Bonner v. Commissioner of Social Security

Filing 40

ORDER. The Court finds and ORDERS that Judge Christel's order declining Plaintiffs request that he disqualify himself (Dkt. # 39 ) is AFFIRMED. Signed by Judge Ricardo S. Martinez. (SB)

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Case 2:20-cv-01572-DWC Document 40 Filed 01/07/22 Page 1 of 4 1 2 3 4 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 6 7 8 TYLER BONNER, Plaintiff, 9 10 11 12 CASE NO. C20-1572 DWC ORDER AFFIRMING ORDER DECLINING TO VOLUNTARILY RECUSE v. KILOLO KIJAKAZI, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant. 13 14 15 This matter is before the Court, under the local rules, for review of United States 16 Magistrate David W. Christel’s order denying Plaintiff’s request that he voluntarily recuse 17 himself from this case. Dkt. #39; LOCAL RULES W.D. WASH. LCR 3(f) (order denying voluntary 18 judicial recusal referred to the Chief Judge for review). Having reviewed the matter, the Court 19 affirms Judge Christel’s order. 20 A. Background 21 Plaintiff initiated this action to obtain judicial review of the United States Social Security 22 Administration’s (“SSA”) final decision denying his application for disability insurance and 23 supplemental security income benefits. Dkt. #5. Plaintiff maintained that the administrative law 24 judge’s decision, subsequently affirmed by SSA’s Appeals Council, was based on errors of law ORDER – 1 Case 2:20-cv-01572-DWC Document 40 Filed 01/07/22 Page 2 of 4 1 and was unsupported by substantial evidence. Id. Judge Christel disagreed, and affirmed the 2 administrative law judge’s decision. Dkt. #34. Plaintiff quickly filed a motion to alter or amend 3 the judgment and, in the same motion, sought to have Judge Christel recuse himself from any 4 further proceedings. Dkt. #36. Judge Christel denied Plaintiff’s request for voluntarily recusal, 5 without addressing the merits of the underlying motion to alter or amend judgment, and referred 6 the matter to the Undersigned. Dkt. #39. 7 Primarily, Plaintiff takes issue with the tone of Judge Christel’s order: 8 11 Given the tone of the Order, Plaintiff requests that Magistrate Christel recuse himself from any further adjudication in this case. Plaintiff understands that Magistrate Christel has a nationwide, well deserved reputation for excellence in legal reasoning, ethics, and judicial demeanor. Plaintiff’s counsel is honored to be an officer of Christel’s court. But in this particular case, perhaps due to the tense inundation of new Seila arguments filed late in the game across the nation, Magistrate Christel has reacted without his usual professionalism. 12 Id. at 8. Additionally, and intertwined with his substantive legal arguments, Plaintiff takes issue 13 with Judge Christel’s judicial decision not to sua sponte impose sanctions on defense counsel. 14 Dkt. #38 at 3–4. Specifically, Plaintiff points to defense counsel’s characterization, quotation, 15 and citation of a specific case, actions which Judge Christel found “invited ambiguity.” Id. at 3.1 9 10 16 B. Legal Standard 17 A “judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his 18 impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” 28 U.S.C. § 455(a); see also 28 U.S.C. § 144. 19 This includes circumstances where the judge has “a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, 20 or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. 21 § 455(b)(1). Recusal is appropriate if “a reasonable person with knowledge of all the facts would 22 conclude that the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” Yagman v. Republic 23 24 1 Plaintiff does not point to any portion of the record where he brought the propriety of sanctions before the Court. ORDER – 2 Case 2:20-cv-01572-DWC Document 40 Filed 01/07/22 Page 3 of 4 1 Insurance, 987 F.2d 622, 626 (9th Cir. 1993). This is an objective inquiry concerned with 2 whether there is the appearance of bias, not whether there is bias in fact. Preston v. United States, 3 923 F.2d 731, 734 (9th Cir. 1992); United States v. Conforte, 624 F.2d 869, 881 (9th Cir. 1980). 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 C. Discussion At the outset, the Court notes that Plaintiff’s concerns all stem from Judge Christel’s order affirming the administrative action at issue in this case. [J]udicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion. . . . [O]pinions formed by the judge on the basis of facts introduced or events occurring in the course of the current proceedings, or of prior 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. Thus, judicial remarks during the course of a trial that are critical or disapproving of, or even hostile to, counsel, the parties, or their cases, ordinarily do not support a bias or partiality challenge. 11 12 Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555 (1994). Relying solely on Judge Christel’s order 13 resolving the case, Plaintiff sets himself on a difficult course. 14 Additionally, Plaintiff takes issue with the language of Judge Christel’s order, although 15 he does not point to any specific passages. Dkt. #36 at 7 (“[T]he tone of the Order [of] this Court 16 is in places not professional and includes moralizing and exasperation, as if Plaintiff has done 17 something wrong.”). Notably, and while Judge Christel’s legal findings and conclusions may 18 have been set forth more bluntly than Plaintiff would prefer, Plaintiff does not contend that Judge 19 Christel mischaracterizes the record or prior proceedings. Plaintiff’s objection, then, is based 20 solely on his subjective opinion of the merits of his case. But, to the extent Plaintiff disagrees 21 with Judge Christel’s conclusions and legal analysis, the legal propriety of the order is an issue 22 for further litigation or, if Plaintiff chooses, possibly for appeal. 23 24 ORDER – 3 Case 2:20-cv-01572-DWC Document 40 Filed 01/07/22 Page 4 of 4 1 D. Conclusion 2 Accordingly, and for the reasons set forth above, the Court finds and ORDERS that Judge 3 Christel’s order declining Plaintiffs request that he disqualify himself (Dkt. #39) is AFFIRMED. 4 DATED this 7th day of January, 2022. 5 6 A 7 RICARDO S. MARTINEZ CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 ORDER – 4

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