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Holder v. Kerry

United States District Court, District of New Hampshire

May 27, 2014

Ralph Holder
v.
John Kerry, et al. Opinion No. 2014 DNH 114

ORDER

Joseph A. DiClerico, Jr. United States District Judge.

Ralph Holder, proceeding pro se, brought suit against the Secretary of State, John Kerry, and several employees of the United States Department of State (“State Department”), alleging claims arising out of his interactions with State Department personnel during his employment with the National Passport Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (“Passport Center”). Holder has filed several motions, including a motion for my recusal and a motion to disqualify the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of New Hampshire (“USAO”). The defendants object to the motions and move to dismiss all of Holder’s claims. Holder objects to the defendants’ motion.

Background

Holder was hired by the State Department to work at the Passport Center in February of 2001. He is “a Type II Insulin Dependent Diabetic[] and Hypertensive, ” and has suffered “two retinal hemorrhages to his left eye and Macular Edema to his right eye.”

In 2007, after suffering his first retinal hemorrhage, he was granted approval by his superiors to work a modified schedule from November of 2007 through March of 2008. The modified schedule allowed Holder to skip his mandatory half hour unpaid lunch break and work an eight hour day, rather than the standard eight-and-a-half hour day. This allowed him to leave work earlier to avoid driving home while it was dark. Holder was subsequently allowed to work a modified schedule from November through March of 2008-2009, 2009-2010, and 2010-2011. Holder also alleges that “[a]gency officials even formally provided [him] with a reasonable accommodation in the form of a lighted magnifier to assist him in performing the essential functions of his position.”

Holder alleges that he requested to remain on a modified schedule for all of 2011, but that he was directed by his superiors to return to the normal eight-and-a-half hour workday, which included the mandatory half hour lunch, after March of 2011. Holder made efforts to change the mandatory lunch policy, such as protesting and attempting to gather support from other employees. He also filed an equal employment opportunity complaint for the denial of a reasonable accommodation.

Holder alleges that in response to his efforts to change the lunch policy and his filing of the complaint, and because of racial and disability discrimination, one or more of the defendants retaliated against him. The alleged retaliation included an investigation of charges against him of workplace violence, a “letter of reprimand, ” a fourteen-day suspension from work, a poor performance evaluation, and the loss of a within- grade pay increase. Holder also alleges that during the workplace violence investigation, certain defendants improperly disclosed to his supervisors the fact that he had been arrested on a state criminal threatening charge, even though the charge had been dismissed and the arrest record was annulled.

Holder filed a complaint against the defendants on June 13, 2013 (“Holder I”). See Holder v. Kerry et al., 13-cv-267-SM (McAuliffe, J.). In that case, the court dismissed Holder’s complaint without prejudice because he failed, after several extensions, to file proof that he properly served the defendants. Judgment was entered against Holder in Holder I on December 17, 2013, and Holder’s motion for reconsideration of the court’s order dismissing the complaint was denied on December 20, 2013.

Holder subsequently filed his complaint in this action against the same defendants on January 6, 2014. Holder’s complaint is nearly identical to his complaint in Holder I, and alleges thirty-six separate counts, though many of the counts have the same or similar titles and contain duplicative allegations. His claims are based on alleged constitutional violations, federal statutes, and New Hampshire state law.

Discussion

Holder has filed several motions, including a motion for recusal and a “motion to disqualify New Hampshire U.S. Attorney’s Office.” The defendants have moved to dismiss all of Holder’s claims.

I. Motion for My Recusal/Disqualification

Holder moves for my “disqualification . . . from presiding over this matter.” In support, Holder states that he seeks my disqualification because I have issued rulings that were not in his favor in a prior action. Holder refers specifically to a summary judgment order he claims that I issued in Holder v. Bahan, et al..[1] Holder asserts that in that order, I purposefully manipulated the facts because I was biased against him and, therefore, “clearly cannot be trusted to render a fair, just and proper decision if allowed to preside over this matter.”

A federal judge is required to recuse himself from a case “‘in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.’” United States v. Pulido, 566 F.3d 52, 62 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 455(a)). The court’s consideration of a recusal issue includes a determination of whether the circumstances in the particular case would support an objective appearance of partiality as well as actual bias. Id. “[J]udges should not recuse themselves lightly, ” and in the absence of a reasonable question of bias, judges have a duty to sit. United States v. Cruzado-Laureano, 527 F.3d 231, 239 (1st Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Holder’s complaints do not meet the standard for recusal. Although Holder spends the bulk of his motion arguing that my previous order was decided incorrectly, and asserts that the reason for my decision must be that I am biased against him, he does not raise a legitimate ground for my recusal.[2] See, e.g., 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.”). I find that a reasonable person, fully informed of all of the relevant circumstances, would not question my ability to be impartial. No other grounds exist under 28 U.S.C. § 455 for my recusal. See, e.g., Pulido, 566 F.3d at 62-63. Therefore, Holder’s motion for recusal is denied.

II. Motion to Disqualify U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Hampshire

Holder moves to disqualify the USAO from representing the defendants in this matter.[3] Holder argues that the USAO has a conflict of interest arising from its “dual role and non-responsiveness of the plaintiff’s repeated formal criminal complaint against” certain defendants. He also asserts that the USAO’s failure to investigate and take action on his complaints “has been motivated by retaliation for [his] acquittal of the 2007 State criminal charges that were filed by [the] predecessor” to the current United States Attorney, John Kacavas.

As a general matter, “courts disfavor motions to disqualify.” Eaves v. City of Worcester, 2012 WL 6196012, at *2 (D. Mass. Dec. 11, 2012). “Unless the underlying judicial process will be tainted by an attorney’s conduct, courts should be reluctant to grant disqualification motions.” Gray v. R.I. Dep’t of Children, Youth and Families, 937 F.Supp. 153, 156 (D.R.I. 1996). In particular, “[t]he disqualification of Government counsel is a drastic measure and a court should hesitate to impose it except when necessary.” Aldrich v. Young, 2013 WL 3802436, at *5 (D. Mass. July 18, 2013) (quoting Gray, 937 F.Supp. at 161).

Holder has not set forth an adequate basis to disqualify the USAO as counsel for the defendants. Holder has not named any member of the USAO as a defendant in this action and has not explained how the USAO’s apparent decision not to investigate Holder’s complaints has any bearing on its ability to represent the ...


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