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Gable v. United States

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 3, 2019

RICHARD M. GABLE, Plaintiff,



         This is a long-running dispute in which Richard M. Gable (“Plaintiff”), who currently proceeds pro se, has brought an action against the United States of America (“Defendant”) under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2674 et seq., alleging medical malpractice and other injuries arising from an amputation performed on his left leg at a hospital operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “V.A.”) in August 2006. The matter was referred to the undersigned for full case management in February 2015. Since that time, the undersigned has issued several rulings, including a Report and Recommendation that found that, based on the date that Plaintiff filed his administrative claim with the V.A., any of his claims accruing prior to September 16, 2006, should be dismissed. ECF No. 108. Judge Rosemary M. Collyer adopted that Report and Recommendation in June 2018. See Gable v. United States, 319 F.Supp.3d 37 (D.D.C. 2018).

         On November 21, 2018, Plaintiff filed a submission styled, “Motion for a Venue Change and the Disqualification of the Honorable Judge Harvey: 1) Due to Partiality and Bias of the Honorable Judge for the Following Infractions.” ECF No. 149. The undersigned construes the motion as seeking his recusal/disqualification pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 144 and 455.[1]

Section 144 provides:
Whenever a party to any proceeding in a district court makes and files a timely and sufficient affidavit 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, such judge shall proceed no further therein, but another judge shall be assigned to hear such proceeding.
The affidavit shall state the facts and the reasons for the belief that bias or prejudice exists, and shall be filed not less than ten days before the beginning of the term at which the proceeding is to be heard, or good cause shall be shown for failure to file it within such time. A party may file only one such affidavit in any case. It shall be accompanied by a certificate of counsel of record stating that it is made in good faith.

28 U.S.C. § 144. Pursuant to section 455, “Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned” or in which he “has a personal bias of prejudice against a party, ” among other reasons. 28 U.S.C. § 455(a), (b)(1). Under either statute, the judge involved should rule, in the first instance, on the propriety of recusal. See, e.g., 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.”); United States v. Fiat Motors of North America, Inc., 512 F.Supp. 247 (D.D.C. 1981) (“Section 455(a) places a duty upon a judge to disqualify himself ‘in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.'” (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 455(a))). Although section 144 has certain procedural requirements not included in section 455, [2] “substantively, the two statutes are quite similar, if not identical.” Ryan v. Fed. Bureau of Investigation, 125 F.Supp.3d 1, 2 (D.D.C. 2015) (quoting Phillips v. Joint Legis. Comm. on Performance and Expenditure Rev. of State of Miss., 637 F.2d 1014, 1019 (5th Cir. Unit A Feb. 1981)).

         The Supreme Court has made clear that “judicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion.” Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555 (1994). Rather, a litigant moving for recusal “must demonstrate the court's reliance on an ‘extrajudicial source' that creates an appearance of partiality, ” Middlebrooks v. St. Coletta of Greater Washington, Inc., 710 F.Supp.2d 77, 78 (D.D.C. 2010), aff'd, 2011 WL 1770464 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 4, 2011); see also Liberty Lobby, Inc. v. Dow Jones & Co., 838 F.2d 1287, 1301 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (“It is well settled that a motion for recusal under 28 U.S.C. § 144 or § 455 must be based upon prejudice from an extra-judicial source.”), for example, a decision that “rests upon knowledge that the subject ought not to possess, ” Liteky, 510 U.S. at 550. Alternatively, recusal may be appropriate “in rare cases, where no extrajudicial source is involved” if the movant presents evidence showing “a deep-seated favoritism or antagonism that would make fair judgment impossible, ” Middlebrooks, 710 F.Supp.2d at 78, such as when “an unfavorable predisposition” that “springs from the facts adduced” during the case “is so extreme as to display clear inability to render fair judgment, ” Liteky, 510 U.S. at 550. However, “[a] judge should not recuse himself based upon conclusory, unsupported or tenuous allegations, ” Sataki v. Broadcasting Bd. of Governors, 733 F.Supp.2d 54, 66 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting Panahi v. U.S. Congress, 105 Fed.Appx. 270, 274 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (per curiam)), and, as noted, “mere disagreement with the Court's judicial rulings” will never “provide a proper ground for recusal.” Klayman. 744 F.Supp.2d at 276.

         The undersigned has reviewed all 33 pages of the motion at issue and concludes that its arguments for recusal arise merely from Plaintiff's disagreement with the rulings of this Court. For example, Plaintiff alleges that in 2015, the undersigned “never caused the defense to turn in key and critical pieces of evidence” that Defendant was ordered to produce by Judge Collyer in 2013. ECF No. 149 at 21-22. This charge appears to be related to a motion from January 1, 2014, in which Plaintiff sought to “compel the defense to produce” medical records as allegedly ordered by Judge Collyer “back in November 5th 2013, ” which the undersigned denied on July 31, 2015.[3]ECF No. 40 at 1; Minute Order dated July 31, 2015. There is no evidence or argument as to how that ruling is the product of bias based on an extrajudicial source or antagonism directed at Plaintiff. Similarly, Plaintiff complains that the Court misinterpreted evidence that he presented as to the date on which he filed his administrative claim with the V.A., which led to the recommendation to dismiss any claims that accrued prior to September 16, 2006, as time-barred. ECF No. 149 at 18-19. Again, there is neither evidence nor argument that indicates that the ruling was the product of bias or prejudice.[4] The same is true of the other alleged “[i]nfractions” that are the subject of Plaintiff's submission. Plaintiff's motion therefore must fail, because “while . . . dissatisfaction with the Court's rulings may provide a proper ground for appeal, . . . mere disagreement with the Court's judicial rulings does not provide a proper ground for recusal.” Sataki, 733 F.Supp.2d at 66.

         For the reasons, Plaintiffs motion for disqualification (ECF No. 149) is DENIED.

         SO ORDERED.



[1] Although the title of the submission mentions a venue change, the motion does not ask for a transfer of the case out of this District. Instead, it appears that Plaintiff seeks only ...

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