United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
WILLIAM H. STEELE, Chief District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on pro se plaintiff's filing styled "Plaintiff Challenging the Magistrate Judge's Certification Order & Recusal Order" (doc. 8).
I. Relevant Background.
In December 2013, plaintiff Bernice Muhammad, proceeding pro se, commenced this action in federal court by filing a 61-page typewritten Complaint (along with 86 pages of accompanying exhibits) against a sweeping collection of defendants, including HSBC Bank USA, N.A., Merrill Lynch & Co., Merrill Lynch Mortgage Investors Inc., Option One Mortgage Corporation, American Home Mortgage Servicing, Inc., Law Firm of Sirote & Permutt, P.C., Jeffery G. Miller, George C. Gaston, Juan Ortega, Shaun K. Ramey, JoJo Schwarzauer (Clerk of Mobile County Circuit Court), Charles M. Lewis, Jr. (Deputy Clerk of Mobile County Circuit Court), Carolyn Carter (Appeals Clerk of Mobile County Circuit Court), Mobile County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Sam Cochran, Deputy Robert Boykin, and "Drug Task Force of Deputy Dinkins & His Entire Task Force Deputies." The Complaint covers a variety of topics, including Muhammad's mortgage loan, foreclosure proceedings, and a purported "illegal Search and Seizure on June 20, 2013" by the law enforcement defendants.
Contemporaneously with her Complaint, Muhammad filed a Motion to Proceed without Prepayment of Fees (doc. 2); however, that Motion was not submitted on the proper form, and was devoid of necessary detail to corroborate her claims of indigence, and thus her eligibility to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). On January 6, 2014, Magistrate Judge Milling entered an Order (doc. 3) denying Muhammad's first IFP Motion because it was not on the correct form and directing her to complete and file the proper form on or before February 3, 2014. The January 6 Order cautioned Muhammad that "failure to comply with this Order with the prescribed time... will result in the dismissal of this action for failure to prosecute and to obey the Court's Order." (Doc. 3, at 1.)
On January 13, 2014, Muhammad filed her second Motion to Proceed without Prepayment of Fees (doc. 4), this time on the designated form. However, this second IFP Motion was puzzling and unhelpful in many respects, such as Muhammad's assertion that she had received more than $32, 000 in business, professional or self-employment income in the previous 12 months; and her representation that she is "homeless" even as she purports to own a four-bedroom house in Mobile, Alabama. On April 9, 2014, Magistrate Judge Milling entered an Order (doc. 5) denying this second IFP Motion because the aforementioned discrepancies (among others) show that her IFP Motion "does not convey her complete financial picture." (Doc. 5, at 1.) The April 9 Order documented the inconsistencies in plaintiff's filing and spelled out the areas in which greater information was needed. The April 9 Order gave Muhammad a deadline of April 30, 2014 to submit "a properly completed third motion to proceed without prepayment of fees on the Court's form for said motion, " including "the financial information needed to show her complete financial picture at the time of filing." (Doc. 5, at 2.) Judge Milling cautioned Muhammad that if she failed to file a compliant third motion in a timely manner, she would be denied in forma pauperis status and would be required to pay the filing fee (as she had done in connection with each of her prior lawsuits in this District Court).
In the April 9 Order, Judge Milling also performed an initial screening of plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Specifically, he found that the sprawling, unfocused and often conclusory pleading did not comport with the "short and plain statement" requirement of Rule 8(a), Fed.R.Civ.P., and observed that Muhammad had "neglected to plead any facts that would lead the Court to discern a plausible claim based on her extensive allegations. The Complaint is almost totally absent of specific concrete facts." (Doc. 5, at 8.) The April 9 Order further pointed out that Mohammad's Complaint relied on "conclusions, legal conclusions, and legal terms throughout without facts to support them, " thereby depriving the Court and defendants of "fair notice of what the Plaintiff's claim is against each Defendant." ( Id. ) On that basis, the April 9 Order specifically ordered Muhammad "on or before April 30, 2014, to file her first amended complaint that complies with Rule 8(a) and the directives of this Order." ( Id. at 10.) In deference to Muhammad's pro se status, the April 9 Order furnished her with detailed guidance and parameters for the content, length, format, facts and jurisdictional allegations that her amended pleading must contain. ( Id. at 10-14.) By doing so, Magistrate Judge Milling effectively provided Muhammad with a comprehensive road map for how to go about correcting the myriad pleading deficiencies that rendered her original Complaint unacceptable under applicable law and procedural rules.
Confronted with clear instructions about the necessity that she resubmit her IFP petition and amend her Complaint to conform to applicable pleading rules, Muhammad elected to ignore them. She made no attempt to comply. Instead, she went on the offensive. On April 28, 2014, Muhammad filed a document styled "In Respones [ sic ] to Hon. Bert W. Milling, Jr., United States Magistrate Judgs [ sic ]" (doc. 6). In this Response, Muhammad referenced previous lawsuits and events that occurred in separate court proceedings back in 2010, then declared that Magistrate Judge Milling's rulings "are Void Order's [ sic ] and has no effect on the Complaint filed by Plaintiff Muhammad." (Doc. 6, at 2.) Muhammad demanded that "this District Court and Clerk's [ sic ] and Judges, RECUSE THEMSELVES'S [ sic ]" from further involvement in this litigation. ( Id. ) She alleged unspecified "serious misconduct by the Court" and defiantly stated, "I will not ask again" for leave to proceed without prepayment of costs. ( Id. at 3.) Elsewhere in this extraordinary filing, Muhammad impugned "the integrity of the Court, " referred to an unspecified "fraud perpetrated by officers of the Court, " and alleged that "this District Court has perpetrated Fraud in all of the Cases in which has come before it as to Bernice Muhammad." ( Id. ) In conclusion, Muhammad requested that all judges in this District Court recuse themselves from further participation in this litigation. ( Id. at 4.)
On July 8, 2014, Magistrate Judge Milling entered an Order (doc. 7) denying plaintiff's construed motion for recusal. That Order correctly identified and applied the standard for judicial disqualification pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455, and concluded that there was no basis for recusal in this action. Yet plaintiff remains unsatisfied. Rather than undertaking to comply with the April 9 Order, Muhammad has filed a document styled "Plaintiff Challenging the Magistrate Judge's Certification Order & Recusal Order" (doc. 8). In this latest filing, Muhammad insists that all of Magistrate Judge Milling's rulings in this case are void, opines that the undersigned must recuse himself from further involvement in these proceedings based on her dissatisfaction with rulings entered in her previous federal cases, and demands appointment of "an outside District Court Judge and Magistrate Judge for this Lawsuit." (Doc. 8, at 4.)
A. Plaintiff's Motion for Recusal.
Amidst her lengthy history of unsuccessful federal lawsuits against her mortgage lender and others, Muhammad once had occasion to sue the undersigned. It all started in January 2010, when Muhammad (again proceeding without a lawyer) filed a Complaint and Motion for Temporary Restraining Order in a civil case on the undersigned's docket, styled Bernice Muhammad v. HSBC Bank USA, National Association, et al., Civil No. 10-0054-WS-B. The request for temporary restraining order embedded in that Complaint related to foreclosure proceedings on Muhammad's residence. This Court acted promptly on Muhammad's request for TRO, and conducted a hearing on February 3, 2010, just five (5) days after she commenced the lawsuit. Following that hearing, the undersigned entered a written order in Civil No. 10-0054, denying Muhammad's request for temporary restraining order because she had failed to show a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, inasmuch as evidence presented at the hearing showed what appeared to be a valid assignment of mortgage to the defendant, thereby undercutting plaintiff's theory that no assignment had occurred. Plaintiff's other arguments presented at the TRO hearing were considered and rejected by the undersigned in the February 3, 2010 ruling.
Muhammad demonstrated her unhappiness with this Court's TRO ruling by filing another lawsuit barely three weeks later, styled Bernice Muhammad v. HSBC Bank USA, N.A., et al., Civil No. 10-0096-SC-M, in which she named the undersigned as one of numerous defendants. Muhammad's claims against the undersigned included allegations that by denying her request for TRO in Civil No. 10-0054, this Court "violated the plaintiff' [ sic ] civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) & 1986... specifically to cheat the plaintiff." (Civil No. 10-0096, at doc. 2, p. 7.) Once Muhammad filed suit against the undersigned, this Court promptly recused itself from further involvement with Civil No. 10-0054, which was then transferred to the docket of U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade. Both of those lawsuits were dismissed more than four years ago. Specifically, in Civil No. 10-0054, Judge Granade dismissed Muhammad's claims via order and judgment dated June 22, 2010. And in Civil No. 10-0096, U.S. District Judge Coogler of the Northern District of Alabama (sitting by designation) dismissed all of Muhammad's claims against the undersigned, the other four federal judges she sued, and all other named defendants via orders granting the defendants' motions to dismiss on July 6, 2010.
This Court has had no further, other or different involvement with Muhammad in the last four years. Nonetheless, she now lashes out with a host of reckless, patently false accusations, such as that "Judge Steele would be a potential fact witness" in this case, that "Judge Steele, did not take adhere to his judicial responsibilities" in denying her motion for TRO in Civil No. 10-0054, that this Court participated in a "coverup" and "continues to obstruct justice" and so on. (Doc. 8, at 2-3.) Plaintiff is wrong. Four and a half years ago, this Court held a hearing on a motion for temporary restraining order that Muhammad filed in another case. Via written order issued on the same date as that hearing, the Court denied the request for TRO and explained precisely how Muhammad had failed to meet her burden under Rule 65 and why her arguments at the hearing were unavailing. The issue presented by Muhammad was not a close question, and plaintiff's legal and factual showing was so woefully inadequate that no reasonable jurist could have reached a contrary conclusion. The Court understands that Muhammad disagrees with that February 2010 ruling. But her dissatisfaction in no way compels or even favors recusal of the undersigned today. See, e.g., United States ...