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Sanders v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

May 31, 2019

Eric Alan Sanders, on behalf of dependents SK Sanders, EA Sanders II, and ZM Gray-Sanders, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant,

          ORDER

          PAIGE J. GOSSETT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This social security matter is before the court on multiple motions of the plaintiff, Eric Alan Sanders, to recuse the assigned magistrate judge. (ECF Nos. 10, 20, & 35.) Finding no basis for recusal, the court denies Sanders's motions.

         Recusal of federal judges is generally governed by 28 U.S.C. § 455.[1] Subsection (a) of § 455 provides that “[a]ny justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” In the Fourth Circuit, this standard is analyzed objectively by considering whether a person with knowledge of the relevant facts and circumstances might reasonably question the judge's impartiality. United States v. Cherry, 330 F.3d 658, 665 (4th Cir. 2003). For purposes of this statute, the hypothetical “reasonable person” is not a judge, since judges, who are trained to regard matters impartially and are keenly aware of that obligation, “may regard asserted conflicts to be more innocuous than an outsider would.” United States v. DeTemple, 162 F.3d 279, 287 (4th Cir. 1998). The “reasonable person” is a “well-informed, thoughtful observer, ” but not one who is “hypersensitive or unduly suspicious.” In re Mason, 916 F.2d 384, 386 (7th Cir. 1990).

         Section 455(a) does not require recusal “simply because of unsupported, irrational or highly tenuous speculation, ” or because a judge “possesses some tangential relationship to the proceedings.” Cherry, 330 F.3d at 665 (internal quotation omitted). The Fourth Circuit recognizes that overly cautious recusal would improperly allow litigants to exercise a “negative veto” over the assignment of judges simply by hinting at impropriety. DeTemple, 162 F.3d at 287. Recusal decisions under § 455(a) are “fact-driven and may turn on subtleties in the particular case.” United States v. Holland, 519 F.3d 909, 913 (9th Cir. 2008).

         Subsection (b) of § 455 further provides a list of specific instances where a federal judge's recusal is mandated, regardless of the perception of a reasonable observer. Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 567 (1994) (Kennedy, J., concurring). Pertinent here, § 455(b)(1) disqualifies a judge “[w]here he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party.” 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(1). Bias or prejudice must be proven by compelling evidence. Brokaw v. Mercer Cty., 235 F.3d 1000, 1025 (7th Cir. 2000). Moreover, the United States Supreme Court has made clear that to warrant disqualification, “[t]he alleged bias or prejudice . . . must stem from an extrajudicial source . . . other than what the judge learned from his participation in the case.” United States v. Grinnell Corp., 384 U.S. 563, 583 (1966). In applying the extrajudicial source doctrine, the Supreme Court has held that

judicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion. In and of themselves (i.e., apart from surrounding comments or accompanying opinion), they cannot possibly show reliance upon an extrajudicial source; and can only in the rarest circumstances evidence the degree of favoritism or antagonism required . . . when no extrajudicial source is involved.

Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555 (1994) (citation omitted).

         Here, Sanders argues that the assigned magistrate judge's rulings in prior cases displayed discriminatory animus towards his mental disabilities when she recommended dismissal of his case for his failure to attend his deposition. He requests that his case be reassigned to a different magistrate judge.

         Importantly, Sanders points to no extrajudicial source of bias or prejudice. Moreover, as stated above, mere disagreement with judicial rulings and unsupported allegations of bias are insufficient to warrant recusal. Accordingly, it is

         ORDERED that the plaintiffs motions to recuse are denied.

         IT IS SO ORDERED.

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Notes:

[1] Notably, ยง 455 largely tracks the language of Canon 3(C) of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, which also governs recusal ...


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