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Hall v. City of Williamsburg

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

May 18, 2018

TRISTAN JAMES HALL, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF WILLIAMSBURG, KENTUCKY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Danny C. Reeves United States District Judge

         The Court entered a Judgment in this matter on February 27, 201');">1');">1');">18, dismissing Plaintiff Tristan Hall's claims, in their entirety, with prejudice. [Record No. 234] Hall subsequently filed ten post-judgment motions which are now pending for consideration. [Record Nos. 237-44; 246; 248] Those motions will be denied for the reasons that follow.

         I.

         During the sixteen months that this matter has been litigated, Plaintiff Tristan Hall has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of respect for the Court, his adversaries, and the judicial process.[1');">1');">1');">1" name="FN1');">1');">1');">1" id= "FN1');">1');">1');">1">1');">1');">1');">1] Despite an Order directing Hall to “have no contact with the defendants, ” [Record No. 54], [2] and a separate Order instructing the parties to “avoid disparaging personal remarks or acrimony toward opposing counsel, ” [Record No. 57, ¶ 8], Hall has sent numerous improper, harassing, and vulgar e-mails to the defendants.[3] [Record No. 255-1');">1');">1');">1] This behavior has made its way into Court filings, [Record No. 1');">1');">1');">190, p. 3; Record No. 255-1');">1');">1');">1, p. 47], and it appears to mirror his behavior in other proceedings and outside the courtroom. [See Record Nos. 58-26; 59-22, pp. 31');">1');">1');">1-32; 59-4; 59-5; 59-8; 60-27.]

         Hall has repeatedly sought extensions of time and leave to file additional pleadings, [Record Nos. 1');">1');">1');">131');">1');">1');">1; 1');">1');">1');">140; 1');">1');">1');">147; 1');">1');">1');">176; 1');">1');">1');">184; 225; 229], failed to comply with this Court's Orders, [Record Nos. 207; 21');">1');">1');">12; 220; 224], and challenged this Court's Orders as if they were mere briefs from an opposing party. [Record Nos. 1');">1');">1');">129; 1');">1');">1');">143; 1');">1');">1');">148; 1');">1');">1');">172; 1');">1');">1');">195] And despite the Court's direction to “refrain from engaging in or employing dilatory tactics or tactics that are intended or designed, directly or indirectly, to cause unnecessary expense or prevent the orderly administration of justice, ” [Record No. 57, ¶ 2], Hall has stated that he plans to pursue this litigation “[e]ven if the point becomes little more than to cause people to spend more money and time and trouble.” [Record No. 255-1');">1');">1');">1, p. 47]

         Despite this continuous course of unprofessional conduct, both Hall's adversaries and the Court have demonstrated extraordinary patience throughout this litigation. [See Record Nos. 42; 1');">1');">1');">136; 1');">1');">1');">178; 1');">1');">1');">184; 223; 225-1');">1');">1');">1, pp. 41');">1');">1');">1-42, 98; 255, p. 1');">1');">1');">18; 258, p. 4 n.1');">1');">1');">1.] However, Hall's claims were eventually dismissed, and a Judgment was entered on February 27, 201');">1');">1');">18. [Record Nos. 233; 234] Now, Hall has once again filed several challenges to this Court's Orders. He seeks to disqualify the undersigned, vacate the Order dismissing his claims and the corresponding Judgment, sanction the defendants' attorney, and re-open this action to hold an evidentiary hearing. [Record Nos. 237-44; 246; 248]

         II.

         The first motions to be addressed are Hall's motions to disqualify the undersigned and vacate all rulings in this matter.[4] [Record Nos. 244, 246] Hall's argument is based on the fact that the Law Offices of Howard O. Mann, P.S.C., employed the undersigned's sister from approximately June 2001');">1');">1');">1 to July 2003, and the undersigned's nephew from approximately April 201');">1');">1');">13 to June 201');">1');">1');">15.[5] [Record No. 255, Exhibit 1');">1');">1');">1, ¶¶ 3-4] This action was filed on December 28, 201');">1');">1');">16, approximately 1');">1');">1');">15 years after the undersigned's sister's employment at the Law Offices of Howard O. Mann ended, and 1');">1');">1');">18 months after the undersigned's nephew's employment ended. [Record No. 1');">1');">1');">1] Consequently, neither family member ever participated in, consulted about, or performed any work in this action. Likewise, neither family member has any interest, financial or otherwise, in the outcome of this proceeding. [Record No. 255, Exhibit 1');">1');">1');">1, ¶¶ 3-4, 1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1]

         Hall nonetheless argues that the undersigned's family members' employment with one of the defendants and another defendant's attorney before this litigation began creates an appearance of partiality requiring recusal under 28 U.S.C. § 455. [Record No. 244] Subsection (a) of that statute requires a judge to “disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” 28 U.S.C. § 455(a). “This standard is objective and is not based ‘on the subjective view of a party.'” Wheeler v. Southerland Corp., 1');">1');">1');">1246');">875 F.2d 1');">1');">1');">1246, 1');">1');">1');">1251');">1');">1');">1 (6th Cir. 1');">1');">1');">1989) (citation omitted) (emphasis in original). Recusal is required “only if a reasonable person with knowledge of all the facts would conclude that the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” Id. (quotations and citations omitted).

         Subsection (b) requires recusal when a person within the third degree of relationship to the judge or his spouse: (i) is a party to the proceeding, or an officer, director, or trustee of a party; (ii) is acting as a lawyer in the proceeding; (iii) is known by the judge to have an interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding; or (iv) is to the judge's knowledge likely to be a material witness in the proceeding. 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(5).

         Section 455's recusal provisions are “not intended to give litigants a veto power over sitting judges, or a vehicle for obtaining a judge of their choice.” Ragozzine v. Youngstown State Univ., 4:1');">1');">1');">13-cv-750, 201');">1');">1');">14 WL 1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">15371');">1');">1');">15, at *3 (N.D. Ohio Mar. 20, 201');">1');">1');">14), aff'd, 783 F.3d at 1');">1');">1');">1079 (6th Cir. 201');">1');">1');">15) (citation omitted). “Although a judge is obliged to disqualify himself when there is a close question concerning his impartiality, he has an equally strong duty to sit where disqualification is not required.” United States v. Angelus, 258 Fed.Appx. 840, 842 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).

         Hall relies principally on In re Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 1');">1');">1');">19 F.2d 1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">136');">91');">1');">1');">19 F.2d 1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">136 (6th Cir. 1');">1');">1');">1990), and Liljeberg v. Health Servs. Acquisition Corp., 486 U.S. 847 (1');">1');">1');">1988), to argue that the undersigned must recuse from this matter. Neither case is apposite. In re Aetna was a lawsuit brought by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (“FDIC”) against a bankers blanket bond issued by Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. (“Aetna”). 909 F.2d at 1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">136. Judge Hull initially recused himself from the case because his daughter worked for the law firm representing the FDIC, and had made an appearance in a deposition of a key witness. Id. at 1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">143. Judge Hull then re-entered the case on April 3, 1');">1');">1');">1989, nearly two months before his daughter's resignation from the law firm on June 30, 1');">1');">1');">1989. Id. The Sixth Circuit held that Judge Hull should not have re-entered the case at that time because “[t]he same circumstances that had persuaded Judge Hull to recuse himself previously . . . still prevailed on April 3, 1');">1');">1');">1989.” Id. As a result, “the FDIC-Aetna controversies were properly out of his hands at all times until June 30, 1');">1');">1');">1989, the earliest date when his daughter's association with the [law] firm ended.” Id. at 1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">144.[6]

         In Liljeberg, Judge Collins was a member of the Board of Trustees of Loyola University while Loyola was negotiating to sell Liljeberg a parcel of land on which to construct a hospital. 486 U.S. at 850. “The success and benefit to Loyola of these negotiations turned, in large part, on Liljeberg prevailing in the litigation before Judge Collins.” Id. The United States Supreme Court held that Judge Collins' presence on a board with an interest in the litigation before him created an “appearance of impropriety, ” requiring his recusal. Id. at 858-70. The Court then vacated the Judgment entered by Judge Collins, “even though his failure to disqualify himself was the product of a temporary lapse of memory” in forgetting about Loyola's interest. Id.

         Unlike In re Aetna, the undersigned's family members were not employed by the Law Offices of Howard O. Mann, P.S.C., while it represented a party to this litigation, and neither family member in any way participated in this litigation. And unlike in Liljeberg, the undersigned is not a member of any organization with an interest in this litigation. Instead, this case falls within the general rule that the employment of a judge's family member at a law firm practicing before the judge does not require recusal where the family member “is not a partner and is not working on the case.” Doe v. N. Ky. Univ., 2:1');">1');">1');">16-cv-28, 201');">1');">1');">17 WL 1');">1');">1');">1730933, *4 (E.D. Ky. May 2, 201');">1');">1');">17) (collecting cases); Brown v. Burch, Porter, and Johnson, PLLC, Nos. 1');">1');">1');">15-6242/6243, 201');">1');">1');">16 WL 9448027, *4 (6th Cir. Nov. 21');">1');">1');">1, 201');">1');">1');">16) (holding that recusal was not required where the judge's son “did not act as a lawyer in the proceeding, and . . . was not a partner in the firm such that he would have a financial interest in the proceeding”); Hamilton v. Gen. Elec. Co., 487 Fed.Appx. 280 (6th Cir. 201');">1');">1');">12) (“The fact that the judge's son had previously worked for the law firm representing [the defendant] was insufficient to call into question the judge's impartiality or to otherwise require recusal[.]”); Scott v. Metro. Health Corp., 1');">1');">1');">1');">234 Fed.Appx. 341');">1');">1');">1 (6th Cir. 2007).

         Hall attempts to avoid the application of this rule by arguing that even if neither family member is “acting as a lawyer in [this] proceeding” under 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(5)(ii), or has “an interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of [this] proceeding” under 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(5)(iii), the undersigned's sister is nonetheless “likely to be a material witness in [this] proceeding” under 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(5)(iv). Hall's argument is based on his contention that the undersigned's sister is a “legitimate witness” who could be called to testify regarding dissimilarities between Defendant Trimble's conduct nearly 20 years ago, and his conduct relating to this litigation. [Record No. 280-1');">1');">1');">1, pp. 6-7]

         However, 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(5)(iv) only requires recusal when the judge or his family member is “likely to be a material witness in the proceeding.” (emphasis added). Recusal is not required “when other witnesses are available to provide the same testimony.” United States v. Lanier, 2:1');">1');">1');">14-cr-83, 201');">1');">1');">18 WL 296725, at *3 (E.D. Tenn. Jan. 3, 201');">1');">1');">18) (citations omitted). Further, “unsubstantiated speculation” that a judge or his family member may be a material witness “is not enough to require recusal under § 455(b)(5)(iv).” Id. (citations omitted). Hall's speculation that the undersigned's sister could be called as a “legitimate witness” is insufficient to require the undersigned's recusal from this action.

         In short, the undersigned's family members' employment ended before this case began, and neither family member has ever worked on this case or acquired any interest, financial or otherwise, in the outcome of this proceeding. These relationships neither provide a basis for reasonably questioning the undersigned's impartiality under 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) nor fall within the mandatory recusal provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 455(b).[7]

         Finally, because the undersigned's family members' past employment relationships do not provide a basis for reasonably questioning the undersigned's impartiality, disclosure of these relationships was not required. See Doe, 201');">1');">1');">17 WL 1');">1');">1');">1730933 at *5-6; Raggozzine v. Youngstown State Univ., 1');">1');">1');">1077');">783 F.3d 1');">1');">1');">1077, 1');">1');">1');">1079 (6th Cir. 201');">1');">1');">15) (“When a judge makes a determination that her impartiality could not reasonably be questioned, the judge is permitted to disclose the matter to counsel in order to settle the matter or to permit a motion to recuse. But [there is] no statutory or judicial authority requiring a judge to do so.”). Accordingly, Hall's motions to disqualify the undersigned and to vacate all rulings in this case [Record Nos. 244, 246] will be denied. Disqualification is not required in this matter. Instead, the undersigned is under a “strong duty to sit.” Angelus, 258 Fed.Appx. at 842.

         III.

         Next, Hall contests the Court's Order denying his motion for an extension of time to respond to the defendants' motion to dismiss and renewed motion for costs. [Record No. 231');">1');">1');">1] The defendants' motion to dismiss and renewed motion for costs was filed on February 2, 201');">1');">1');">18. [Record No. 224] Hall had until February 23, 201');">1');">1');">18, to respond to that motion, plus an additional three days for mailing. See Local Rule 7.1');">1');">1');">1(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(d). Rather than responding, Hall filed a motion on February 9, 201');">1');">1');">18, asking the Court to refrain from ruling on the defendants' motion so that he could file his own unrelated motions. [Record No. 225] Because “[a]ny such motion would become moot if the defendant[s'] pending motion to dismiss was granted, ” the Court denied Hall's motion, “preferring to rule on the defendants' pending motion in the normal course of proceedings and in accordance with the deadlines set forth in the local rules, rather than forcing the parties to incur the costs associated with filing and responding to additional motions.” [Record No. 231');">1');">1');">1 (citing Record No. 226)] The Court then reminded Hall that his response was “due by February 23, 201');">1');">1');">18.” [Record No. 226]

         Hall filed objections to the Order denying his request for a stay, a motion to amend that Order, and a motion for an extension of time to file a response to the defendants' motion on February 21');">1');">1');">1, 201');">1');">1');">18. [Record Nos. 227, 228, 229] In support of his motion for an extension of time, Hall stated that his aunt, Rozena Grant, passed away on February 1');">1');">1');">19, 201');">1');">1');">18, and that a visitation was scheduled for Friday, February 23, 201');">1');">1');">18 (the day of the response deadline imposed by the Local Rules), with the funeral scheduled for Saturday, February 24, 201');">1');">1');">18 (after the response deadline). [See Record Nos. 229; 238, ¶¶ 3-4.] As a result, Hall sought an extension of “at least sixty (60) days” to respond to the defendants' motion. [Record No. 229]

         The defendants filed a response in opposition to the motion with Grant's obituary attached. [Record No. 230] The defendants accurately stated that the obituary “list[ed] the family of Ms. Grant, ” but “Tristan Hall [was] not listed as a nephew.” [Id.] Additionally, the defendants argued that “[g]iven the rather limited issue before the court . . . the response time of twenty-one (21');">1');">1');">1) days seem[ed] more than adequate.” [Id.] The defendants also maintained that the extension was unwarranted because Hall's “continued failure to comply with orders of this court, refusal to attend his own deposition, and refusal to finalize the settlement, [had] created unnecessary delay.” [Id.] However, they “[would] not object to an extension of a very few days if the court deem[ed] it appropriate in light of the death of Ms. Grant.” [Id.]

         The Court denied Hall's motion for an extension of time on February 27, 201');">1');">1');">18, after his response deadline had passed, and without having received a responsive filing. [Record No. 231');">1');">1');">1] The Court explained that “[t]he death of a family member can, of course, constitute ‘good cause' for extending the deadline by which a party must act.” [Id.] However, based on the obituary, it “appear[ed]” that Hall “was not actually related to Ms. Grant, although he was an honorary pallbearer at her funeral.” [Id.] The Court then stated that:

[i]n any event, the sixty day extension that Hall requests is not reasonable. The defendants' pending motion presents a relatively narrow issue, and is largely based on the same grounds as the motion to enforce settlement and motion for costs the defendants filed over three months ago. [Record No. 220] Hall failed to respond to that motion. [See Record No. 223.] Moreover, Hall has repeatedly failed to comply with Court-imposed deadlines, and the Court has already found that Hall's conduct “has resulted in obstruction and delay in the resolution of this action.” [Id. at 5] Hall has now caused the parties to violate yet another ...

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