United States District Court, D. Maryland
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DEBORAH K. CHASANOW, District Judge.
On January 22, 2015, Plaintiff Charles Kehinde Pyne filed a motion for reconsideration of the December 23, 2014 order (ECF No. 11), which denied his motion seeking recusal, motion to strike the clerks's December 1, 2014 letter, and claim for return of property pursuant to Fed.R.Crim.P. 41(g). Plaintiff brings his motion for reconsideration pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 12).
A motion for reconsideration filed within twenty-eight days of the underlying order, such as Plaintiff's motion, is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). Courts have recognized three limited grounds for granting such a motion: (1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law; (2) to account for new evidence not previously available; or (3) to correct clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice. See United States ex rel. Becker v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co., 305 F.3d 284, 290 (4th Cir. 2002) ( citing Pacific Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire Ins. Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998)). A Rule 59(e) motion "may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment." Pacific Ins. Co., 148 F.3d at 403 ( quoting 11 Wright, et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 2810.1, at 127-28 (2d ed. 1995)).
Plaintiff first asks for reconsideration of the denial of his motion for recusal, arguing that the "Court has made a clear error of law by applying 28 U.S.C. Section 144  to deny the motion as opposed to 28 U.S.C. Section 455(a) , as presented in Plaintiff's Motion to Recuse." (ECF No. 12, at 1). Plaintiff contends that his motion to recuse was misconstrued, and he was seeking recusal of the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 455(a) and that his motion should be reconsidered under this section. According to Plaintiff, "pursuant to 28 U.S.C. section 455(a), Judge Chasanow's impartiality might reasonably be questioned  as [Plaintiff's] ongoing criminal proceedings are too inherently tied to the civil action under Rule 41(g)." ( Id. at 3-4).
As indicated in the December 23, 2014 memorandum opinion, however, applying 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) to Plaintiff's motion for recusal also dictates that his motion be denied. (ECF No. 11, at 5 n.2). As noted previously, "a reasonable, well-informed observer could not reasonably question the court's impartiality in this matter based on the Plaintiff's allegations." ( Id. ); see U.S. v. DeTemple, 162 F.3d 279, 286 (4th Cir. 1998) (noting that section 455(a) is an "objective standard" that asks "whether the judge's impartiality might be questioned by a reasonable, well-informed observer who assesses all the facts and circumstances") (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). The crux of Plaintiff's argument in support of recusal is that "Judge Chasanow's impartiality might reasonably be questioned  as the ongoing criminal proceedings are too inherently tied to the civil action under Rule 41(g)." The "inherent tie" between his criminal and civil cases is that Plaintiff purports that had the Government not perpetrated fraud in his criminal action, he would have been released from incarceration sooner and therefore, would have been able timely to file his civil complaint seeking return of his property. Plaintiff mischaracterizes the March 27, 2014 memorandum opinion and order in his criminal case, United States v. Charles Pyne, Case No. DKC 8:04-cr-0018, as the undersigned did not find that the Government perpetrated fraud in 2007 while litigating his 2255; rather, Plaintiff's motion to void the August 2007 judgment in his case on the basis of fraud was denied. ( Id., ECF No. 215, at 6-9). More importantly, Plaintiff has not provided a sufficient factual basis supporting recusal. The undersigned's presiding over later stages of Plaintiff's criminal case and his related civil action for return of property does not provide any inference of impartiality or bias. See DeTemple, 162 F.3d at 286-87 (noting that section 455(a) "does not require a judge to recuse himself because of unsupported, irrational, or highly tenuous speculation" because to "disqualify oneself in such circumstances would  set the price of maintaining purity of appearance too high") (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).
Plaintiff also asks for reconsideration of his motion to strike "the deputy clerk's letter of December 1, 2014" stating that the court "made a clear error of law" by improperly dismissing his motion to strike on procedural grounds and "fail[ing] to consider the merits of Plaintiff's argument that the deputy clerk lacks jurisdiction to issue a discretionary judicial order." (ECF No. 12, at 4). Plaintiff contends that the time frame provided by the clerk was not in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(a)(1)(C).
The denial of Plaintiff's motion to strike was not clearly erroneous. The letter Plaintiff moved to strike is known as a Roseboro letter, and was mailed to Plaintiff by the clerk of court in accordance with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit's directive in Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975). Roseboro letters are not judicial orders but notification letters sent to pro se plaintiffs informing them that there are dispositive motions pending that may result in the dismissal of their cases and that they have a limited time to respond to such motions. The clerk's sending of such a letter was proper, and the court's refusal to strike such a letter was also proper, because the plain language of Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f) permits the court to strike "pleadings, " which does not encompass Roseboro letters.
Finally, Plaintiff asks the court to reconsider its denial of his motion for return of his property pursuant to Fed.R.Crim.P. 41(g). He argues that the six-year statute of limitations does not apply to his claim, and that the court failed to consider his argument that "had the Government not been involved in the Rule 60(b)(3) fraud [as ruled by the Court] Plaintiff would have been granted section 2255 relief and release[d] from unlawful incarceration [in] 2007; and would have immediately thereafter presented his Rule 41(g) motion well before the six-year statute of limitations expired." (ECF No. 12, at 6). According to Plaintiff, the six-year statute of limitations should not be applied to his return of property claim because it would result in manifest injustice considering that the Government's alleged fraud deprived Plaintiff of the "opportunity to present a timely Rule 41(g) motion[.]" ( Id. at 7).
Plaintiff appears to argue that because the Government allegedly perpetrated fraud in his criminal case by purportedly conspiring with Judge Williams to deny his § 2255 petition, the statute of limitations should be equitably tolled in his civil action for return of his seized property in order to prevent manifest injustice. In Rouse v. Lee, 339 F.3d 238, 246 (4th Cir. 2003), the Fourth Circuit noted the limited application of the equitable tolling doctrine:
Equitable tolling "is appropriate when, but only when, extraordinary circumstances beyond [the petitioner's] control prevented him from complying with the statutory time limit." Spencer v. Sutton, 239 F.3d 626, 630 (4th Cir. 2001) ( quoting Harris [ v. Hutchinson ], 209 F.3d [325, ] 330 [(4th Cir. 2000)]). Accordingly, under our existing "extraordinary circumstances" test, [the petitioner] is only entitled to equitable tolling if he presents (1) extraordinary circumstances, (2) beyond his control or external to his own conduct, (3) that prevented him from filing on time.
Id. (en banc), cert. denied, 541 U.S. 905 (2004). Here, the allegations that the Government had perpetrated fraud in 2007, do not present extraordinary circumstances for tolling the statute of limitations for a return of property claim. Plaintiff's claim appears to have accrued when his property was seized in December 2003, and Plaintiff has not presented any facts establishing that circumstances beyond his control prevented him from filing his motion for return of property within the six-year statute of limitations. Plaintiff seems to be arguing that his continued incarceration prevented him from filing a motion because had the Government not purportedly committed fraud which resulted in his continued incarceration that lasted beyond the six-year statute of limitations, then he would have been released from prison within the limitations period and would have been able timely to file his 41(g) motion. Plaintiff's argument is unavailing, however, as incarcerated persons are not prevented from moving for return of their property under Fed.R.Crim.P. 41(g), and Plaintiff's incarceration does not seem to have been an impediment to his filing of numerous other motions.
Accordingly, it is this 26th day of March 2015, by the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, hereby ordered:
1. The Motion for Reconsideration (ECF No. 12) IS DENIED; and
2. The Clerk SHALL SEND a copy of this Order directly to Plaintiff and to ...