Whitlow v. Bradley University
ORDER & OPINION entered by Judge Joe Billy McDade on 10/4/2017. For the reasons stated above, Plaintiff's Motion for Relief from Judgment Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6) (Doc. 25) is DENIED. SEE FULL WRITTEN ORDER & OPINION. (JS, ilcd)
Wednesday, 04 October, 2017 03:20:36 PM
Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
CENTRAL DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
MICHAEL S. WHITLOW,
Case No. 1:16-cv-01223-JBM-JEH
ORDER & OPINION
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff’s Motion for Relief from Judgment
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6). (Doc. 25). For the reasons
discussed below, Plaintiff’s motion is DENIED.
On June 20, 2016, Plaintiff Michael S. Whitlow filed a complaint against his
employer Bradley University (“Bradley”). Whitlow brought one claim of hostile
workplace environment, four claims of retaliation, and one claim of gender
discrimination all in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e)-2(a)(1). (Doc. 1). On August 22,
2016, Bradley filed a motion to dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims for failing to state a
claim upon which relief could be granted. (Docs. 12, 13).
On February 8, 2017, the Court granted Bradley’s motion, (Doc. 15), finding
that Plaintiff had failed to state a claim for any of his six claims. However, the Court
granted Plaintiff leave to amend his hostile work environment and Title VII gender
On February 23, 2017, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint asserting two
claims: hostile work environment and gender discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000(e)-2(a)(1). (Doc. 16).
On March 9, 2017, Bradley filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s amended
complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. (Docs. 18,
On August 15, 2017, the Court granted Bradley’s motion and dismissed
Whitlow’s claims with prejudice. (Doc. 23). As to Whitlow’s hostile work environment
claim, the Court held that (1) Plaintiff failed to plead sufficient factual allegations
beyond speculation that the discrimination he faced was based on his gender; (2)
Plaintiff failed to plead sufficient factual allegations beyond speculation that the
alleged discrimination was objectively hostile; and (3) Plaintiff failed to plead
sufficient factual allegations beyond speculation that the discrimination was severe
or pervasive. Id. at 8. As to Whitlow’s gender discrimination claim under Title VII,
the Court held that Plaintiff failed to state sufficient facts to raise his allegations
above speculation. Id. at 19.
On September 9, 2017, Whitlow filed the instant Motion for Relief from
Judgment Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). He argues that the
Court should have recused itself pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) because of its prior
relationship with Bradley. On September 25, 2017, Bradley filed its response and this
matter is now ripe for decision.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) enumerates certain circumstances under
which “the court may relieve a party” “from a final judgment, order, or proceeding”.
FED. R. CIV. P. 60(b). Whitlow brings this Rule 60(b) motion under the Rule’s catchall
category, subdivision (b)(6), which permits a court to reopen a judgment for “any other
reason that justifies relief.” Rule 60(b) vests wide discretion in courts, but relief under
subdivision (b)(6) is available only in “extraordinary circumstances.” Buck v. Davis,
137 S.Ct. 759, 777-78 (2017).
28 U.S.C. § 455 provides in relevant part: “(a) Any justice, judge, or magistrate
of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his
impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”
Section 455(a) asks whether a reasonable person perceives a significant
risk that the judge will resolve the case on a basis other than the merits.
This is an objective inquiry. Liljeberg v. Health Services Acquisition
Corp., 486 U.S. 847, 865, 108 S.Ct. 2194, 2205, 100 L.Ed.2d 855
(1988); New York City Housing Develop. Co. v. Hart, 796 F.2d 976 (7th
Cir.1986); Pepsico, Inc. v. McMillen, 764 F.2d 458 (7th Cir.1985). An
objective standard is essential when the question is how things appear
to the well-informed, thoughtful observer rather than to a
hypersensitive or unduly suspicious person.... Trivial risks are endemic,
and if they were enough to require disqualification we would have a
system of preemptory strikes and judge-shopping, which itself would
imperil the perceived ability of the judicial system to decide cases
without regard to persons.
In re Mason, 916 F.2d 384, 385-86 (7th Cir. 1990).
Rule 60(b)(6) relief is neither categorically available nor categorically
unavailable for all § 455(a) violations. Liljeberg v. Health Servs. Acquisition Corp.,
486 U.S. 847, 864 (1988). In determining whether a judgment should be vacated for
a violation of § 455(a), “it is appropriate to consider the risk of injustice to the parties
in the particular case, the risk that the denial of relief will produce injustice in other
cases, and the risk of undermining the public’s confidence in the judicial process.” Id.
In support of his argument that the Court should have recused itself, Whitlow
alleges that (1) Judge McDade is a member of Bradley’s Centurion Society, an elite
society that recognizes Bradley alumni; (2) Judge McDade is considered a
distinguished alumnus on Bradley’s website; (3) Judge McDade is quoted and
mentioned in one article from 2014 concerning Bradley; (4) Judge McDade recused
himself from three prior cases in 1999, 2000, and 2010, all in which Bradley was a
party; (5) Judge McDade gave the keynote address at Bradley’s graduation in 2013;
(6) Judge McDade celebrated Bradley’s 65th anniversary of its psychology
department; (7) Judge McDade networked with Bradley’s president in 2014; and (8)
Judge McDade networked with Chief Judge James Shadid, also a Bradley alumnus,
at the citizenship event at Bradley’s Renaissance Coliseum in 2015. (Doc. 25 at 1-3).
Section 455(a) does not require recusal for minimal alumni contacts. See In re
Complaint of Judicial Misconduct, 816 F.3d 1266, 1267 (9th Cir. 2016) (no abuse of
discretion for failure to recuse where judge graduated from defendant university,
served on the board of its alumni association, served as an adjunct professor, and
received two honorary awards from the university); U.S. ex rel. Hochman v.
Nackman, 145 F.3d 1069, 1076 (9th Cir. 1998) (no abuse of discretion for failure to
recuse when judge was alumnus of defendant’s law school, a member of the law
school’s alumni association, and he contributed $250 annually to the alumni
association); Lunde v. Helms, 29 F.3d 367, 370–71 (8th Cir.1994) (no abuse of
when judge was alumnus of
university's law school, made financial contributions to an alumni organization, and
had presented education programs at the university); Wu v. Thomas, 996 F.2d 271,
274–75 & n. 7 (11th Cir.1993) (per curiam) (no abuse of discretion for failure to recuse
when judge was alumnus of
the university's law
the university a yearly donation for football tickets, and planned to create scholarship
at the university); Easley v. Univ. of Mich. Bd. of Regents, 906 F.2d 1143, 1145–46
(6th Cir.1990) (no abuse of discretion for failure to recuse when judge was alumnus of
defendant-law school and member of law school alumni social organization).
Furthermore, Whitlow worked as a full-time Senior Network Analyst in the
Computing Services Department at Bradley. (Doc. 1 at 3). Judge McDade received
from Bradley a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics in 1959 and a Master of
Science in Psychology in 1960. Considering the nature of the Court’s relationship with
the defendant, there is no reasonable question as to the Court’s ability to be impartial
in this case. As there was clearly no violation of § 455(a) in this case, relief under Rule
60 is unwarranted.
For the reasons stated above, Plaintiff’s Motion for Relief from Judgment
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6) (Doc. 25) is DENIED.
Entered this 4th day of October, 2017.
s/ Joe B. McDade
JOE BILLY McDADE
United States Senior 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?