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Akins v. Knight

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 25, 2017

Matthew Stephen Akins Plaintiff- Appellant
v.
Daniel K. Knight; Steven Ray Berry; Brent Nelson; Kenneth Burton; City of Columbia; Boone County; Eric Hughes; Rob Sanders; Roger Schulde; Michael Palmer Defendants - Appellees

          Submitted: June 8, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri - Jefferson City

          Before LOKEN, MURPHY, and MELLOY, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM.

         Over a period of years Matthew Akins had numerous encounters with police officers in Columbia, Missouri, and in 2015 Akins filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The defendants are five police officers, three prosecutors, the city of Columbia, and Boone County (collectively the defendants). Akins alleges numerous violations of his constitutional rights arising from these encounters. The district court[1] granted a motion to dismiss by some of the defendants and a motion for summary judgment by others. The court also denied Akins' motion for partial summary judgment and two motions seeking recusal of the judge assigned to his case. Akins appeals, and we affirm.

         I.

         Between 2010 and 2013 Matthew Akins had many encounters with law enforcement officers who worked for the Columbia Police Department (CPD) in Columbia, Missouri. Some of these interactions resulted in charges filed against Akins by prosecutors for Boone County, Missouri; many were subsequently dismissed. Akins suggests that he was targeted by police and prosecutors in part because he had been working to document and report on police conduct through a group called Citizens for Justice (CFJ) which he had formed in 2010.

         In 2015 Akins filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his constitutional rights under the First, Second, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments had been violated by the defendants. Among other matters, Akins alleged that his rights had been violated by (1) a stop at a sobriety checkpoint in May 2010 resulting in his being arrested and (2) a stop for a traffic violation in June 2010 resulting in Akins being removed from his vehicle and handcuffed while his vehicle was searched. Akins also alleged that the defendants violated his rights by removing videos he had posted on the CPD Facebook page, by ordering him to stop filming the filing of a citizen complaint in the CPD lobby, and by posting in the police department a flyer with information about him.

         Shortly after initiating this lawsuit Akins filed a motion seeking recusal of the district court judge assigned to the case. The district court denied the motion. Thereafter, the court granted a motion to dismiss filed by Boone County and the individual prosecutor defendants. A request for reconsideration of that decision by Akins was denied. He then filed a second recusal motion which was also denied. The individual police officer defendants and the city of Columbia subsequently moved for summary judgment, and Akins moved for partial summary judgment. The court granted the defendants' motion, but denied that of Akins. On appeal Akins argues that the district court erred by failing to recuse herself and by granting the defendants' motions to dismiss and for summary judgment.

         II.

         We first consider the district court's denial of Akins' recusal motions before turning to the motions to dismiss and for summary judgment.

         A.

         Akins argues that the district court erred, both by not transferring his recusal motions to another judge and by her denying them herself. Motions to recuse may be based on either of two federal statutes, see 28 U.S.C. §§ 144, 455, but under either statute the standard is the same: "recusal is required if the judge bears a bias or prejudice that might call into question his or her impartiality, " United States v. Gamboa, 439 F.3d 796, 817 (8th Cir. 2006). We review recusal decisions for abuse of discretion. United States v. Larsen, 427 F.3d 1091, 1095 (8th Cir. 2005).

         Akins first argues that the district court judge erred by ruling on his recusal motions herself instead of assigning these motions to another judge for disposition. In support of his argument he ...


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