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U.S. District Court Examines Standard for Granting Relief Under FRCP 60(b) and for Recusal Under 28 U.S.C. § 144.

Raymond Pierre v. Beebe Hospital/Medical Center, et al.
No. 13-2102 (United States District Court for the District of Delaware, May 4, 2015)

by Richard J. Medoff, Law Clerk
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

Available at:

In Raymond Pierre v. Beebe Hospital/Medical Center, et al., a case involving a motion for relief from final judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(3) and (4), and a motion for recusal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 144, the United States District Court for the District of Delaware concluded that plaintiff was merely seeking relitigation of the merits of his case and that plaintiff had made nothing more than conclusory allegations of bias and prejudice. Thus, Judge Sue L. Robinson denied the plaintiff’s motions.

By way of factual background, pro se plaintiff Raymond Pierre ("plaintiff'), filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1985, asserting civil rights, wrongful termination, employment discrimination, and conspiracy claims against a former employer. The original complaint was dismissed on April 29, 2014, and plaintiff was given leave to amend. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on May 13, 2014, and it was dismissed as frivolous on August 28, 2014. On September 23, 2014, plaintiff filed a motion for relief from the court's August 28, 2014, order that dismissed the case as frivolous, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(3) and (4), arguing that the court erred and abused its discretion in dismissing the case. Plaintiff also filed a motion for recusal of Judge Sue L. Robinson pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 144, alleging that she was biased or prejudiced.

The court first considered plaintiff’s motion for relief pursuant to Rule 60(b)(3) and (4). The court began its analysis by noting that a motion filed pursuant to Rule 60(b) is “addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court guided by accepted legal principles applied in light of all relevant circumstances.” Pierce Assoc. Inc., v. Nemours Found., 865 F.2d 530, 548 (3d Cir. 1988). Next, the court noted that Rule 60(b)(3) provides for relief from judgment by reason of "fraud (whether previously called intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or other misconduct by an opposing party." The court explained that in order to sustain the burden of proving fraud and misrepresentation under Rule 60(b)(3), “the evidence must be clear and convincing, and cannot serve as an attempt to relitigate the merits." Brown v. Pennsylvania R.R. Co., 282 F.2d 522, 527 (3d Cir. 1960); Fleming v. New York Univ., 865 F.2d 478, 484 (2d Cir. 1989). The court further explained that Rule 60(b)(3) "is aimed at judgments which were unfairly obtained, not at those which are factually incorrect," and that Rule 60(b)(3) “concerns litigation-related fraud perpetrated in the course of litigation that interferes with the process of adjudication.” See Hesling v. CSX Transp., Inc., 396 F.3d 632, 641 (5th Cir. 2005); Roger Edwards, LLC v. Fiddes & Son Ltd., 427 F.3d 129, 134 (1st Cir. 2005). The court further noted that once such fraud has been proved, “the judgment may be set aside upon the movant's showing that the fraud ‘substantially interfered with the movant's ability fully and fairly to prepare for, and proceed at, trial.’" Tiller v. Baghdady, 294 F.3d 277, 280 (1st Cir. 2002).

The court next noted that Rule 60(b)(4) provides relief from judgment if "the judgment is void." The court explained that under Rule 60(b)(4), “a judgment is not void simply because it is or may have been erroneous,” and that Rule 60(b)(4) “applies only in the rare instance where a judgment is premised either on a certain type of jurisdictional error or on a violation of due process that deprives a party of notice or the opportunity to be heard." See United Student Aid Funds, Inc. v. Espinosa, 559 U.S. 260, 270 (2010); Hoult v. Hoult, 57 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 1995).

Turning to the facts of the case, the court concluded that the relief plaintiff sought was not available under either Rule 60(b)(3) or Rule 60(b)(4). The court reasoned that “neither Rule is intended to permit relitigation of the merits of the case,” which the court found was “plaintiff’s obvious intent.” With regard to Rule 60(b)(3), the court specifically found that plaintiff had failed to “come forth with clear and convincing evidence of misconduct.” With regard to Rule 60(b)(4), the court found that “plaintiff's assignment of legal error, without more,” did not justify the granting of relief. To the court, it was “evident” that plaintiff disagreed with the dismissal of his case. The court explained that this was an insufficient basis for granting plaintiff relief under Rule 60(b)(3) or (4), and accordingly, denied plaintiff’s motion.

Next, the court considered plaintiff’s motion for recusal of Judge Sue L. Robinson pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 144 on the grounds that she was biased or prejudiced. 28 U.S.C. § 144 provides in relevant part:

Whenever a party to any proceeding in a district court makes and files a timely and sufficient affidavit that the judge before whom the matter is pending has a personal bias or prejudice either against him or in favor of any adverse party, such judge shall proceed no further therein.

The court began its analysis on this motion by noting that it was construing plaintiff’s one page motion to recuse as a "legal affidavit." Next, the court explained that “it is the responsibility of the district judge against whom an affidavit is filed to assess the legal sufficiency of the affidavit,” and that the challenged judge “must determine only the sufficiency of the affidavit, not the truth of the assertions.” See United States v. Townsend, 478 F.2d 1072, 1073 (3d Cir. 1973); Mims v. Shapp, 541 F .2d 415, 417 (3d Cir. 1976). The court further explained that an affidavit is legally sufficient “if the facts alleged therein: (1) are material and stated with particularity; (2) would convince a reasonable person that a bias exists; and (3) evince bias that is personal, as opposed to judicial in nature.” United States v. Thompson, 483 F.2d 527, 528 (3d Cir. 1973).

Turning to the facts of the case, the court concluded that it was “evident that plaintiff's scant allegations of bias and prejudice consist of subjective conclusions and disagreements with this court's rulings.” See Jones v. Pittsburgh Nat'l Corp., 899 F.2d 1350, 1356 (3d Cir. 1990) (holding that, to be legally sufficient, an affidavit must contain more than mere conclusory allegations); see also Cooney v. Booth, 262 F. Supp. 2d 494, 502 (E.D. Pa. 2003) (holding that opinions and conclusions based upon suspicion, conjecture, and speculation are legally insufficient to warrant recusal). The court further noted that "a party's displeasure with legal rulings does not form an adequate basis for recusal." Securacomm Consulting, Inc. v. Securacom Inc., 224 F.3d 273, 278 (3d Cir. 2000). Accordingly, the court concluded that plaintiff had not met the requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 144 and, therefore, denied his motion for recusal.