues that, because he was a "strong and controversial advocate" against the Clinton administration, the fact that the undersigned was appointed by former President Clinton fosters an appearance of bias against him. Id. at 4-5. The Court shall address each allegation in turn.

A. The Court's Rulings are Based Solely on Facts and Evidence in the Record and Would Not Lead a Reasonable and Informed Observer to Question This Court's Impartiality

Klayman alleges that the Court's rulings in this case have created an appearance of bias against him. At the outset, the Court notes that although Klayman complains generally of the Court's decisions on several issues, he fails to provide any citations to the specific rulings that he believes are evidence of bias, thereby leaving the Court to speculate as to the particular decisions (or portions therein) of which Klayman complains. Given that this case was filed more three years ago and has in excess of 300 entries on the public docket, Klayman's failure to properly cite to the record, as is his obligation, significantly hampered the Court's ability to quickly and efficiently resolve Klayman's motion to recuse. Nonetheless, where the Court can discern the particular rulings at issue from its own independent review of the record in this case, the Court shall address Klayman's arguments as it understands them.

Before doing so, however, the Court pauses to note that, upon review of Klayman's motion to recuse, it is readily apparent that most of his complaints regarding the Court's rulings in this case are simply reduced to his displeasure with the substance of the Court's rulings against him. In the three years since Klayman filed his complaint in this matter, this Court has issued nearly sixty orders in this matter (excluding the more than fifty orders issued by Magistrate Judge Kay). Unsurprisingly, not all rulings have been in Klayman's favor. The case law is clear, however, that "judicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion." Liteky, 510 U.S. at 555. As the Supreme Court has observed, judicial rulings by themselves "cannot possibly show reliance upon an extra-judicial source; and can only in the rarest circumstances evidence the degree of favoritism or antagonism required . . . when no extra-judicial source is involved." Id. Therefore, dissatisfaction with a court's rulings "almost invariably" provides a proper ground for appeal-not for recusal. Id. In addition, "opinions formed by the judge on the basis of facts introduced or events occurring in the course of the current 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." Id. Thus, to the extent Klayman merely complains that the Court has ruled unfavorably against him, without identifying any improper reliance by the Court on extra-judicial facts or evidence, such complaints are not proper grounds for recusal. Nonetheless, to ensure that the Court addresses all issues raised by Klayman in his motion to recuse and to satisfy its own independent obligation to recuse itself where its impartiality has been questioned, the Court shall examine the challenged rulings in greater detail below.

1. The Court's Discovery Rulings are Based Solely on the Record and Do Not Provide a Ground for Recusal

First, Klayman, in the instant motion to recuse, primarily focuses on his dissatisfaction with discovery orders issued in this case. In particular, Klayman sets forth three specific complaints: (a) Klayman denounces the fact that, "[t]o the best of Plaintiff's memory the Court [has] refuse[d] to uphold even one objection" by Klayman to Defendants' discovery requests, Pl.'s Mot. at 3; (b) he disapproves of the decision to permit Defendants to obtain certain discovery from his ex-wife, id.; and (c) he protests the decision precluding him from completing certain depositions after the close of discovery, id. at 4. According to Klayman, these rulings together create an appearance of bias on the part of this Court.

a. The Mere Fact This Court Has Overruled Each Of Klayman's Objections To Magistrate Judge Kay's Orders Does Not, By Itself, Create An Appearance Of Bias

To the extent Klayman complains that the Court's orders overruling his objections to Magistrate Judge Kay's discovery rulings create an appearance of bias, the Court finds Klayman's argument to be wholly without merit. Upon review of Klayman's motion, it is evident that he is simply attempting to reargue the substance of the Court's prior rulings, asserting-as he has throughout this litigation-that Defendants' various discovery requests were "overbroad" and should not have been granted. See Pl.'s Mot. at 3-4. As explained above, however, dissatisfaction with a court's rulings provides a proper ground for appeal-not for recusal. Liteky, 510 U.S. at 555. Accordingly, courts in this Circuit have routinely held that a claim of bias predicated on a court's rulings-and in particular, a court's rulings with respect to the conduct of discovery-do not, standing alone, warrant recusal. See, e.g., Liberty Lobby, Inc. v. Dow Jones & Co., Inc., 838 F.2d 1287 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (because plaintiff's motions to recuse "were based entirely upon the district ...


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