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Robinson v. Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 24, 2015

KENNETH E. ROBINSON JR., Plaintiff,
v.
HORIZON BLUE CROSS BLUE SHIELD OF NEW JERSEY, et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

JOSEPH A. DICKSON, Magistrate Judge.

This matter comes before this Court on Plaintiff Kenneth E. Robinson's ("Plaintiff) motion, (Motion to Recuse, ECF No. 87), seeking the recusal of the undersigned from this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455. Pursuant to Federal Rule Civil Procedure 78, no oral argument was heard. After considering the submissions of the parties, and for good cause, this Court DENIES Plaintiff's motion for the reasons herein expressed separately below.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit in this Court on May 18, 2012 alleging disparate/advse treatment on the basis of race and sex, retaliation, wrongful termination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud/deceit, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligent hiring, supervision, and training. (Complaint, ECF No. 1). The matter was reassigned to the undersigned on September 13, 2013. (See Docket Entry on September 13, 2013). The Court held an in person status conference on November 18, 2013. (See Minute Entry on November 18, 2013). On December 23, 2013 this Court issued an Opinion on the properly filed pending Motions, [1] (ECF No. 73), and entered an Order on December 26, 2013. (ECF No. 74). Plaintiff appealed this Court's decision on January 9, 2014. (ECF No. 76). After having considered the parties' submissions, Judge Salas affirmed this Court's Opinion and Order on July 21, 2014. (ECF Nos. 80 and 81). On September 9, 2014 this Court scheduled an in person conference on October 9, 2014. (ECF No. 82). On October 9, 2014 Plaintiff filed, what appears to be, his personal notes, requesting that the matter be referred to another Magistrate Judge. (ECF No. 83).

On or about October 27, 2014, Plaintiff, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 455(a) and (b), filed the instant motion seeking the recusal of the undersigned from this matter. Specifically, Plaintiff contends disqualification pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §455(a) is warranted because:

... [the undersigned's] utterances and conduct seemed to signal a disdain for Plaintiff, and a deep seeded favoritism towards Defendants' Counsel, which have made Plaintiff deeply concerned, and genuinely and reasonably question his impartiality to the extent that Plaintiff reasonably questions whether Magistrate Dickson will adjudicate this lawsuit in a fair and just manner.

(Motion to Recuse, ECF No. 87 at 4).

Plaintiff offers four examples he claims demonstrate the undersigned's bias: (1) my alleged ex parte communications with Defendants' Counsel prior to the start of the in-person status conference held on November 18, 2013; (2) my alleged admission, during the in-person status conference held on October 09, 2014, of failing to become acquainted with all of the filings in the instant matter when it was transferred from Magistrate Mannion to myself; (3) at that same conference, my alleged "coaching" of Defendants' Counsel to file a dispositive motion; and (4) my allegedly biased decision in allowing Defendants' Counsel to file a response to Plaintiff's submission, while telling Plaintiff it was not necessary to file a reply to Defendants' Counsel's response.

Moreover, Plaintiff argues in the alternative, that I should be disqualified from this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §455(b) because I have "served as a lawyer in the matter in controversy..." (Id. at 8). Specifically, Plaintiff points to my alleged employment as a management-side litigater, and argues "[I]t is unfathomable to believe that he doesn't retain a bias against a plaintiff, and for management, in employment discrimination cases." Id.).

On or about November 11, 2014, Defendants filed an opposition to Plaintiff's motion seeking the undersigned's recusal, (ECF No. 88). Defendants' opposition emphasizes that the undersigned has not demonstrated any bias towards either party. Instead, Defendants characterize Plaintiff's motion as "the latest effort by Plaintiff to refuse to accept decisions with which he disagrees..." (Id. at 2).

On or about November 14, 2014, Plaintiff filed a reply to Defendants' opposition, (ECF No. 89). In summary, Plaintiff argues that "[T]he merits of Plaintiff's Motion for Recusal show that, despite Counsel's strident defense of Magistrate Dickson, Magistrate Dickson's impartiality and appearance of bias are reasonably questioned, and he should recuse himself or be disqualified." (Id. at 9).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

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). Under Section 455(a), "the test that applies is whether a reasonable person, with knowledge of all the facts, would conclude that the judg's impartiality might reasonably be questioned.'" Meza-Role v. Partyka, No. 11-2307, 2011 2579884, at *2, fn. 1 (D.N.J. June 27, 2011) (citing In re: Kensington Int'l Ltd., 368 F.3d 289, 301 (3d Cir.2004)); see also Jones, 899 F.2d at 1356 ("Under this section a judge must consider whether a reasonable person knowing all the circumstances would harbor doubts concerning the judge's impartiality."). "This is an objective inquiry that considers not only whether a judge is actually impartial but whether there is an appearance of impartiality." Meza-Role, 2011 WL 2579884, at *2, fn. 1 (citing In re: Community Bank of Northern Virginia, 418 F.3d 277, 320 (3d Cir.2005). Moreover, "[T]he test for disqualification is objective, not subjective. It only matters whether the judge reasonably appears to be biased." Liteky v. U.S., 510 U.S. 540, 548, 114 S.Ct. 1147, 127 L.Ed.2d 474 (1994).

In addition to § 455(a), the present motion to recuse is also brought under § 455(b) which provides, ...


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