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Jones v. Butler

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

October 20, 2014

GREGORY D. JONES, No. K75759, Plaintiff,
v.
KIM BUTLER, SANDY FUNK, and TERRI ANDERSON, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Gregory D. Jones, an inmate in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC"), housed at Menard Correctional Center, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on perceived threats to his life and the failure of prison officials to ensure his safety. Plaintiff's original complaint (Doc. 1) was dismissed without prejudice because it failed to state a claim against any of the named defendants (Doc. 6). Plaintiff's amended complaint (Doc. 10) is now before the Court. Also before the Court are Plaintiff's second motion for a preliminary injunction (Doc. 9), motion for discovery (Doc. 14), motion for recusal of the undersigned district judge (Doc. 18), and "Notice of Appeal" regarding the return of discovery materials by the Clerk of Court (Doc. 19).

"Notice of Appeal"

As a preliminary matter, Plaintiff's "Notice of Appeal" (Doc. 19) must be addressed in order to ensure the district court has not been divested of jurisdiction over this case. "The filing of a notice of appeal is an event of jurisdictional significance-it confers jurisdiction on the court of appeals and divests the district court of its control over those aspects of the case involved in the appeal." Griggs v. Provident Consumer Disc. Co., 459 U.S. 56, 58 (1982) (emphasis added); see also United States v. Brown 732 F.3d 781, 787 (7th Cir. 2013).

A review of the record reveals that on September 18, 2014, the Clerk of Court sent Plaintiff a notice informing Jones that his interrogatories had been received for filing, but pursuant to Local Rule 26.1(b), discovery materials are not filed (Doc. 15). Plaintiff subsequently filed his "Notice of Appeal, " which merely states that he received the Clerk's notice that his interrogatories would not be filed.

Despite its caption, the "Notice of Appeal" clearly is not a notice of appeal under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 3; rather, it appears to be an attempt to bring the situation to the district court's attention. At best, Plaintiff has initiated an interlocutory appeal regarding the action of the Clerk's Office. Consequently, the district court does not perceive that it is divested of jurisdiction over this case as a whole.

Insofar as Plaintiff is seeking leave to file his interrogatories, his "motion, " along with his motion for discovery (Doc. 14) will be considered together. However, Plaintiff's motion seeking recusal of the undersigned district judge must be considered first. Recusal

Plaintiff Jones contends that the undersigned district judge should recuse herself from this case because his first motion for injunctive relief was denied without prejudice, and because his second motion for a preliminary injunction has yet to be decided, leaving Plaintiff in a dangerous situation (Doc. 18). According to Plaintiff, allies of the defendants have stated that this judge has a close relationship with the defendants and is "owned." Plaintiff perceives that the "denial" of discovery is evidence of the judge's "indifference, retaliation and conspiracy." Plaintiff requests that a magistrate judge preside over this action.

According to 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) "[a]ny justice, judge, or magistrate of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." See Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 548 (1994). Section 455(a) has been termed the "catchall' recusal provision, covering both interest and relationship' and bias and prejudice grounds.'" Id. at 548. Actual bias is not necessary; the appearance of bias is adequate to trigger recusal under Section 455. The inquiry under Section 455(a) is based on an objective standard. Id. Thus, the inquiry to be made is "whether a reasonable person perceives a significant risk that the judge will resolve the case on a basis other than the merits." Hook v. McDade, 89 F.3d 350, 354 (7th Cir.1996) (citation omitted). "The decision whether a judge's impartiality can reasonably be questioned' is to be made in light of the facts as they existed, and not as they were surmised or reported." Cheney v. United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 541 U.S. 913 (2004) (quoting Microsoft Corp. v. United States, 530 U.S. 1301, 1302 (2000)).

This inquiry is made based on a reasonable person standard, as opposed to "a hypersensitive or unduly suspicious person." Hook, 89 F.3d at 354 (citation omitted). Thus, trivial risks of perceived impartiality are insufficient to warrant recusal. See Id. The objective, reasonable person standard of Section 455(a) is intended to promote public confidence in the impartiality of the judicial process. "In furthering the policy of public confidence in the impartiality of the judicial process, a court faced with motion under § 455(a) must recuse itself where valid reasons are presented, and must not recuse itself where the proffered reasons are not valid." New York City Housing Development Corp. v. Hart, 796 F.2d 976, 981 (7th Cir.1986); see also United States v. Baskes, 687 F.2d 165, 170 (7th Cir.1981) (rev'd on other grounds) ("A motion for recusal should not be granted lightly; a judge is under as much obligation not to recuse himself when facts do not show prejudice as he is to recuse himself if they do.").

Under 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(1) a judge must recuse if she "has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding." Recusal under Section 455(b)(1) "is required only if actual bias or prejudice is proved by compelling evidence." Hook, 89 F.3d at 355. As the Supreme Court has explained, neither judicial rulings nor opinions formed by the judge as a result of current or prior proceedings constitute a basis for recusal "unless they display a deep-seated favoritism or antagonism that would make fair judgment impossible." Liteky, 510 U.S. at 555.

With all of that said, there is a general presumption that a court acts according to the law and not personal bias or prejudice. Withrow v. Larkin, 421 U.S. 35, 47 (1975). A judge has an obligation to hear cases before her where there is no legitimate reason for recusal. New York City Hous. Dev. Corp., 796 F.2d at 980-81. "The statute must not be so broadly construed that it becomes, in effect, presumptive, so that recusal is mandated upon the merest unsubstantiated suggestion of personal bias or prejudice." Nichols v. Alley, 71 F.3d 347, 351 (10th Cir. 1995). The Court is also mindful that the statute is not a judge-shopping device. Id .; Hook, 89 F.3d at 354.

Plaintiff has stated no valid grounds for recusal, and a reasonable person would not perceive any bias, impropriety, or other grounds for recusal. The legal basis for dismissing the complaint without prejudice and for denying the first motion for injunctive relief was fully set forth in the Court's Order (Doc. 6) and will not be repeated. Any disagreement with the Court's conclusions is not, in and of itself, a basis for recusal, and Plaintiff has not suggested any specific error by the Court.

The Court has not yet ruled on Plaintiff's new motion for preliminary injunction (Doc. 9) because without a viable complaint, the Court lacks jurisdiction to proceed. See Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 681-82 (1946); Greater Chicago Combine and Ctr., Inc. v. City of Chicago, 431 F.3d 1065, 1069-70 (7th Cir. 2005). In a similar vein, a motion for preliminary injunction is of a less urgent nature than a motion for temporary restraining order and requires that the adverse parties receive notice-again requiring a viable complaint. See FED.R.CIV.P. 65(a).

The return of Plaintiff's interrogatories by the Clerk of Court was in accordance with Local Rule 26.1 and consistent with Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26(a)(1)(B((iv), (d)(1) and (f)(1), which generally make discovery at this stage in the proceedings premature. The fact that Plaintiff's recent motion for discovery has not been decided is because the amended complaint must first survive preliminary review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Again, adhering to the applicable procedural rules is not a valid basis for recusal.

Most troubling to the Court are the assertions that this judge is somehow affiliated with the defendants and "owned" by anyone. These assertions are completely baseless and untrue. Rulings adverse to ...


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