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Riddick v. Department of Correction

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 27, 2018

JEROME RIDDICK, a/k/a Ja-Qure Al-Bukhari, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, et al., Defendants.

          RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS

          Stefan R. Underhill United States District Judge.

         Jerome Riddick (“Riddick”), also known as Ja-Qure Al-Bukhari, a Connecticut Department of Correction inmate, brought this civil rights action pro se pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 against the Department of Correction and nineteen individuals employed by the Department of Correction. On November 19, 2013, I dismissed the claims for money damages against all defendants in their official capacities pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(2). I also dismissed, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), all claims against the State of Connecticut Department of Correction, Commissioner Arnone, Administrator Furey, and Dr. Frayne, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) claim against Warden Maldonaldo regarding Administrative Directive 9.5(10). See Initial Review Order, Doc. No. 10 at 7. I concluded that the Eighth Amendment conditions of confinement claims could proceed against defendants Maldonaldo, Weber, Caputo, Prouty, St. John, Pafumi, Brigthaupt, Powers, Santiago, Jane Doe, John Doe, John Doe 2, John Doe 3, John Doe 4 and John Doe 5 in their individual and official capacities and the ADA claims could proceed against defendants Weber, Caputo, Prouty, St. John, Pafumi, Jane Doe, John Doe, John Doe 2, John Doe 3, John Doe 4 and John Doe 5 in their official capacities. See id.

         On January 31, 2014, Attorney Thomas O. Farrish appeared for Riddick as pro bono counsel for settlement purposes only. On March 11, 2014, the parties reported to the court that they had reached an agreement to settle this case as well as several other cases filed by Riddick. The Clerk terminated this case pursuant to the notice of settlement. Doc. No. 26.

         On April 26, 2015, Attorney Farrish filed a motion to reopen the action and enforce the settlement agreement. Doc. No. 27. On April 28, 2015, Attorney Benjamin Henry Nassim appeared for Riddick as pro bono counsel, and on May 13, 2015, Attorney Jeffrey Mueller appeared for Riddick as pro bono counsel. Doc. Nos. 32, 45. On May 14, 2015, Attorneys Farrish and Mueller, on behalf of Riddick, and Attorney Terrence O'Neill, on behalf of the defendants, appeared in this court for a hearing and reached an agreement regarding the issues raised by Riddick in the Motion to Reopen and to Enforce the Settlement Agreement. See Transcript of Hearing, Doc. No. 50. At the hearing, I clarified the terms of the agreement on the record. See id. Pursuant to the agreement of the parties and the clarification of terms of the 2014 settlement agreement, Riddick withdrew his motions to reopen the case and to enforce the settlement agreement. See Minute Entry, Doc. No. 49.

         On August 20, 2015, I granted the motions to withdraw as pro bono counsel for Riddick that had been filed by Attorneys Farrish, Nissim, and Mueller. See Order, Doc. No. 56. On June 19, 2015, Riddick, acting pro se, filed a motion to reopen the case and enforce the settlement agreement. Doc. No. 51. At a hearing held on August 25, 2015, I denied the motion without prejudice to filing a new case seeking enforcement of the settlement agreement. See Minute Entry and Order, Doc. No. 58.

         In June 2016, Riddick filed three new motions to reopen and enforce the settlement agreement. See Doc. Nos. 59, 60, 61. On July 28, 2016, Attorney John F. Conway appeared on behalf of Riddick. Doc. No. 62. On October 27, 2016, I denied the three motions to reopen without prejudice, pursuant to an agreement by the parties to pursue good faith settlement efforts. See Order, Doc. No. 63.

         On September 14, 2017, December 4, 2017 and December 6, 2017, Riddick filed additional motions to reopen the case and enforce the settlement agreement. See Motions, Doc. Nos. 64, 66, 67. On December 13, 2017, Riddick filed a notice of appeal of my October 27, 2016 order denying his motions to reopen and to enforce the settlement agreement. See Notice, Doc. No. 68. The case remained on appeal until April 30, 2018. On that date, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a Mandate dismissing the appeal for lack of jurisdiction due its untimely filing. See USCA Mandate, Doc. No. 74. The case remains closed.

         Pending before the court are Riddick's three motions to reopen the case and to enforce the settlement agreement (Doc. Nos. 64, 66, 67); a motion to return to court to resolve his concerns regarding the defendants' compliance with the terms of the 2014 and 2015 Agreements (Doc. No. 76); a motion to compel (Doc. No. 70); and a motion to disqualify me for personal bias or prejudice (Doc. No. 73). In addition. Attorney Conway has moved to withdraw as pro bono counsel for Riddick (Doc. No. 75), to which Riddick has objected (Doc. No. 77).

         I. Motion to Disqualify Judge (Doc. No. 73)

         Riddick claims that I am biased or prejudiced against him in favor of the defendants because I did not immediately schedule a hearing on his most recently filed motions to reopen the case and enforce the settlement agreement and have not yet ruled on those motions. Riddick claims that at the hearing held on May 15, 2015, during which the terms of the 2014 settlement agreement were clarified, I indicated that the parties could come back to court to resolve any future issues with the terms of the 2014 agreement or the order clarifying the terms of the settlement agreement. Riddick seeks to disqualify me or have me recuse myself from the case.

         A judge must recuse himself “in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” 28 U.S.C. § 455(a). Additionally, a judge “shall also disqualify himself ... [w]here he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party.” 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(1). The test employed to determine whether recusal is required is an objective one and is “based on what a reasonable person knowing all the facts would conclude.” Chase Manhattan Bank v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 343 F.3d 120, 127 (2d Cir. 2003) (citation omitted), cert. dismissed, 541 U.S. 913 (2004). The court, therefore, must consider “whether an objective and disinterested observer, knowing and understanding all of the facts and circumstances, could reasonably question the court's impartiality.” S.E.C. v. Razmilovic, 738 F.3d 14, 29 (2d Cir. 2013). A judge has an affirmative duty not to disqualify himself unnecessarily. See LoCascio v. United States, 473 F.3d 493, 498 (2d Cir. 2007); National Auto Brokers Corp. v. General Motors Corp., 572 F.2d 953, 958 (2d Cir. 1978).

         A judge must recuse himself if circumstances exist that would cause an objectively reasonable observer to question the judge's impartiality, i.e., if circumstances show “a deep-seated favoritism or antagonism that would make fair judgment almost impossible.” Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555 (1994). “[J]udicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion” and “can only in the rarest circumstances evidence the degree of favoritism or antagonism required.” Id.

         Riddick seeks recusal because he claims that I have not held a timely hearing or ruled on his motions to reopen the case and to enforce the terms of the settlement agreement in a timely manner. As indicated above, Riddick filed his most recent motions to reopen the case and to enforce the terms of the 2014 settlement agreement and the 2015 clarification of the terms of the 2014 settlement agreement in September 2017 and December 2017, just prior to filing a notice of appeal in the action on December 13, 2017. The notice of appeal divested the court of jurisdiction over the pending motions to reopen and to enforce the settlement agreement.

         As a general matter, “[t]he filing of a notice of appeal is an event of jurisdictional significance-it confers jurisdiction on the court of appeals and divests the district court of its control over those aspects of the case involved in the appeal.” Griggs v. Provident Consumer Discount Co.,459 U.S. 56, 58 (1982). “A district court does not regain jurisdiction until the issuance of the mandate by the ...


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