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Sibley v. Roberts

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 19, 2016



          REGGIE B. WALTON, United States District Judge

         The plaintiff, Montgomery Blair Sibley, seeks declaratory relief and damages arising from assertions that the defendants, former Chief Judge Richard W. Roberts and Clerk of the Court, Angela O. Caesar, violated the plaintiffs First and Fifth Amendment rights by failing to docket two motions submitted by the plaintiff in a criminal case assigned to defendant Roberts in which the plaintiff was the prior defense attorney of record. See First Amended Complaint for Damages and Declaratory Judgment ("Am. Compl.") at ¶¶ 5-6, 10, 15-18, 21-23, 30. Currently before the Court is the Defendants' Renewed Motion to Dismiss ("Defs.' Mot."), the Plaintiffs Emergency Motion for Pre-Trial Conference to Schedule Expedited Disposition of Sibley's Third Claim ("Pl.'s Mot. for Conf"), and Sibley's Verified Motion to Disqualify the Honorable Judge Reggie B. Walton and the Entire Bench of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ("Pl.'s Mot. for Recusal"). Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, [1] the Court concludes that it must deny both of the plaintiffs motions and grant the defendants' motion to dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2007, the plaintiff appeared as counsel of record for Deborah Palfrey in the case of United States v. Palfrey, a criminal case that was assigned to Judge Gladys Kessler of this Court. See Am. Compl., Exhibit ("Ex.") A (Criminal Docket for Case #: 1:07-cr-00046 ("Palfrey Docket")) (indicating that the plaintiff was the prior attorney of record for Deborah Palfrey). Palfrey was charged with various federal violations related to her alleged operation of an interstate prostitution business. See Indictment, United States v. Palfrey, Crim. Action No. 07-46 (D.D.C. Mar. 1, 2007).[2] In November 2007, Judge Kessler granted the plaintiffs Application for Issuance of Subpoenas in United States v. Palfrey, which sought account information from telephone companies for clients of Palfrey's escort service. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12-13. Shortly thereafter, Verizon Wireless responded to the subpoena by providing records containing information for 815 account holders that the plaintiff alleges were Palfrey's former escorts or clients. Id. ¶ 13.

         On January 13, 2016, the plaintiff "deposited with defendant Caesar" a motion that sought to modify a restraining order in place in United States v. Palfrey, id ¶ 15, so that he could make the Verizon Wireless records public because, in the plaintiffs view, those records constitute "matters of public concern, " id ¶ 14. On February 3, 2016, defendant Roberts issued an order denying the plaintiff leave to file the motion because: (1) the plaintiff "ha[d] been suspended from practicing before this Court"; (2) the plaintiff had been "terminated as [Palfrey's] counsel"; and (3) the plaintiffs "motion purport[ed] to refer to records subpoenaed on behalf of the defendant that it seems would properly be in the possession of the attorney of record for the defendant, not in [the plaintiffs] possession." Defs.' Mot., Ex A (Order dated Feb. 3, 2016) at 1-2. Pursuant to defendant Roberts' order, defendant Caesar did not docket the plaintiffs motion. See Am. Compl. ¶ 16; see also id., Ex. A. (Palfrey Docket). Subsequently, the plaintiff filed with defendant Caesar a motion to reconsider, as well as a motion to disqualify defendant Roberts. Am. Compl. ¶ 17, see also id., Ex. B (Letter from the plaintiff to the Clerk's Office (Feb. 8, 2016) ("Mot. to Reconsider")) at 1. Defendant Roberts once again ordered defendant Caesar to not docket these motions pursuant to his February 3, 2016 order. Id. ¶ 18; see also id, Ex. B (Mot. to Reconsider) at 1.

         On February 22, 2016, the plaintiff filed suit against defendants Roberts and Caesar in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. See Complaint for Damages and Declaratory Judgment at 1. The defendants filed a Notice of Removal on March 28, 2016, removing the case to this Court. See Notice of Removal at 1. On April 5, 2016, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss. See Defendants' Motion to Dismiss at 1. On April 12, 2016, the plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint, see Am. Compl., thereby mooting the defendant's April 5, 2016 motion to dismiss, see Barnes v. District of Columbia, 42 F.Supp.3d 111, 117 (D.D.C. 2014) ("When a plaintiff files an amended complaint as of right within 21 days after the filing of the motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), the amended complaint becomes the operative pleading, and any pending motion to dismiss becomes moot." (internal citations omitted)), as well as his emergency motion for a pre-trial conference, see Pl.'s Mot. for Conf. at 1. On June 24, 2016, the plaintiff filed his motion for recusal. Pl.'s Mot. for Recusal at 1.


         A. 28U.S.C.§144

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 144, a party to any proceeding in district court may seek to have another judge assigned to his case provided that the party can demonstrate "that the judge before whom the matter is pending has a personal bias or prejudice either against him or in favor of any adverse party." Section 144 requires that a party seeking reassignment to another judge "make[] and file[] a timely and sufficient affidavit . . . stat[ing] the facts and the reasons for the belief that bias or prejudice exists." LI A legally sufficient affidavit "requires that facts be set forth with sufficient particularity that 'would fairly convince a sane and reasonable mind that the judge does in fact harbor the personal bias or prejudice contemplated by the statute.'" Walsh v. Comey, 110 F.Supp.3d 73, 77 (D.D.C. 2015) (quoting Strange v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 46 F.Supp.3d 78, 81 (D.D.C. 2014)). The affidavit "shall be filed not less than ten days before the beginning of the term at which the proceeding is to be heard" and it "shall be accompanied by a certificate of counsel of record stating that it is made in good faith." 28 U.S.C. § 144.

         B. 28 U.S.C. §455

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §455 (2012), a judge "shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned, " § 455(a), or when the judge "has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, " id § 455(b)(i). '"Recusal [for impartiality] is required when a reasonable and informed observer would question the judge's impartiality, ' while recusal for personal bias requires a showing of 'actual bias or prejudice.'" Ryan v. FBI, 125 F.Supp.3d 1, 3 (D.D.C. 2015) (first quoting SEC v. Loving Spirit Found., Inc., 392 F.3d 486, 493 (D.C. Cir. 2004); and then quoting Tripp v. Exec. Office of the President 104 F.Supp.2d 30, 34 (D.D.C. 2000)).

         C. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

         A complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Thus, to survive a motion to dismiss for "failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, '" Ashcroft v. Iqbal. 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A "claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); see also Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (noting that the plaintiff is entitled to "the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged"). Although the Court must accept the facts pleaded as true, legal allegations devoid of factual support are not entitled to this assumption. See, e.g., Kowal, 16 F.3d at 1276. Along with the allegations made within the four corners of the complaint, the court may also consider "any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint and matters of which [it] may take judicial notice." EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997).

         III. ...

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