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Cleveland v. Arpaio

United States District Court, D. Arizona

June 19, 2014

Christopher Lamar Cleveland, Plaintiff,
Joseph M. Arpaio, et al., Defendants.


DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Christopher Lamar Cleveland, who is confined in the Pinal County Jail in Florence, Arizona, filed a pro se civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, among other filings.[1] (Doc. 1, 5-20.) The Court dismissed the Complaint for failure to state a claim with leave to amend and denied the motion, the notices, and the brief to the extent that any relief was sought. (Doc. 21.) Plaintiff has filed a First Amended Complaint. (Doc. 23.) He has also filed a motion for an order requiring Defendants to respond to a request for admission, a motion for relief from judgment as to Plaintiff's 1993 California conviction, two notices, a motion submitting a document, a motion to address material breach of a judicial contract, two briefs, and a motion to serve summons.[2] (Doc. 24-33.) The Court concludes that recusal under 28 U.S.C. § 455 is not warranted. The Court will dismiss the First Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim and this action and will deny the motions, notices, and briefs to the extent that any relief is sought therein.

I. Recusal

As noted above, Plaintiff has named the undersigned as a Defendant in the First Amended Complaint based on Plaintiff's disagreement with rulings in this, and other cases, he has filed. Section 455(a) of Title 28 provides that a United States judge or magistrate judge "shall disqualify" himself in any proceeding in which his "impartiality might reasonably be questioned." Section 455(b)(1) provides that a judge must also disqualify himself where he "has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding[.]" Recusal pursuant to § 455(b) is required only if the bias or prejudice stems from an extra -judicial source, not from conduct or rulings during the course of the proceedings. See Hasbrouck v. Texaco, Inc., 842 F.2d 1034, 1046 (9th Cir. 1987), aff'd, 496 U.S. 543 (1990); United States v. Studley, 783 F.2d 934, 939 (9th Cir. 1986) (judge's prior adverse rulings are insufficient cause for recusal). "[J]udicial rulings alone almost never constitute [a] valid basis for a bias or partiality motion." Liteky v. United States, 114 S.Ct. 1147, 1157 (1994). Adverse rulings should be appealed; they do not form the basis for a recusal motion. Further, where the judge forms opinions in the courtroom, either in the current proceeding or in a prior proceeding, these opinions "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." Id.

As noted above, Plaintiff has named the undersigned as a Defendant in the First Amended Complaint. While ordinarily a judge might recuse himself from a case in which he is named as a party, the Court declines to do so in this case because its impartiality cannot reasonably be questioned, nor is the Court "a party to the proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) and (b)(5)(i). A litigant who becomes unhappy with a judge's rulings may seek to force the judge to recuse himself by filing a lawsuit against the judge. But a "judge is not disqualified merely because a litigant sues or threatens to sue him.' Such an easy method for obtaining disqualification should not be encouraged or allowed." Ronwin v. State Bar of Arizona, 686 F.2d 692, 701 (9th Cir. 1981) (citation omitted), rev'd on other grounds sub nom. Hoover v. Ronwin, 466 U.S. 558 (1984). "[A] judge is not disqualified by a litigant's suit or threatened suit against him, or by a litigant's intemperate and scurrilous attacks.'" United States v. Sutcliffe, 505 F.3d 944, 958 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting United States v. Studley, 783 F.2d 934, 940 (9th Cir. 1986)). Similarly, "[w]here a claim against the undersigned judge is so wholly frivolous that there is no jurisdiction, the assigned judge should be able to decline to recuse and proceed with dismissing the case." Snegirev v. Sedwick, 407 F.Supp.2d 1093, 1095-96 (D. Alaska 2006). See also Reddy v. O'Connor, 520 F.Supp.2d 124, 131 (D.D.C. 2007) ("recusal is not required where the claim asserted is wholly frivolous' or a litigant has named a judicial officer as a defendant to force him out of the case and hence obtain assignment of a judge the litigant considers more desirable."[3] (quoting Snegirev, 407 F.Supp.2d at 1095-96)).

Plaintiff names the undersigned based on the Court's rulings in this case or in other cases filed by Plaintiff. As to the Court's rulings in Plaintiff's previous cases, the undersigned is protected by judicial immunity from liability under § 1983. Judges are absolutely immune from § 1983 suits for damages for their judicial acts except when they are taken "in the clear absence of all jurisdiction.'" Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-57 (1978) (quoting Bradley v. Fisher, 80 U.S. 335, 351 (1871)); Ashelman v. Pope, 793 F.2d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir. 1986). An act is "judicial" when it is a function normally performed by a judge and the parties dealt with the judge in his or her judicial capacity. Stump, 435 U.S. at 362; Crooks v. Maynard, 913 F.2d 699, 700 (9th Cir. 1990). This immunity attaches even if the judge is accused of acting maliciously and corruptly, Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967), or of making grave errors of law or procedure, Schucker v. Rockwood, 846 F.2d 1202, 1204 (9th Cir. 1988).

As to this case, the Court does not have a personal bias or prejudice concerning Plaintiff or other potential parties to this action, nor does it have personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts at issue in this proceeding. The Court also discerns no appearance of impropriety in presiding over this case. The Court finds that Plaintiff's claim against the undersigned is precluded by judicial immunity and is frivolous. Thus, the Court declines to recuse itself and, accordingly, the Court will deny Plaintiff's motion to address material breach and will dismiss Count III of the First Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim.

II. Statutory Screening of Prisoner Complaints

The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or an employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if a plaintiff has raised claims that are legally frivolous or malicious, that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2).

A pleading must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) (emphasis added). While Rule 8 does not demand detailed factual allegations, "it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id.

"[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is]... a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679. Thus, although a plaintiff's specific factual allegations may be consistent with a constitutional claim, a court must assess whether there are other "more likely explanations" for a defendant's conduct. Id. at 681.

But as the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has instructed, courts must "continue to construe pro se filings liberally." Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010). A "complaint [filed by a pro se prisoner] must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Id. (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) ( per curiam )).

III. First Amended Complaint

Plaintiff alleges three counts for cruel and unusual punishment, malicious prosecution, and violation of due process. Plaintiff also asserts violations of federal criminal statutes. In addition to the undersigned, Plaintiff sues Arizona Governor Janice K. Brewer, and Deputy Pinal County Attorney Thomas Kohler. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief. Specifically, he seeks production of certified copies of documents from his 1993 California ...

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