Benshoof v. Admon et al

Filing 41

ORDER. Plaintiff's 39 Motion for Disqualification of Judge Jamal Whitehead is DENIED. Signed by Judge Tana Lin. (MJV)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 CASE NO. 2:23-cv-01392-JNW KURT BENSHOOF, v. Plaintiff, ORDER ON MOTION FOR RECUSAL MOSHE ADMON et al., Defendants. 15 16 17 This is a pro se civil rights action against numerous defendants. This matter is before the 18 Court on Plaintiff Kurt Benshoof’s Motion for Disqualification of Judge Jamal Whitehead (Dkt. 19 No. 39) after an order of referral by Judge Whitehead (Dkt. No. 40). Having reviewed the 20 relevant record, the Court DENIES the motion. I. 21 22 BACKGROUND The factual background and procedural history of this matter are largely recounted in 23 Judge Whitehead’s order on Plaintiff’s motions for a preliminary injunction and thus will not be 24 repeated here. See Dkt. No. 38 at 2–5. In sum, Plaintiff’s complaint “spans 280 pages, contains ORDER ON MOTION FOR RECUSAL - 1 1 over 1,000 paragraphs in its statement of facts, and includes over 2,000 pages in attachments.” 2 Id. at 2; see Dkt. No. 9 (complaint). Plaintiff “appears to allege Defendants violated his due 3 process rights during multiple legal proceedings in Seattle Municipal Court and King County 4 Superior Court.” Id. Related issues include “family law cases” and “the implementation and 5 enforcement of COVID-19 mask mandates.” Id. at 2–3. 6 On October 31, 2023, Judge Whitehead denied Plaintiff’s motions for a preliminary 7 injunction and granted leave to amend the complaint. See id. at 5–16. On November 1, Plaintiff 8 filed the instant motion for “disqualification” of Judge Whitehead. See Dkt. No. 39. On 9 November 3, Judge Whitehead declined to voluntarily recuse and referred the motion to this 10 Court for decision. See Dkt. No. 40 at 2–4. II. 11 12 LEGAL STANDARD Local Civil Rule (“LCR”) (3)(f) requires a challenged judge to review motions filed 13 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 144 or 28 U.S.C. § 455 and to determine whether to recuse voluntarily. 14 LCR 3(f). If the challenged judge declines to recuse voluntarily, they must direct the court clerk 15 to refer the motion to the chief judge for their review. Id. If the motion is directed at the chief 16 judge, or if the chief judge (or their designee) is unavailable, the clerk must refer the motion to 17 the active judge with the highest seniority. Id. 18 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) provides that a judge of the United States “shall disqualify himself” in 19 any proceeding in which their “impartiality must reasonably be questioned.” The statute further 20 provides that the judge must recuse “[w]here he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a 21 party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding.” 28 22 U.S.C. § 455(b)(1). Similarly, 28 U.S.C. § 144 requires recusal when “a party to any proceeding 23 in district court makes and files a timely and sufficient affidavit that the judge before whom the 24 matter is pending has a personal bias or prejudice either against [them] or in favor of any adverse ORDER ON MOTION FOR RECUSAL - 2 1 party.” The standard for recusal under both statutes is the same—“[w]hether a reasonable person 2 with knowledge of all the facts would conclude that the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be 3 questioned.” United States v. McTiernan, 695 F.3d 882, 891 (9th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation 4 marks omitted). “The alleged prejudice must result from an extrajudicial source; a judge’s prior 5 adverse ruling is not sufficient cause for recusal.” United States v. Studley, 783 F.2d 934, 939 6 (9th Cir. 1986); see also Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555 (1994) (“[J]udicial rulings 7 alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion.”). III. 8 9 DISCUSSION As an initial matter, this motion is before this Court because Chief Judge David Estudillo 10 is a named Defendant in this matter and is thus “unavailable.” LCR 3(f); see Dkt. No. 9. 11 Therefore, this Court will decide the motion. 12 Plaintiff seeks recusal on two grounds: “mental incompetence” and “bias.” Dkt. No. 39 at 13 4–5. But Plaintiff offers no extrajudicial evidence for any such findings. Instead, Plaintiff 14 devotes nearly half of his motion to rearticulating his arguments for a preliminary injunction and 15 offering point-by-point rebuttals to Judge Whitehead’s order on his motions. See id. at 2–4. The 16 asserted grounds for recusal are cast in the same mold: Plaintiff asserts, without specific 17 allegations or evidentiary support, that Judge Whitehead’s adverse order must be evidence of 18 mental incompetence or bias. See id. at 4 (arguing that “any judge so brazen as to openly 19 disregard the clear and dispositive requirement” of a case “suffers from a form of mental 20 incompetence”), 5 (arguing that “it is self-evident that [Judge] Whitehead’s biases or prejudices 21 . . . are so extreme as to attempt to undue sixty year of Civil Rights law”). 22 The Court agrees with Judge Whitehead’s refusal to recuse himself. As Judge Whitehead 23 observed in his order declining to recuse, “[Plaintiff] merely offers conclusory statements and 24 fails otherwise to show actual grounds for incompetence or personal bias.” Dkt. No. 40 at 3. The ORDER ON MOTION FOR RECUSAL - 3 1 crux of Plaintiff’s motion appears to be a disagreement with Plaintiff’s interpretation of Hamm v. 2 City of Rock Hill, 379 U.S. 306 (1964). See Dkt. No. 39 at 3. But “prior adverse judicial rulings 3 are ‘not sufficient cause for recusal.’” Major v. Wash. State Dep’t of Corr., No. C23-5307, 2023 4 WL 6556257, at *1 (W.D. Wash. Sept. 5, 2023) (quoting Studley, 783 F.2d at 939). Without 5 more, recusal is inappropriate in this case. 6 IV. 7 8 9 CONCLUSION Accordingly, Plaintiff’s Motion for Disqualification of Judge Jamal Whitehead (Dkt. No. 39) is DENIED. Dated this 14th day of November 2023. 10 A 11 Tana Lin United States District Judge 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 ORDER ON MOTION FOR RECUSAL - 4

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