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Smalls v. Riviera Towers Corporation

United States District Court, Third Circuit

November 20, 2013



STANLEY R. CHESLER, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon three motions. Plaintiff pro se Patricia Smalls ("Plaintiff") has filed a "formal application," in response to this Court's August 9, 2013 Opinion & Order [Docket Entry 50], that requests two forms of relief: (1) to have the undersigned removed from this case; and (2) to have the Court's August 9, 2013 Opinion & Order "stricken off the record," a request that the Court will construe as a motion for reconsideration brought pursuant to Local Civil Rule 7.1(i). [Docket Entry 52.] The third motion before the Court is a motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by Defendants Riviera Towers Corporation ("RTC"), Kenneth Blane, Robert Weible, Aruna Narayanan, John Negria, Hemant Amin, Richard Gillen, Jennifer Shashaty, Michael Moran, and Angela Alvarez (collectively, the "RTC Defendants"), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). [Docket Entry 54.] Plaintiff has opposed the RTC Defendants' motion. [Docket Entry 60.] For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff's motions for recusal and reconsideration are denied, and the RTC Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted.

I. Background

This lawsuit arises from Plaintiff's eviction from her apartment in Riviera Towers, a coop located in West New York, New Jersey, and attendant legal action in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Plaintiff is an African-American woman and a former shareholder/owner of an apartment in Riviera Towers who claims she was unlawfully evicted from her apartment because of her race and gender. According to the Amended Complaint, in early 2011 the "RTC Board" filed suit against Plaintiff in the Superior Court of New Jersey to recover allegedly late maintenance fees. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 3.) Plaintiff alleges that she was never served a copy of RTC's state court complaint. RTC moved for default judgment in August of 2011. Though Plaintiff alleges that she was "in front of" the court in November 2011 to contest the default judgment, the December 7, 2011"Order Entering Final Judgment By Default" annexed to the Amended Complaint states that Plaintiff failed to show up for oral argument. (See id., Ex. A, at 4.) This default judgment, in the amount of $10,056.15, was revised downward to $8,133.50 in June 2012.

Plaintiff moved to "dismiss the [state court] complaint" in July 2012. (Id. at ¶ 12.) While that motion was pending, the RTC Board contacted Plaintiff and "threaten[ed]" to evict her from her apartment if she did not satisfy the $8,133.50 default judgment by August 1, 2012. (See id. at ¶ 13.) On August 1, 2012 Plaintiff was evicted from her apartment through actions that the Amended Complaint describe, without further factual support, as "burglary." (See id. at ¶ 14.) Plaintiff received the Order denying her motion to dismiss the state court action shortly thereafter.

Based on this eviction action, Plaintiff asserts in this Court fourteen separate causes of action against twelve different defendants. By Opinion & Order dated August 9, 2013, the Court granted Rule 12(b)(6) motions filed by Defendants Wentworth Property Management and Signature Property Group, Inc., dismissing all fourteen claims as to both parties. The remaining Defendants, Riviera Towers Corporation and nine of its Board members, who had filed an Answer instead of moving to dismiss, now move under Rule 12(c) for judgment on the pleadings on all fourteen claims.

Moreover, in response to the Court's August 9, 2013 Opinion & Order, Plaintiff has filed a letter application addressed to Chief Judge Simandle requesting that the undersigned be removed from this case and two related cases currently pending before this Court. Plaintiff's letter application states that the undersigned "lied about key facts" in the Opinion & Order and implies that the Opinion & Order is a vehicle by which the undersigned is "conspir[ing]" with Defendants to violate Plaintiff's rights. [Docket Entry 52.] Plaintiff also asks the Chief Judge to have the August 9, 2012 Opinion & Order "stricken off the record." The Court therefore understands Plaintiff's letter application to request two forms of relief: (1) that the undersigned recuse himself from this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 144 and 455 because of bias or partiality towards the Defendants; and (2) that this Court reconsider its August 9, 2013 Opinion & Order pursuant to Local Civil Rule 7.1(i). The instant Opinion & Order will first address these two requests before turning to the RTC Defendants' motion.

II. Discussion

A. Plaintiff's Request for Recusal and Motion for Reconsideration

Initially, the Court notes that while Plaintiff's request for recusal is addressed to Chief Judge Simandle, "[d]iscretion is confided in the district judge in the first instance to disqualify himself because the judge presiding over a case is in the best position to appreciate the implications of those matters alleged in a recusal motion...." United States v. Ciavarella, 716 F.3d 705, 720 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting In re Kensington Int'l Ltd., 353 F.3d 211, 224 (3d Cir. 2003)). It is therefore the responsibility of the undersigned to determine Plaintiff's recusal request.

As for the substance of the recusal application, Plaintiff has failed to raise any colorable grounds to trigger this Court's duty to recuse itself pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 144 and 455. It is well established that "judicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion' because they almost never arise from an extrajudicial source.'" United States v. Bertoli, 400 F.3d 1384, 1412 (3d Cir. 1994) (quoting Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555 (1994)). Plaintiff's recusal request does nothing more than challenge the propriety, albeit in vehement language, of the August 9, 2013 Opinion & Order, and therefore raises no sufficient grounds for recusal. Were unhappiness with the Court's decisions an adequate basis for the Court to recuse itself, every unhappy litigant would be entitled to similar relief.

Insofar as Plaintiff's request to have that Opinion & Order "stricken from the record" can be characterized as a motion for reconsideration, the motion will be denied for substantially similar reasons. Reconsideration under Local Civil Rule 7.1 is "an extraordinary remedy." Chiniewicz v. Henderson, 202 F.Supp.2d 332, 334 (D.N.J. 2002). Accordingly, a motion for reconsideration must show one of the following: "(1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court issued its order; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice." See Banda v. Burlington County, 263 F.Appx. 182, 183 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Max's Seafood Cafe ex rel. Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999)). Plaintiff's letter application presents none of these bases for reconsideration, and essentially reargues the merits of the motions to dismiss that underlie the Opinion & Order. Because "a motion for reconsideration is not a vehicle to reargue" a motion, see Chiniewicz, 202 F.Supp.2d at 334, Plaintiff's letter application is denied.

B. The RTC Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

The Court next considers the RTC Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) allows a party to move for judgment on the pleadings "after the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial." A motion brought pursuant to Rule 12(c) that raises the defense that plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is analyzed under the same standard applicable to ...

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