Nichols v. Tractor Supply Company
Motion Memorandum Decision and ORDER DENYING 20 Request for Disqualification Construed as a Motion for Disqualification, signed by Chief Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill on 6/14/17. (Marrujo, C)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND
ORDER DENYING REQUEST FOR
AS A MOTION FOR
DISQUALIFICATION (Doc. 20)
TRACTOR SUPPLY COMPANY,
On June 9, 2017, Plaintiff Brenna Nichols sent a letter brief to the undersigned’s Courtroom
14 Deputy requesting that the undersigned disqualify himself from this case. As a letter brief is not an
15 appropriate means by which such an issue can be raised under the local rules, see Local Rule
16 230(b)(“Except as otherwise provided in these Rules or as ordered or allowed by the Court, all motions
17 shall be noticed on the motion calendar of the assigned Judge or Magistrate Judge”), the Court has
18 directed the Clerk of Court to file it. See Doc. 20. Construing the letter brief as a motion to disqualify,
19 that motion is DENIED.
A judge is required to disqualify himself if his impartiality might reasonably be questioned. 28
21 U.S.C. § 455(a). A judge shall also disqualify himself if he has “personal knowledge of disputed
22 evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(1). The decision regarding
23 disqualification is made by the judge whose impartiality is at issue. Bernard v. Coyne, 31 F.3d 842, 843
24 (9th Cir. 1994). The Supreme Court has recognized that:
[J]udicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or
partiality motion. In and of themselves (i.e., apart from surrounding
comments or accompanying opinion), they cannot possibly show reliance
upon an extrajudicial source; and can only in the rarest circumstances
evidence the degree of favoritism or antagonism required ... when no
extrajudicial source is involved. Almost invariably, they are proper
grounds for appeal, not for recusal.
Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555 (1994) (citation omitted). “The test is ‘whether a reasonable
person with knowledge of all the facts would conclude that the judge's impartiality might reasonably be
questioned.” United States v. Wilkerson, 208 F.3d 794, 797 (9th Cir. 2000) (quoting United States v.
Hernandez, 109 F.3d 1450, 1453 (9th Cir. 1997)). “Frivolous and improperly based suggestions that a
judge recuse should be firmly declined.” Maier v. Orr, 758 F.2d 1578, 1583 (9th Cir. 1985) (citations
Here, Plaintiff suggests the undersigned should recuse himself because of rulings made in several
prior cases brought by Plaintiff’s counsel. For example, Plaintiffs point to Gibbs v. Kaplan Coll., No.
1:14-CV-239-LJO-BAM, 2015 WL 1622181, at *1 n.1 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 10, 2015), in which the
undersigned stated in a footnote:
Due to the dozens of instances where counsel for Plaintiff, Shelley G.
Bryant, mischaracterized the cited evidence-namely, witnesses' deposition
testimony-it is difficult to believe those mischaracterizations were
unintentional or based on a genuinely different understanding of the
evidence. In addition, Mr. Bryant accuses Kaplan of lying to the California
Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”), and accuses two
witnesses of lying in their depositions without valid evidentiary support.
Put bluntly, Mr. Bryant blatantly and repeatedly mischaracterizes the
evidence. If this case had survived summary judgment, the Court likely
would have initiated a sanctions proceeding under Rule 11.
20 (Internal record citations omitted). Plaintiff construes this and other related statements “as assertions that
21 Plaintiff’s counsel personally – not Plaintiff as a party – was intentionally dishonest with the Court” and
22 argues that “these statements are now creating a perception that [the undersigned] will decide this case
23 based on his previous opinions of Plaintiff’s counsel rather than the merits.” Doc. 20 at 2.
The prior rulings in Kaplan were based on “facts introduced or evidence occurring in the course
25 of the current proceedings or of prior proceedings,” which “almost never constitute a valid basis for a
bias or partiality motion.” Liteky, 510 U.S. at 555. The Supreme Court has explained the rare
circumstances in which the exception to that rule may apply. Statements based on facts or evidence
gathered during the course of judicial proceedings “may do so if they reveal an opinion that derives from
an extrajudicial source; and they will do so if they reveal such a high degree of favoritism or antagonism
as to make fair judgment impossible.” Id.
An example of the latter (and perhaps of the former as well) is the
statement that was alleged to have been made by the District Judge in
Berger v. United States, 255 U.S. 22 (1921), a World War I espionage
case against German-American defendants: “One must have a very
judicial mind, indeed, not [to be] prejudiced against the German
Americans” because their “hearts are reeking with disloyalty.” Id., at 28
(internal quotation marks omitted). Not establishing bias or partiality,
however, are expressions of impatience, dissatisfaction, annoyance, and
even anger, that are within the bounds of what imperfect men and women,
even after having been confirmed as federal judges, sometimes display. A
judge’s ordinary efforts at courtroom administration—even a stern and
short-tempered judge's ordinary efforts at courtroom administration—
13 Id. at 555-56.
The statement made by the undersigned in the Kaplan case is not of the nature that would
15 warrant disqualification or recusal. A contrary rule would enable lawyers to behave inappropriately on
16 the record with no consequence to their reputation in future cases, as they would simply be able to
17 request the recusal of any judge who found fault with their method(s) of practice. That said, the Court
18 views each and every case before it on the merits, based upon the record.
19 IT IS SO ORDERED.
/s/ Lawrence J. O’Neill _____
June 14, 2017
UNITED STATES CHIEF DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?