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Rajagopala Sampath Raghavendra, Also Known As, "Randy S. Raghavendra v. the Trustees of Columbia University

July 13, 2012

RAJAGOPALA SAMPATH RAGHAVENDRA, ALSO KNOWN AS, "RANDY S. RAGHAVENDRA," PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE TRUSTEES OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
RAJAGOPALA SAMPATH RAGHAVENDRA, ALSO KNOWN AS, "RANDY S. RAGHAVENDRA," PLAINTIFF,
v.
NATIONAL RELATIONS LABOR BOARD, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
RAJAGOPALA SAMPATH RAGHAVENDRA, ALSO KNOWN AS, "RANDY S. RAGHAVENDRA," PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE TRUSTEES OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pitman, United States Magistrate Judge:

OPINION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

By motions dated February 24, 2012 and April 23, 2012, plaintiff moves for the recusal of the Honorable Paul A. Crotty, United States District Judge, in the following related actions: 06 Civ. 6841 (Docket Item 167); 08 Civ. 8120 (Docket Item 87) and 09 Civ. 0019 (Docket Item 63). Plaintiff makes these motions pursuant to (1) 28 U.S.C. § 455(a), 455(b)(1); (2) 28 U.S.C. § 144 and (3) 22 N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. § 100.3(D)(2), (E)(1)(b).

In support of his motions, plaintiff has submitted (1) an affirmation (Docket Item 167 in 06 Civ. 6841); (2) a memorandum of law (Docket Item 168 in 06 Civ. 6841) and (3) a reply affirmation (Docket Item 171 in 06 Civ. 6841).*fn1

By letter dated March 5, 2012, the Columbia Defendants*fn2 move to strike plaintiff's recusal motions from the record.*fn3

Specifically, the Columbia Defendants contend that it is possible to deduce the amount of the settlement in this matter from plaintiff's motion papers, which is in violation of the settlement agreement. The Stober Defendants*fn4 also move to strike plaintiff's recusal motions from the record*fn5 (Docket Item 169 in 06 Civ. 6841). Specifically, the Stober Defendants contend that plaintiff has violated Judge Crotty's February 19, 2010 Order (Docket Item 149 in 06 Civ. 6841), which directed him to cease filing papers containing ad hominem attacks against them.

For the reasons set forth below, (1) each of plain-tiff's recusal motions are denied and (2) the defendants' respective motions to strike are denied.

II. Facts

The facts underlying the above-referenced actions have been set forth at length in many decisions of this Court, and, thus, I do not recite them again here.*fn6 Judge Crotty succinctly summarized the underlying facts in Raghavendra v. Trustees of Columbia Univ., 686 F. Supp. 2d 332, 334-35 (S.D.N.Y. 2010), aff'd in part, rev'd in part on other grounds, 434 F. App'x 31 (2d Cir. 2011):

[P]laintiff Rajagopala S. Raghavendra ("Raghavendra") alleges that the Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York ("Columbia") violated his civil rights and retaliated against him when he complained about it. The alleged conduct commenced in 2001, leading up to his claimed wrongful termination in 2005. Litigation commenced in 2006 and has dragged on since then, resulting on occasion in other lawsuits initiated by Raghavendra against different defendants on various theories of liability.

On July 30, 2009, at the conclusion of an all day mediation session which involved Raghavendra, his attorney, and Columbia, plus their counsel, as well as a mediator, Raghavendra signed a document entitled, "Terms of Settlement between Rajagopala S. Raghavendra ("Raghavendra") and the Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York ("Columbia")" (the "Settlement Agreement"). The Settlement Agreement provides for the withdrawal of all of Raghavendra's claims, in return for the payment of a very substantial dollar settlement award, and it also addresses how employment references will be handled in the future. The Settlement Agreement states: "The terms set forth above are final and binding upon the parties." Almost immediately after signing the Settlement Agreement, Raghavendra filed a flurry of motions seeking to disavow the Settlement Agreement and objecting to any payment of legal fees [to the Stober Defendants].

Plaintiff's application to set aside the settlement agreement and his objection to the Stober Defendants' motion for legal fees were unsuccessful. Judge Crotty determined that the settlement agreement entered into by plaintiff and the Columbia Defendants was valid and enforceable, and, further, that the Stober Defendants were entitled to recover their full contingency fee as provided for under the retainer agreement, i.e., one-third of the settlement proceeds. Raghavendra v. Trustees of Columbia Univ., supra, 686 F. Supp. 2d at 335-38.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed Judge Crotty's determination that the settlement agreement was valid and enforceable, although it reversed his determination concerning the amount of legal fees recoverable by the Stober Defendants and remanded the matter for further factual findings on that specific issue. Raghavendra v. Trustees of Columbia Univ., supra, 434 F. App'x at 31-32. On July 11, 2012, I issued a Report and Recommendation, of which the disposition is still pending, addressing the specific amount of fees to be awarded to the Stober Defendants.

III. Analysis

A. Standards Applicable to a Recusal Motion

The Honorable Kiya A. Matsumoto, United States District Judge, succinctly set forth the standards applicable to a recusal pursuant to Sections 144, 455(a) and 455(b)(1) in Clemmons v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 11-cv-1645 (KAM), 2011 WL 6130926 at *3-*4 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 8, 2011). With respect to Section 144, Judge Matsumoto explained:

[Section 144] provides:

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, but another judge shall be assigned to hear such proceeding. The affidavit shall state the facts and the reasons for the belief that bias or prejudice exists, and shall be filed not less than ten days before the beginning of the term at which the proceeding is to be heard, or good cause shall be shown for failure to file it within such time. A party may file only one such affidavit in any case. It shall be accompanied by a certificate of counsel of record stating that it is made in good faith.

"The Second Circuit has articulated a standard for legal sufficiency under Section 144: 'an affidavit must show the objectionable inclination or disposition of the judge; it must give fair support to the charge of a bent of mind that may prevent or impede impartiality of judgment.'" Williams v. New York City Housing Auth., 287 F. Supp. 2d 247, 249 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) (quoting Rosen v. Sugarman, 357 F.2d 794, 798 (2d Cir. 1966)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Notably, "[t]hough the language of Section 144 appears to indicate otherwise, submitting an affidavit to the Court under this provision does not yield automatic recusal of the judge on the matter." Id. at 248 (citing 13A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3551 (2003)). "The mere filing of an affidavit of bias, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 144 . . . 'does not require a judge to recuse [herself or] himself.'" In re Holocaust Victim Assets Litig., Nos. 09--cv--3215, 96--cv--4849, 2010 WL 4038794, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 1, 2010) (quoting Nat'l Auto Brokers Corp. v. Gen. Motors Corp., 572 F.2d 953, 958 (2d Cir. 1978)). Rather, "the judge must review the facts included in the affidavit for their legal sufficiency and not recuse himself or herself unnecessarily." Williams, 287 F. Supp. 2d at 249 (citing Rosen, 357 F.2d at 797); see In re Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc., 861 F.2d 1307, 1312 (2d Cir. 1988) ("A judge is as much obliged not to recuse himself [or herself] when it is not called for as he [or she] is obliged to when it is.") (citation omitted).

Clemmons v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., supra, 2011 WL 6130926 at *3; see also Thorpe v. Zimmer, Inc., 590 F. Supp. 2d 492, 498 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (McMahon, D.J.); Hoffenberg v. United States, 333 F. ...


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