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Ngiendo v. Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

May 26, 2015

QUINN NGIENDO, Plaintiff,
v.
SEDGWICK CLAIMS MANAGEMENT SERVICES, INC., et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JULIE A. ROBINSON, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Quinn Ngiendo's Motion to Recuse Hon. Julie Robinson and to Set Aside Judgment (Doc. 68). The motion is fully briefed and the Court is prepared to rule.[1] For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion to recuse and to set aside judgment is denied.

I. Motion to Recuse

The Court will first address Plaintiff's request for recusal. Plaintiff alleges that the undersigned was assigned to this case and "has rendered three decisions and orders in the case that plaintiff now harbor doubts about the judge's impartiality on those three opinions."[2]

There are two statutes governing judicial recusal, 28 U.S.C. §§ 144 and 455.[3] For recusal under § 144, the moving party must submit an affidavit showing bias and prejudice.[4] The bias and prejudice must be personal, extrajudicial, and identified by "facts of time, place, persons, occasions, and circumstances."[5] These facts will be accepted as true, but they must be more than conclusions, rumors, beliefs, and opinions.[6] Although Plaintiff has submitted an affidavit, she fails to allege any personal or extrajudicial prejudice or bias.[7] Plaintiff attests that after reviewing the decisions entered in her case, she is "doubtful" as to the undersigned's case handling, "believing it is with bias, prejudices and favoritism of opponents-defendants, mainly as unrepresented person filing without a lawyer's assistance."[8] The remainder of her affidavit refers to the handling of her case, without any suggestion of personal or extrajudicial bias or prejudice. She mentions that she has "come across" other incidents with other litigants who filed complaints also harboring similar doubts of their cases being handled with impartiality and/or prejudice. Plaintiff's affidavit complains about the handling or her case, which is not "personal or extrajudicial, " and she refers to "other litigants" and "incidents" without identifying "facts of time, place, person, occasions, and circumstances." Without an affidavit showing bias or prejudice and proper identification of events indicating a personal and extrajudicial bias, Plaintiff does not support a request for recusal under 28 U.S.C. § 144.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) and (b)(1) a judge "shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned" or if "he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party."[9] Section (b)(1) is subjective and contains the "extrajudicial source" limitation.[10] Recusal may be appropriate "when a judge's decisions, opinions, or remarks stem from an extrajudicial source - a source outside the judicial proceedings."[11] Recusal is also necessary when a judge's actions or comments "reveal such a high degree of favoritism or antagonism as to make fair judgment impossible."[12]

Section 455(a) has a broader reach than subsection (b) and the standard is not subjective, but rather objective.[13] The factual allegations need not be taken as true, and the test is "whether a reasonable person, knowing all the relevant facts, would harbor doubts about the judge's impartiality."[14] A judge has a "continuing duty to ask himself what a reasonable person, knowing all of the relevant facts, would think about his impartiality.'"[15] "The goal of section 455(a) is to avoid even the appearance of partiality."[16]

The initial inquiry - whether a reasonable factual basis exists for questioning the judge's impartiality - is limited to outward manifestations and the reasonable inferences to be drawn from those manifestations.[17] "[T]he judge's actual state of mind, purity of heart, incorruptibility, or lack of partiality are not the issue."[18] "The trial judge must recuse himself when there is the appearance of bias, regardless of whether there is actual bias."[19]

The Tenth Circuit has cautioned that "section 455(a) must not be so broadly construed that it becomes, in effect, presumptive, so that recusal is mandated upon the merest unsubstantiated suggestion of personal bias or prejudice."[20] A judge has "as much obligation... not to recuse when there is no occasion for him to do so as there is for him to do so when there is."[21] Judges have a duty to sit when there is no legitimate reason to recuse.[22] Courts must exercise caution in considering motions for recusal in order to discourage their use for judge shopping or delay.[23]

The Supreme Court has explained that "judicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion."[24] When no extrajudicial source is relied upon as a ground for recusal, "opinions formed by the judge on the basis of facts introduced or events occurring in the course of the current proceedings, or of prior 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."[25]

Plaintiff points to standard language used by the Court's docketing system and the use of citations to valid case law in prior rulings as support for her argument that recusal is warranted.[26] The Court finds that no reasonable person would believe that the undersigned's previous rulings (Docs. 41, 51 and 64), implicate the level of "deep-seated favoritism or antagonism" that would make recusal proper. Knowing all of the relevant facts, no reasonable person could harbor doubts about the undersigned's impartiality. Because the undersigned has a duty to sit and hear this case where there is no legitimate reason for recusal, Plaintiff's request for recusal is denied and the Court will consider Plaintiff's motion to set aside the judgment in this case.

II. Motion to Set Aside Judgment

Local Rule 7.3(a) provides that "[p]arties seeking reconsideration of dispositive orders or judgments must file a motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) or 60."[27] A motion to alter or amend judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) may be granted only if the moving party can establish: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that could not have been obtained previously through the exercise of due diligence; or (3) the need to correct clear error or prevent manifest injustice.[28] Such a motion does not permit a losing party to rehash arguments previously addressed or to present new legal ...


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