United States District Court, D. New Jersey
October 4, 2005.
STEVEN C. THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
EVA'S VILLAGE AND SHELTERING PROGRAM, et. al, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOEL PISANO, District Judge
Before this Court is pro se Plaintiff, Steven C. Thompson's
motion seeking the Court's recusal from this matter. The Court
will decide this motion without oral argument as permitted by
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. The Court has carefully
considered Plaintiff's motion for recusal and, for the following
reasons, denies Plaintiff's motion.
On June 6, 2004, Plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants
Narcotics Anonymous World Services, Inc. ("Narcotics
Anonymous"),*fn1 Eva's Village and Sheltering Program
("Eva's Village"), the Greater Paterson Area, Inc., and various
employees of Eva's Village. Plaintiff claimed that the defendants
violated his constitutional rights and unlawfully discriminated
against him by prohibiting him from conducting a prayer at
Narcotics Anonymous meetings held at Eva's Village in Paterson,
The procedural history in this case is extensive due in no
small part to the Plaintiff's profuse letter writing and motion
filing.*fn2 Relevant to this case are the numerous motions
that Plaintiff filed seeking this Court's recusal from this
matter. On November 1, 2004, Plaintiff filed a motion seeking the
removal of Magistrate Judge Madeline C. Arleo, which was
subsequently denied. Plaintiff filed a motion for the recusal of
Judges Pisano and Arleo on May 24, 2005 which also was denied by
the Court. The current motion is Plaintiff's third and most
recent attempt to have the Court recuse itself from this matter. II. Legal Discussion
The decision of whether to recuse lies within the discretion of
the trial judge. United States v. Wilensky, 757 F.2d 594,
599-600 (3d Cir. 1985). There are two federal statutes that
dictate the circumstances under which a federal judge should
recuse. First, 28 U.S.C. § 144, applicable to federal district
court judges, provides that a judge should recuse if the party
seeking recusal submits a "timely and sufficient affidavit"
illustrating that the judge has a personal bias or prejudice
towards a party. 28 U.S.C. § 144 (2005).*fn3
Similar to section 144, section 455(b)(1) of the same title,
applicable to all justices, judges, and magistrates of the Unites
States, provides that a judge should recuse if the judge has a
personal bias or prejudice towards a party.
28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(1). However, unlike section 144, section 455(b)(1) does
not include the requirement of a timely and sufficient affidavit.
See id; see also In re Beard, 811 F.2d 818, 827 (4th
Cir. 1987) ("Because § 455 places a duty directly upon the judge
to evaluate his own actions, it does not require that an
affidavit be filed.") Furthermore, section 455(a) states that a
judge should recuse himself if the judge's "impartiality might
reasonably be questioned." 28 U.S.C. § 455(a). Thus, these
statutory provisions provide that there are two reasons for
granting a motion for recusal: (1) the judge has a personal bias
or prejudice towards a party, see 28 U.S.C. § 144,
455(b)(1);*fn4 or (2) the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned, see 28 U.S.C. § 455(a).
Plaintiff's motion for the recusal of Judges Pisano and Arleo
is denied because Plaintiff has not shown these judges either
have a personal bias or prejudice towards Plaintiff or that their
impartiality in this matter should reasonably be questioned.
Plaintiff's claims are legally unfounded and amount to nothing
more than unbridled accusations. If a party claims that a judge
should recuse because of a personal bias, prejudice, or lack of
impartiality towards that party, he generally must show that such
bias or prejudice is grounded in extrajudicial sources, such as
personal animus, rather than judicial actions that can be
corrected on appeal. See Smith v. Danyo, 585 F.2d 83, 87 (3d
Cir. 1978). Extrajudicial bias "refers to a bias that is not
derived from the evidence or conduct of the parties that the
judge observes in the course of the proceedings." Johnson v.
Trueblood, 629 F.2d 287, 291 (3d Cir. 1980). In the absence of
extrajudicial bias, a party seeking recusal must show that a
judge has a "deep-seated and unequivocal antagonism that would
render fair judgment impossible" to obtain recusal. Liteky v.
United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555-556 (1994) ("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").
Furthermore, if a party claims that a judge should recuse under
section 455(a) because his "impartiality might reasonably be
questioned" the test that applies is "whether a reasonable person, with knowledge of all the facts, would conclude that the
judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned." In re:
Kensington Int'l Ltd., 368 F.3d 289, 301 (3d Cir. 2004). This is
an objective inquiry that considers not only whether a judge is
actually impartial but whether there is an appearance of
impartiality. See In re: Community Bank of Northern Virginia,
418 F.3d 277, 320 (3d Cir. 2005).
Plaintiff has failed to show that either Judge Pisano or Judge
Arleo have a personal bias or prejudice that should prevent them
from hearing this case or that there is some other reason why
their impartiality should be reasonably questioned. Plaintiff
believes that Judges Pisano and Arleo are "ambushing" him by
engaging in a "conspiracy" with counsel for the defendants to
violate Plaintiff's rights. Plaintiff's support for these
accusation is that he claims that the Court has (1) not disposed
of the numerous discovery motions Plaintiff has filed; (2)
repeatedly denied Plaintiff's motions and requests; (3) ridiculed
Plaintiff because of his "spiritual path"; (3) denied Plaintiff
reasonable accommodations pursuant to the Americans with
Disabilities Act; (4) discriminated against Plaintiff based on
his race and disability; (5) made highly prejudicial comments
about the Plaintiff; and (6) engaged in improper ex parte
communications with counsel for the defendants.
First, Plaintiff's accusations that this Court's disposition of
Plaintiff's voluminous letter filings and motions illustrates the
Court's bias, prejudice, or lack of impartiality are unfounded.
Litigants do not have the right to demand recusal based on
unfavorable rulings. SecuraComm Consulting, Inc. v. Securacom
Inc., 224 F.3d 273, 278 (3d Cir. 2000); see also Johnson,
629 F.2d at 291 (stating that scheduling or other rulings by the
district court were not a basis for recusal); Smith,
585 F.2d at 87 ("The [Petitioners] also object that some rulings were
wrong. Such errors, even compounded, do not satisfy the requirements of § 144.").
Second, Plaintiff's accusations that these judges are biased,
prejudiced, or lack impartiality because they "ridiculed"
Plaintiff's "spiritual path" or discriminated against Plaintiff
because of his race or disability have no support in Plaintiff's
motion or in the record. Plaintiff's claims that Judge Pisano and
Judge Arleo engaged in improper ex parte communications with
counsel for the defendants is also unsupported by any evidence in
this matter. Thus, recusal is not warranted on any of these
grounds. See United States v. Cherry, 330 F.3d 658, 665
(4th Cir. 2003) ("A presiding judge is not . . . required to
recuse himself simply because of "unsupported, irrational, or
highly tenuous speculation."); United States v. Cerceda,
188 F.3d 1291, 1293 (11th Cir. 1999) ("A charge of partiality
must be supported by some factual basis, however. Recusal cannot
be based on "unsupported, irrational or highly tenuous
speculation."); see also Cooney v. Booth,
262 F. Supp. 2d 494, 503 (E.D. Pa. 2003) (finding that unsubstantiated claims of
ex parte communications between judge and defense counsel were
insufficient to warrant recusal).
Next, Plaintiff's claim that the Court denied Plaintiff
reasonable accommodations pursuant to the Americans with
Disabilities Act fails. As stated in the Court's opinion denying
Plaintiff's motion for recusal filed on May 24, 2005, this Court
has and will continue to make efforts to accommodate the
proceedings of this case with Plaintiff's medical needs. Insofar
as Plaintiff requests some form of "reasonable accommodation" at
this time for unspecified reasons, such a request is denied
without prejudice and the Court will make efforts to accommodate
Plaintiff's medical needs as they arise.
Further, Plaintiff's contention that this Court made
unspecified "prejudicial" comments about Plaintiff is also
unsupported by his submissions or by the record. To the extent
that Judge Pisano or Judge Arleo made any comments that could be considered
critical of Plaintiff, recusal is not required because Plaintiff
fails to show that any such comments derived from an
extrajudicial source or reveal such a high degree of favoritism
or antagonism to make fair judgment impossible. See Liteky,
510 U.S. at 554; see also In re: Community Bank of Northern
Virginia, 418 F.3d at 320 ("[J]udicial remarks . . . that are
critical or disapproving of, or even hostile to, counsel, the
parties, or their cases, ordinarily do not support a bias or
partiality challenge (quoting Liteky, 510 U.S. at 554))."
Furthermore, "expressions of impatience, dissatisfaction,
annoyance, and even anger" are generally insufficient to
establish bias, prejudice, or a lack of impartiality. See id.
In addition, although Plaintiff's motion is at times unclear,
to the extent that Plaintiff is attempting to obtain the recusal
of Judges Pisano and Arleo based on the fact that on September
21, 2005, he filed a civil suit against Judge Pisano, Judge
Arleo, members of their respective chambers, and various
individual attorneys who represent the defendants in Plaintiff's
lawsuit, Plaintiff's motion is denied in this regard. A judge is
not disqualified under sections 144 or 455 merely because a
litigant sues or threatens to sue him. United States v.
Grismore, 564 F.2d 929, 933 (10th Cir. 1977). To hold
otherwise would permit Plaintiff to improperly "judge shop" to
select the judge that he prefers to handle the case. See In re
Mann, 229 F.3d 657, 658-59 (7th Cir. 2000); Alexander v.
Primerica Holdings, Inc., 10 F.3d 155, 162 (3d Cir. 1993).
To the extent that Plaintiff is attempting to obtain recusal
based on the fact that Judge Pisano allegedly presided over
another case involving Plaintiff, the motion is denied. A judge
is not disqualified from presiding over a matter because he has
presided over some other case involving the same party. See
Power v. Dep't of Labor, No. C.A. 02-169-GMS, 2002 WL 976001, at *1 (D. Del. May 3, 2002) ("Federal judges are not
required to recuse themselves from matters simply because they
presided over an earlier matter involving the same party (citing
United States v. Litesky, 973 F.2d 910, 910 (11th Cir.
Finally, Plaintiff briefly states in his motion that he is
seeking injunctive relief ordering another Judge to grant
Plaintiff's motions. Plaintiff also states that he is seeking a
declaration that Judge Pisano's actions are unconstitutional.
Plaintiff cites no grounds entitling him to the injunctive or
declaratory relief that he requests. Accordingly, such motions
For the reasons stated above, the Court will not recuse itself
from this matter. After careful consideration of Plaintiff's
filings, there is nothing to suggest personal bias or prejudice,
nor are there any facts from which a reasonable person with
knowledge of all of the facts would conclude that the Court's
impartiality might reasonably be questioned. Litigants are not
permitted to use sections 144 and 455 to select the judge that
they prefer to handle the case. See Alexander,
10 F.3d at 162. Just as a district court has a duty to recuse itself under
the appropriate circumstances, it has a corollary duty not to
recuse itself when there is no obligation to do so under
28 U.S.C. §§ 144 and 455. It is "vital to the integrity of the
system of justice that a judge not recuse himself on unsupported,
irrational, or highly tenuous speculation." See Cooney v.
Booth, 262 F. Supp. 2d 494, 508 (E.D. Pa. 2003) (quoting Hinman
v. Rogers, 831 F.2d 937, 939 (10th Cir. 1987)). These are
precisely the types of allegations that Plaintiff sets forth.
Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion is denied. An appropriate order
accompanies this opinion.
The Court has now considered three recusal motions that are
based upon the same allegations. These motions were without merit
and consumed inordinate time and resources of the Court. Therefore, the Court will enter an order to show cause
requiring Plaintiff to state why he should not be barred from
filing any future motions for recusal.
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