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Klayman v. Judicial Watch, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 5, 2017

JUDICIAL WATCH, INC., et al., Defendants.



         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's [414] Motion to Recuse/Disqualify Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, which seeks the recusal or disqualification of the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) and 28 U.S.C. § 144. This is Plaintiff's third motion for this purpose, and it is again opposed by Defendants. Upon a searching review of the pleadings, the record, and the relevant authorities, [1] the Court concludes that Plaintiff has failed to furnish any evidence of extrajudicial bias or prejudice. Rather, Plaintiff relies almost exclusively on his dissatisfaction with the legal rulings of this Court, which is an insufficient basis for recusal or disqualification. Accordingly, the pending motion for recusal or disqualification shall be DENIED.


         A. Motion Pursuant to Section 455(a)

         Plaintiff 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.” “[T]o be disqualifying, the appearance of bias or prejudice must stem from an extrajudicial source.” United States v. Barry, 961 F.2d 260, 263 (D.C. Cir. 1992). In assessing section 455(a) motions, the D.C. Circuit has applied an “objective” standard: “Recusal is required when ‘a reasonable and informed observer would question the judge's impartiality.'” SEC 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)). “This standard requires that [the Court] take the perspective of a fully informed third-party observer who understands all the relevant facts and has examined the record and the law.” United States v. Cordova, 806 F.3d 1085, 1092 (D.C. Cir. 2015). As a result, “bald allegations of bias or prejudice” do not suffice. Karim-Panahi v. U.S. Cong., Senate & House of Representatives, 105 Fed.Appx. 270, 275 (D.C. Cir. 2004).

         In the context of section 455(a), “unfavorable judicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for reassignment.” United States v. Hite, 769 F.3d 1154, 1172 (D.C. Cir. 2014); see also United States v. Microsoft Corp., 56 F.3d 1448, 1463 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (per curiam) (“That a judge commits error, of course, is by itself hardly a basis for imputing bias or even the appearance of partiality.”). As the Supreme Court has observed, judicial rulings by themselves “cannot possibly show reliance upon an extrajudicial source; and can only in the rarest circumstances evidence the degree of favoritism or antagonism required . . . when no extrajudicial source is involved.” Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555 (1994). 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. Consequently, courts in this circuit have routinely held that a claim of bias predicated on a court's rulings 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 court's discovery rulings in this case, their denial was clearly proper”), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 825 (1988); Cotton v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 264 F.Supp.2d 39, 42 (D.D.C. 2003) (claim of bias based on court's discovery rulings did not warrant recusal).

         B. Motion Pursuant to Section 144

         Under section 144, a litigant must submit, along with its motion, an affidavit stating “the facts and the reasons for [its] belief that bias or prejudice exists.” 28 U.S.C. § 144. Upon the filing of a “timely and sufficient affidavit, ” section 144 mandates that the assigned “judge shall proceed no further, but another judge shall be assigned to hear such proceeding.” Id.; see also Bhd. of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen v. Bangor & Aroostook R.R. Co., 380 F.2d 570, 576 (D.C. Cir. 1967) (“The disqualification statute, 28 U.S.C. § 144, is mandatory and automatic, requiring only a timely and sufficient affidavit alleging personal bias or prejudice of the judge.”). “Importantly, the mere fact that a party has filed a § 144 motion, accompanied by the requisite affidavit and certificate of counsel, does not automatically result in the challenged judge's disqualification.” Robertson v. Cartinhour, 691 F.Supp.2d 65, 77 (D.D.C. 2010); see also United States v. Miller, 355 F.Supp.2d 404, 405 (D.D.C. 2005) (“disqualification is not automatic upon submission of affidavit and certificate”). Rather, recusal is required only upon the filing of a “timely and sufficient affidavit.” 28 U.S.C. § 144.

         The question of whether the motion and supporting affidavit are both timely and legally sufficient is for this Court to determine in the first instance. United States v. Haldeman, 559 F.2d 31, 131 (D.C. Cir. 1976) (“It is well settled that the involved judge has the prerogative, if indeed not the duty, of passing on the legal sufficiency of a Section 144 challenge.”); see also United States v. Heldt, 668 F.2d 1238, 1272 n.69 (D.C. Cir. 1981) (noting that “under section 144 . . . the transfer to another judge for decision is ‘at most permissive”') (quoting Haldeman, 559 F.2d at 131). First, with respect to the timeliness of the motion, section 144 is itself silent as to “what the timeliness requirement means where, as in this case, the recusal motion rests on events occurring after proceedings began.” Loving Spirit Found., 392 F.3d at 492. In such circumstances, courts “have required the affidavit to be filed ‘at the earliest moment.'” Id. As the D.C. Circuit has made clear, the timeliness requirement is “[c]rucial to the integrity of the judicial process, ” as it “ensures that a party may not wait and decide whether to file based on ‘whether he likes subsequent treatment that he receives.'” Id. (quoting In re United Shoe Mach. Corp., 276 F.2d 77, 79 (1st Cir. 1960)).

         Second, in determining whether the affidavit sets forth a legally sufficient basis for disqualification, the Court “must accept the affidavit's factual allegations as true even if the judge knows them to be false.” Loving Spirit Found., 392 F.3d at 496; see also United States v. Hanrahan, 248 F.Supp. 471, 474 (D.D.C. 1965) (“when presented with an application and affidavit such as this one, a Court may not pass upon the truth or falsity of the allegations, but must accept them as true for the purpose of determining the legal sufficiency of the affidavit”). However, the affidavit “must state facts as opposed to conclusions, and while the information and belief of the affiant as to the truth of the allegations are sufficient, mere rumors and gossip are not enough.” Hanrahan, 248 F.Supp. at 474 (internal citations omitted). “The identifying facts of time, place, persons, occasion and circumstances must be set forth, with at least that degree of particularity one would expect to find in a bill of particulars.” Id. (internal citations omitted). Importantly, given the requirement that the Court accept the facts stated in the affidavit as true, the statute mandates that “the attorney presenting the motion [] sign a certificate stating that both the motion and declaration are made in good faith.” Loving Spirit Found., 392 F.3d at 496; see 28 U.S.C. § 144 (requiring that the affidavit “be accompanied by a certificate of counsel of record stating that it is made in good faith”). The certification requirement is key to the integrity of the recusal process and “guard[s] against the removal of an unbiased judge through the filing of a false affidavit.” Loving Spirit Found., 392 F.3d at 496.

         Once it is established that the affidavit has been properly certified by counsel of record and that the facts set forth therein have been stated with sufficient particularity, the Court must then

ascertain[] whether these facts would fairly convince a sane and reasonable mind that the judge does in fact harbor the personal bias or prejudice contemplated by the statute. It is well established that the facts must give fair support to the charge of a bent mind that may prevent or impede impartiality. The basis of the disqualification is that personal bias or prejudice exists, by reason of which the judge is unable to impartially exercise his functions in the particular case. The factual allegations must establish by more than a prima facie case, but not beyond a reasonable doubt that the mind of the judge is closed to justice; that the judge has a personal bias or prejudice against the affiant which is of such a nature, and of such intensity, that it would render the judge unable to give the affiant the fair trial to which every litigant is entitled. Obviously, such a showing could rarely be made.

Hanrahan, 248 F.Supp. at 475-76 (internal citations and quotations omitted). “Importantly, to be disqualifying, the alleged bias usually ‘must stem from an extrajudicial source and result in an opinion on the merits on some basis other than what the judge learned from his participation in the case.'” Robertson, 691 F.Supp.2d at 78 (quoting United States v. Grinnell Corp., 384 U.S. 563, 583 (1966)); see also Liteky, 510 U.S. at 554 (predispositions developed during proceedings are rarely sufficient). Substantively, sections 144 and 455 “are quite similar, if not identical.” Phillips v. Joint Legislative Comm. on Performance & Expenditure Review of State of Miss., 637 F.2d 1014, 1019 (5th Cir. 1981).

         C. Plaintiff Chiefly Complains of this Court's Rulings, Which Do Not Evidence Any Extrajudicial Bias or Prejudice, and Do Not Warrant Recusal under Section 144 or Section 455.

         Plaintiff's motion consists chiefly of complaints regarding the Court's rulings in this case, and the Court's rulings and perceived delays in other cases brought by Plaintiff or organizations affiliated with Plaintiff. These rulings do not evidence any extrajudicial bias or prejudice and are therefore insufficient to support a motion for recusal under section 144 or 455. See, e.g., Simon v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, No. 16-5031, 2016 WL 3545484, at *1 (D.C. Cir. June 10, 2016) (per curiam order) (affirming denial of motion for disqualification because appellant had “not alleged any basis for finding that the district judge had any personal bias against him, or that the judge's impartiality could reasonably be questioned”) (citing Liteky, 510 U.S. 540 at 555 (“[J]udicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion.”)).

         First, Plaintiff restates the same arguments the he raised in pursuit of his first motion to recuse the undersigned. See Pl.'s Mem. at 2 (“The First Motion was based on compelling evidence of extrajudicial bias including, but not limited to . . . .”). Plaintiff also references his second motion to disqualify, but does not pause to list the grievances contained therein. Id. at 1. To the extent Plaintiff raises these issues again, the Court does not deviate from its lengthy written rulings on these matters. These rulings are fully incorporated into and form part of this Memorandum Opinion. See Klayman v. Judicial Watch, Inc., 628 F.Supp.2d 98 (D.D.C. 2009) (“First Recusal Opinion”); Klayman v. Judicial Watch, Inc., 744 F.Supp.2d 264 (D.D.C. 2010) (“Second Recusal Opinion”).

         Plaintiff's newly filed grievances are as follows. First, he contends that the undersigned “ha[s] already severely crippled Klayman's ability to present his case and have his day in court by denying him the right to testify or present evidence supporting his causes of action against Judicial Watch and regarding damages that he incurred as a result of Klayman's refusal to turn over confidential and irrelevant financial information [to] Judicial Watch in discovery.” Pl.'s Mem. at 3. This apparently references the discovery sanctions imposed upon Plaintiff by the Court in two written opinions in 2009 and 2011. See Klayman v. Judicial Watch, Inc., 256 F.R.D. 258, 263 (D.D.C.), aff'd, 628 F.Supp.2d 84 (D.D.C. 2009) (“Sanctions I”); Klayman v. Judicial Watch, Inc., 802 F.Supp.2d 137 (D.D.C. 2011) (“Sanctions II”); see also Klayman v. Judicial Watch, Inc., ___ F.Supp.3d ___, No. CV 06-670 (CKK), 2017 WL 2592413, at *3 (D.D.C. June 15, 2017) (“Damages Opinion”) (describing sanctions). The 2009 sanctions were imposed because of the severe prejudice imposed upon Defendants by Plaintiff's failure to produce in discovery “any of the documents requested by Defendants.” Sanctions I, 256 F.R.D. at 263. The 2011 sanctions were likewise imposed because of the “long line of burdens unfairly imposed upon Defendants as a result of [Plaintiff's] conduct in this litigation.” Sanctions II, 802 F.Supp.2d at 150. Plaintiff presents no argument for how these two opinions manifest an extrajudicial bias or prejudice, other than to say that the undersigned has “crippled ...

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