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Quaintance v. City of Columbia

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

March 14, 2017

HOPE QUAINTANCE Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF COLUMBIA, COMO CONNECT Defendant.

          ORDER

          NANETTE K. LAUGHREY United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Recusal or Change of Venue [Doc. 29]. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion is denied.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Hope Quaintance brings this suit pro se under the Americans with Disabilities Act, alleging that Defendant City of Columbia-COMO Connect discriminated against her on the basis of disability.[1] [Doc. 1]. According the Plaintiff's Complaint, she was hired to work as a city bus driver on February 9, 2013. Plaintiff saw her primary care doctor in May 2014 and she was released to return to work with no restrictions. Nevertheless, Defendant required Plaintiff to undergo a “fitness for duty exam.” On or about May 14, 2014, Defendant's Employee Health Medical Advisor determined Plaintiff was not fit to drive and needed additional medical treatment. A “return to work” exam was scheduled for July 15, 2014, but the exam was cancelled and was not rescheduled. On August 25, 2014, Plaintiff was terminated because she “was not DOT certified, was not medically capable of performing the essential[] functions of [the] job; because [Plaintiff] had canceled [her] July 15 follow up appointment and declined to reschedule it; and because [Plaintiff] had not completed the return to duty process.” [Doc. 1-1, p 4].

         This case was originally filed in the Eastern District of Missouri and assigned to Magistrate Judge David Noce. Judge Noce granted Defendant's Motion to transfer venue to the Western District of Missouri under 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) and the case was assigned to this Court on January 19, 2017. Plaintiff now seeks the undersigned's recusal due to an alleged a conflict of interest. Plaintiff also seeks a transfer of venue back to the Eastern District.

         II. Discussion

         A. Recusal

         Plaintiff seeks recusal citing a conflict of interest because Plaintiff “ha[d] a case mishandled in . . . [the undersigned's spouse] Christopher Kelly['s] Boone County Courtroom against his [relative] in which he handled.” [Doc. 28, p. 1]. Even assuming her allegations to be true, [2] recusal is not warranted.

         Plaintiff does not state a legal basis for her assertion that recusal is required. The circumstances in which a district court judge is disqualified from hearing a case are set out in 28 U.S.C. § 455.[3] Section 455(a) provides that a judge shall disqualify herself in any proceeding in which her “impartiality might reasonably be questioned[.]” An “objective standard of reasonableness” applies in deciding a motion to disqualify. Pope v. Federal Express Corp., 974 F.2d 982, 985 (8th Cir. 1992). “This objective standard is not a test of whether the judge, or a party, might believe that a bias existed, but whether the ‘average person on the street' would question the impartiality of the judge, under the circumstances.” Id.

         Section 455(b) lists specific circumstances in which recusal is required, including when a judge has “personal bias or prejudice concerning a party” or knows she “has a financial interest in the subject matter in controversy.” § 455(b)(1) and (b)(4). In assessing this type of claim, a court considers only the legal sufficiency of the claim, not its factual merit. Souder v. Owens- Corning Fiberglas Corp., 939 F.2d 647, 653 (8th Cir. 1991). Nonetheless, to succeed on a personal bias claim, the moving party must “‘allege specific facts and not mere conclusions or generalities.'” United States v. Anderson, 433 F.2d 856, 860 (8th Cir. 1970) (internal citation and quotation omitted).

         “Because a judge is presumed to be impartial, ‘the party seeking disqualification bears the substantial burden of proving otherwise.'” United States v. Dehghani, 550 F.3d 716, 721 (8th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation and citation omitted). In other words, the moving party “carries a heavy burden of proof.” Fletcher v. Conoco Pipeline Co., 323 F.3d 661, 664 (internal quotation and citation omitted). Further, the mere filing of a motion to recuse or disqualify does not automatically require a trial judge to recuse. See Hayes v. Nat'l Football League, p. 1174');">463 F.Supp. 1174, 1180 (C.D. Cal. 1979) (if automatic disqualification was required upon the filing of a request for disqualification or recusal, “the floodgates would be open to ‘judge-shopping'”). The movant's “allegations [must] meet the substantial showing necessary to establish a clear and indisputable right to recusal and a nondiscretionary duty on the district judge to disqualify himself.” In re Kansas Pub. Employees Ret. Sys., 85 F.3d 1353, 1365 (8th Cir. 1996).

         1. Recusal under § 455(a)

         Under § 455(a), a judge is required to recuse herself “if a reasonable person who knew the circumstances would question the judge's impartiality, even though no actual bias or prejudice has been shown.” Am. Prairie Const. Co. v. Hoich, 560 F.3d 780, 789 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting Fletcher v. Conoco Pipe Line Co., 323 F.3d 661, 664 (8th Cir. 2003)). The movant's “allegations [must] meet the substantial showing necessary to establish a clear and indisputable right to recusal and a nondiscretionary duty on the district judge to disqualify himself.” In re Kansas Pub. Employees Ret. Sys., 85 F.3d at 1365.

         Plaintiff has not met such a showing. Plaintiff alleges the Court has a conflict of interest because Plaintiff obtained an unfavorable outcome in a previous case adjudicated by the undersigned's spouse, Christopher Kelly, while he was an Associate Circuit Judge in Boone County. There is nothing to suggest the undersigned's “impartiality might reasonably be questioned” by an earlier case in a different court system regardless of the presiding judge. “[W]here an interest is not direct, but is remote, contingent or speculative, it is not the kind of interest which reasonably brings into question a judge's partiality.” Sensley, 385 F.3d at 600 (internal quotation and citation omitted). Judicial conduct by a spouse in ...


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