Silva v. Spring Branch ISD et al

Filing 84

ORDER denying 65 MOTION Disqualify the Magistrate Judge; denying 76 MOTION Plaintiff's Verified Supplemented Motion for Disqualification and Supporting Memorandum of Law. (Signed by Judge Sim Lake) Parties notified.(gclair, 4)

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United States District Court Southern District of Texas IN THE UNITED STATES DISTR ICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS HOUSTON DIVISION ENTERED December 22, 2016 David J. Bradley, Clerk SA GR AR IO E . S ILV A , Plaintiff, CIV IL A CTION NO . H-16-0545 SPRING BRANCH INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT , et al ., Defendants . Pending before the court are Plaintiff's Objections to Magistrate Judge's Order ( Docket Entry No. 58), Plaintiff's Motion to Disqualify Disqualify' ') the Magistrate ( Docket Entry Judge No. ('plaintiff's Motion A Plaintiff's to Verified Supplemented Motion for Disqualification and Supporting Memorandum of Law ( nplaintiff's Supplemented Motion' ( ') Docket Entry No . and Plaintiff's A ffidavit in Support of Motion to D isqualify Magistrate Judge ( Docket Entry No . 77). Under the rules , the District Judge mu st consider timely objections to a magistrate judge's order on a nondispositive matter . Fed. R . Civ . P. 72 ( a). The court will u modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law .' Id.; see also 28 U.S. . 5 636( ' C 5) In addition to Plaintiff's objections, the court has reviewed: SBISD Defendants' Response to Plaintiff's Objections to l l The SBISD Defendants are Spring Branch Independent School District, Karen Heeth , Marianne Cribbin , Gloria Tennon , and Stephanie Brown . Magistrate Judge's Order ( Docket Entry No. 60); ( Plaintiff's 2) Notice of Errors on the Filing of Objections to Magistrate Judge's Order ( Docket Entry No. 61); Plaintiff's Letter in Lieu of Motion in Response to Judge Sim Lake 's Order from December 8, 2016 ( Docket Entry No. 72)7 ( SBISD Defendants' Response in Opposition 4) to Plaintiff's 'Letter in Lieu of Motion in Response to Judge Sim ' Lake's Order from December 8, 2016' ( ' Doc 72) ( Docket Entry No. 74)7 al1 of the briefing on Plaintiff's Motion to Compel ( Docket Entry Nos. 36, 38, 4O, 41, 42, 43, 44, 47, 48, 50, 51, 52, 54)7 ( the transcript of the hearing held on October 6) Entry No . 81)7 2016 ( Docket the magistrate judge's oral order on Plaintiff's Motion to Compel; Plaintiff 's Motion to Request Reasons for Denial of Motion to Compel and Magistrate Judge'l Report and s) Recommendations ( Docket Entry No. 57); and the magistrate judge's written Order dated December 15, 2016 ( Docket Entry No . 73). Having rev iewed a11 of these filings , the court concludes that the magistrate judge's order on Plaintiff's Motion to Compel is neither clearly erroneous nor contrary to law . Plaintiff 's objections are therefore OVERRULED. Section 455 of Title 28 of the United States Code directs a judge to disqualify herself any proceeding in which E her) impartiality might reasonably be questioned .' 28 U.S. . 5 455( ' C a) Certain specific circumstances require that the judge recuse, including where the judge uhas a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party .' ' 28 U . S.C. 5 455( l). b)( The standard for determining whether a judge should recuse based on Section 455 is uwhether a reasonab le person , with full knowledge of a1l the circumstances, would harbor doubts about the judge's impartialityo' ' Matassarin v . Lvnch , 174 F. 3d 549, 57l ( 5th Cir. 1999) ( quoting Vieux Carre Property Owners , Residen ts, and A ssocs ., Inc . v . Brown , 948 F. 1436, 1448 ( 2d 5th Cir. 1991)). Judicial rulings, courtroom adm inistration efforts, and ordinary admonishments to counsel and to witnesses are not valid bases for motions to recuse for personal bias or prejudice. See Liteky v. United States, 1147, 1157 ( 1994) (1 judge's ' A ordinary efforts at courtroom administration-even a stern and short-tempered judge's ordinary efforts at courtroom administration - remain immune E from establishing a biasl.' see also Raborn v . '); Inpatient Mqmt . Partners Incw 352 F. App' 881, 884 ( x 5th Cir . 2009) ( unpublished) ( quoting Litekv , 1l4 S . Ct. at 1157, as stating that 'opinions formed by the judge on the basis of facts introduced l or events occurring in the course of the current 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') ' The disqualification decision is within the usound discretion' of the judge. ' In re Deepwater Horizon, 824 F. 571, 579-80 ( 3d 5th Cir. 2016) The court has reviewed Plaintiff's motions to disqualify ; SBISD Defendants ' Response in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Disqualify the Magistrate Judge ( Docket Entry No. Defendants' Response in Opposition to SBISD Plaintiff's Verified Supplemented Motion for Disqualification and Supporting Memorandum of Law E Doc 76) and Plaintiff's Affidavit in Support of Motion to Disqualify Magistrate Judge g Doc ( Docket Entry transcripts of the hearings held on June and 2016, October 21, 2016, and November 28, 2016 ( Docket Entry Nos. 80, 82) Plaintiff contends that , at the pretrial con ference , the magistrate judge udisplayed an improper and unfair conduct in handling this case,' uargu E ' edq the case in favor of the defendants ,' uaccused Plaintiff of having legal expertise without ' offering any evidence ,' and uthreatened ' dism issal of the complaint while repeatedly demanding Plaintiff to prov ide legally grounded explanation of the section 1981 and to offer direct and specific evidence of age discrimination .' Plaintiff also alleges 'z that the magistrate judge mishandled the hearing on Plaintiff's Motion to Compel by not allowing Plaintiff uthe right to argue her motion and without considering any evidence' and ' that the magistrate judge urepeatedly yelled to Plaintiff and told Plaintiff not to argue any of the facts in her motions' but allowed the SBISD ' Defendants to file other discovery motions and briefing 'based on ' z plaintiff 's Motion to Disqualify , Docket Entry No . 65 , p . 1 $ 3, p . 2 ! 4 . ( false grounds of wholly new issues' w ithout allowing Plaintiff to ' discuss the new issues at the hearing .3 In Plaintiff's supplemental motion for disqualification , Plaintiff alleges that ' ilssues appeared to arise on April 'E 2016, when the magistrate judge's case manager phoned Plaintiff to reschedule the pretrial hearing initially scheduled for May 26, 2016,' specifically requesting Plaintiff 'to make herself available ' ' at the 'earliest possible date ' following April The case manager did not answer Plaintiff 's inquiry about the rush for the hearing but hung up and called back later to say that the hearing would remain as originally scheduled .s Plaintiff also repeats prior contentions that the magistrate judge argued Defendants' case, challenged Plaintiff's assertion that she was litigating without legal expertise or legal assistance , and interrupted Plaintiff in order to argue for Defendants .6 Plaintiff also contends that , at the discovery hearing , the magistrate judge relied only on Defendants' counsels' uunsupported statements and unsubstantiated representations,' ' uargued and concluded on behalf of the defendants ,' and determined that nthey ' had provided timely and adequate responses to Plaintiff's requests , 3 Id. at 2 ff 5, 6 4 plaintiff's Supplemented Motion , Docket Entry No . 76, p . 2 $ 1. 5Id . 6 see id . at 2-4 . without providing any evidence and without affording Plaintiff a fair opportunity to rebut such assertions or to argue the evidence she already had stated in her discovery motions .' '? According to Plaintiff: Anytime the Plaintiff tried to address the issues , the magistrate judge interrupted and yelled out loud to Plaintiff, udon't argue it E,l' 'l told you not ( ' % toq argue with me ( ' 'l don't want you to talk about the issues in ,q' ' your motions E,)' 'the defendants have provided you timely ' ' responsesl,l' 'their responses are adequate, what are you '' talking aboutl ' zl' objections. v8 uthose objections are normal Plaintiff describes her perception of an unfair contrast between how the magistrate judge treated Plaintiff and how the magistrate judge treated Defendants' counsel. Plaintiff takes issue with the g magistrate judge's characterization of uPlaintiff's concerns and objections as ' unhappiness' because the ruling was not in her favor'l and with the magistrate judge's comment that, if Plaintiff 'o did not like the ruling, she could nappeal to Judge Lake ,' which ' Plaintiff claims the magistrate judge uyelled out in a sarcastic fO rm .VZZ Plaintiff alleges that the audio recordings of the hearings, which were provided to Plaintiff, 'do not accurately reflect what ' 7 Id. at ! 8. 8 Id. at 5 ! g see id . at lId. at 7 $ 13. 0 nld. at ! 12. actually have occurred at the hearings' and that 'the entries in ' ' the docket Plaintiff do not argues accurately that the reflect court the actual mischaracterized filings .' z 'l Plaintiff's interaction with the case manager as udisruptive' when Plaintiff ' merely questioned the case manager about the purpose of the hearing scheduled for November 28, 2016 , and the case manager was unable to identify the motion to be addressed x3 Having reviewed the transcripts from the hearings about which Plaintiff complains, the court finds that Plaintiff mischarac- terizes the magistrate judge's courtroom comments and rulings, misunderstands litigation procedures and practices, and apparently lacks knowledge of acceptable courtroom decorum . It is clear from the transcripts that at the initial hearing the magistrate judge inquired about Plaintiff 's claims in order to better understand the allegations and at b0th hearings stopped Plaintiff from continuing argue after the magistrate judge had made her rulings. Plaintiff's complaints fall within the category of courtroom administration efforts and ordinary admonishments that, even if the magistrate judge was stern or short-tempered, do not suggest personal bias or prejudice. See Liteky, l14 S. Ct. at 1157 (' JJudicial remarks during the course of a trial that are critical '( or disapproving of, or even hostile to , counsel, the parties , or lId. at 7 j 14. 2 g za . zd their cases , ordinarily challenge.' . o do not support a bias or partiality Furthermore, Plaintiff's disagreement over legal rulings is not a ground for recusal. See id. (ll ' lludicial rulings alone almost partiality never constitute motion.' . o a valid basis Plaintiff's Motion for a bias to Disqualify or the Magistrate Judge ( Docket Entry No. 65) and Plaintiff's Verified Supplemented Motion for Disqualification ( Docket Entry No . are DENIED . SIGNED in Houston , Texas, on this 22nd day of December , 2016 . ## K SIM LAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE - 8-

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