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Karam v. University of Arizona

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 12, 2019

Rose Ann Karam, Plaintiff,
v.
University of Arizona, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          HONORABLE RANER C. COLLINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On September 13, 2018, Plaintiff Rose Ann Karam filed a pro se Complaint in this matter. (Doc. 1.) In addition, she filed an Application for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis (IFP) (Doc. 2) and a Motion to Allow Electronic Filing by a Party Appearing without an Attorney (Doc. 3). Facing an impending service deadline, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Status Update on her IFP (Doc. 7), an amended IFP application (Doc. 9), and a Motion for Extension of Time within which to Serve Complaint and Summons (Doc. 8). Approximately one month later, Plaintiff filed a recusal motion requesting the undersigned withdraw from this case due to an alleged conflict of interest. (Doc. 10.) Then, on February 11, 2019, Plaintiff filed a Request Ruling on In Forma Pauperis Application and Motion to Extend Time to Serve Defendants. (Doc. 11.) The Court will first address recusal.

         I. Recusal of District Court Judge

         Plaintiff's motion asks this Court to recuse from further proceedings, stating that the Court's screening of her Complaint has taken far too long, and the undersigned has a conflict of interest because he is an alumnus of the University of Arizona Law School. (Doc. 10 at 1.) To illustrate why the motions should have been addressed earlier, Plaintiff notes that her IFP motion in another case was granted by Magistrate Judge Bernardo P. Velasco within six days of filing. Id. at 1-2. She also claims the undersigned is biased and alleges a tenuous connection between the undersigned's former employment at the Pima County Attorney's Office and the unfortunate events she has suffered. Id. Notably, PCAO is not a named defendant in her case. Finally, she asserts that she will be filing a complaint against the undersigned in the future. Id.

         A district court judge may recuse himself sua sponte if his impartiality as to the case at issue may reasonably be questioned or he has a personal bias against a party. 28 U.S.C. §§ 455(a)-(b); see also United States v. Holland, 519 F.3d 909, 913 (9th Cir. 2008). Impartiality is an objective standard; it requires that “a reasonable person with knowledge of all the facts would conclude that the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” Holland, 519 F.3d at 913 (citing Clemens v. United States Dist. Ct., 428 F.3d 1175, 1178 (9th Cir. 2005)). “The reasonable person is not someone who is hypersensitive or unduly suspicious, but rather is a well-informed, thoughtful observer.” Id. (quotation marks omitted).

         However, a judge need not recuse simply because a litigant filed or threatens to file a lawsuit against the judge, United States v. Sutcliffe, 505 F.3d 944, 958 (9th Cir. 2007), or because the judge has issued an adverse ruling against the litigant, Mayes v. Leipziger, 729 F.2d 605, 607 (9th Cir. 1984). Moreover, the Ninth Circuit has conclusively determined that being an alumnus of the university which is the subject of litigation does not require recusal. See e.g., United States ex rel. Hochman v. Nackman, 145 F.3d 1069, 1076 (9th Cir. 1998) (alumnus judge's yearly contribution to school was considered “minimal contact” not requiring recusal); Maurey v. Univ. of S. Cal., 12 Fed.Appx. 529, 532 (9th Cir. 2001), as amended on denial of reh'g (Aug. 23, 2001) (alumnus judge giving yearly contributions, engaging in fundraisers, and aiding in moot court competition at law school need not recuse); Lunde v. Helms, 29 F.3d 367, 370-71 (8th Cir. 1994) (without more, graduating from the law school not reasonable basis for recusal).

         The Court finds no cause to recuse from this matter. The undersigned's contacts with the law school are minimal. Neither is the Court is influenced by a potential lawsuit; such occurrences are an anticipated consequence of being a judicial officer. The Court apologizes for the delay in screening Plaintiff's claim, but there are significant differences between this matter and the matter before Magistrate Judge Velasco. Plaintiff's complaint before the Magistrate Judge lists one defendant and involves a request for records. See Complaint (Doc. 1), Karam v. United States Dep't of Health and Human Servs., CV-18-00454-JGZ-BPV (D. Ariz. Sept. 9, 2018). In contrast, the instant matter lists over twenty-five defendants-both entities and individuals-and involves multiple federal statutes and a state tort claim. This requires a thorough examination and therefore more time for screening. Plaintiff's recusal motion is denied. (Doc. 10.)

         II. IFP Application

         Generally, parties who file an action in federal district court must pay a filing fee. 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). However, 28 U.S.C. § 1915 permits indigent plaintiffs to apply for a fee waiver. Before granting a plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court must decide whether the litigant is truly unable to pay filing fees. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1); Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126 (9th Cir. 2000). Good cause appearing, the Court will grant the Application for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis (Doc. 2), rendering the IFP status motion (Doc. 7) and the amended IFP (Doc. 9) moot. Furthermore, the Court will grant Plaintiff's motion to permit electronic filing. (Doc. 3.)

         III. Statutory Screening of IFP Complaint

         Even if the Court finds that a litigant is unable to pay, it has an additional, statutory obligation to screen a complaint before it may be served. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). As the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained, “section 1915(e) not only permits but requires a district court to dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint that fails to state a claim.” Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127 (9th Cir. 2000). Additionally, a district court must screen and dismiss actions filed by a plaintiff proceeding in forma pauperis if the action “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief, ” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), or fails to plead a cognizable legal theory, Balistreri v. Pacific Police Dept., 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988).

         District Court screening orders apply the same standard as applied to a Federal Civil Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Watison v. Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012). A complaint under 12(b)(6) 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). While Rule 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, “it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “[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. The complaint must contain more than “a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action.” Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 555. Furthermore, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” 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. So, 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.

         If the plaintiff “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” the district court must dismiss the claim. 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). But, a “complaint [filed by a pro se litigant] ‘must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam)). While dismissal is appropriate if the complaint's deficiencies cannot be cured by amendment, if the pleading can be remedied through the addition of facts, the claimant should be granted an opportunity to amend a complaint prior to final dismissal, Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127-29 (9th Cir. 2000).

         IV. ...


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