United States District Court, D. Maryland
DEBORAH K. CHASANOW, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
is self-represented Petitioner Azaniah Blankumsee's
Petition for Writ of Mandamus, in which he names the
Honorable Paul W. Grimm, a member of the bench of this court,
as Respondent. Mr. Blankumsee signed the Petition as an
“affidavit or certificate of good faith.” ECF No.
1 at 6. Mr. Blankumsee filed this Petition without the filing
fee or a motion for leave to proceed in forma
pauperis. Requiring him to correct this deficiency,
however, would serve only to delay resolution of this matter.
Blankumsee, who is incarcerated at Eastern Correctional
Institution in Westover, Maryland, is a frequent pro se
litigant in the District of Maryland. In this Petition, he asks
that the Judge Grimm recuse himself “concerning any and
all of plaintiff's cases, and that a fair and impartial
judge is assigned….” ECF No. 1 at 1. Mr.
Blankumsee states that he has filed 12 cases in this court
which were decided by Judge Grimm and none resulted in
dispositions in his favor.ECF No. 1 at 2. He also asserts that
Judge Grimm denied his motion for appointment of counsel in
Blankumsee v. Buck, PWG-15-3495, even though Judge
Grimm recognized that Mr. Blankumsee suffers from mental
illness. Further, he complains that Judge Grimm has required
him to submit partial payments toward the filing fee in cases
where he is granted leave to proceed in forma
pauperis, which Mr. Blankumsee analogizes to the
improper imposition of bail. ECF No. 1 at 5. Lastly, Mr.
Blankumsee alleges that cases he has presented with identical
issues have, after consideration by other judges, proceeded
to trial, whereas his cases before Judge Grimm were dismissed
or summary judgment granted in favor of Defendants. ECF No. 1
at 4. Notably, Mr. Blankumsee does not provide the case
numbers, the issues presented, or other identifying
information to consider this conclusory and unsubstantiated
at least the fifth time Mr. Blankumsee has moved for Judge
Grimm's recusal. On April 27, 2017, he filed a Petition
for Writ of Mandamus in three separate cases. Civil Action
No. PWG-15-3495, ECF No. 44; Civil Action No. PWG-16-2801 ECF
No. 30, and Civil Action No. PWG-16-3436, ECF No. 13. In an
Order filed on May 2, 2017, Judge Grimm determined that to
the extent that Mr. Blankumsee was seeking a writ of mandamus
directing the court to act, he must file his Petition in the
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, citing
Cheney v. U.S. Dist. Court for D.C., 542 U.S. 367,
380 (2004). Judge Grimm alternatively construed the Petition
as a motion for recusal in the three cases, and, on July 13,
2017, denied the recusal motions on procedural and
substantive grounds. See Civil Action No.
PWG-15-3495, ECF No. 33; PWG-16-2801, ECF No. 33, and
PWG-16-3436, ECF No. 16.
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denied
Blankumsee's petition for a writ of mandamus seeking
recusal and vacatur of cases previously adjudicated by Judge
Grimm on May 29, 2018. In re Azaniah Blankumsee, No.
17-2415 (4th Cir. May 29, 2018) (on petitions for writ of
mandamus PWG-13-2507; PWG-15-837; PWG-16-2801; PWG-16-03436;
filed a motion for recusal in Civil Action No. PWG-18-3415 on
December 19, 2018, which Judge Grimm denied on January 2,
2019, as moot because the case had been dismissed and, if not
moot, failed to state a basis for recusal. Civil Action No.
PWG-18-3415, ECF Nos. 6, 7.
filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth
Circuit a Motion for Writ of Mandamus in the instant case,
Civil Action No. PWG-16-3436, and Civil Action No. PWG-18-106
on February 21, 2019. In re Azaniah Blankumsee, No.
19-1186 (4th. Cir. docketed February 21, 2019).
previously explained by Judge Grimm to Mr. Blankumsee, if he
intends to pursue a writ of mandamus to direct this court to
act on his recusal request, then he must file his Petition in
the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Cheney, 542 U.S. at 380 (noting that a writ of
mandamus, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a), is a means by
which an appellate court can direct a district court to act).
extent Mr. Blankumsee intends the instant Petition to serve
as a blanket motion for recusal or disqualification on his
pending or future cases, he provides no factual basis to
warrant disqualification or recusal. A federal judge must
recuse himself or herself “in any proceeding in which
his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” 28
U.S.C. § 455(a). A judge's purported “bias or
prejudice must, as a general matter, stem from ‘a
source outside the judicial proceeding at hand' in order
to disqualify a judge.” Belue v. Leventhal,
640 F.3d 567, 572 (4th. Cir. 2011) (concluding that
judge's opinions formed during the proceedings
did not necessitate the judge's disqualification)
(quoting Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 545,
551 (1994)). Thus, a judge must recuse himself if an
extrajudicial source provides a reasonable factual basis for
calling the judge's impartiality into question. In re
Beard, 811 F.2d 818, 827 (4th Cir. 1987).
is not required simply because the judge has issued adverse
rulings against a litigant or expressed negative opinions
about his case. Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S.
540, 555 (1994). Disagreement with the substance of decisions
issued by a judge does not provide grounds for recusal;
rather, it is a basis for an appeal. “Dissatisfaction
with a judge's views on the merits of a case may present
ample grounds for appeal, but it rarely-if ever-presents a
basis for recusal.” Belue, 640 F.3d at 575
(4th Cir. 2011).
inquiry is whether a reasonable person would have a
reasonable basis for questioning the judge's
impartiality, not whether the judge is in fact
impartial.” Id.; see Liteky, 510 U.S. at 548
(“[W]hat matters is not the reality of bias or
prejudice but its appearance.”). Therefore, “the
Due Process Clause may sometimes demand recusal even when a
judge ‘ha[s] no actual bias.'” Rippo v.
Baker, __ U.S.__, 137 S.Ct. 905, 907
(Mar. 6, 2017) (quoting Aetna Life Ins. Co. v.
Lavoie, 475 U.S. 813, 825 (1986)). Recusal may be
necessary if, for instance, “the probability of actual
bias on the part of the judge or decision-maker is too high
to be constitutionally tolerable.” Id.
(quoting Withrow v. Larkin, 421 U.S. 35, 47 (1975));
see also Williams v. Pennsylvania, __ U.S.__, 136
S.Ct. 1899, 1905 (2016) (“The Court asks not whether a
judge harbors an actual, subjective bias, but instead
whether, as an objective matter, the average judge in his
position is likely to be neutral, or whether there is an
unconstitutional potential for bias” (internal
quotation marks omitted)).
Blankumsee takes exception to Judge Grimm's denial of his
motion for appointment of counsel in Blankumsee v.
Buck, PWG-15-3495, arguing that because Judge Grim
recognized in his Memorandum Opinion in that case,
Id. ECF 37 at 10, that Mr. Blankumsee has mental
illness, he should have found “exceptional
circumstances” to grant appointment of counsel. ECF No.
1 at 2-3. There is no absolute right to appointment of
counsel; an indigent claimant must present “exceptional
circumstances.” See Miller v. Simmons, 814
F.2d 962, 966 (4th Cir. 1987). A federal district court
judge, may in his or her discretion, appoint counsel under 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1) where an indigent claimant presents
exceptional circumstances. See Cook v. Bounds, 518
F.2d 779 (4th Cir. 1975); see also, Branch v. Cole,
686 F.2d 264 (5th Cir. 1982). Exceptional circumstances exist
where a “pro se litigant has a colorable claim but
lacks the capacity to present it.” See Whisenant v.
Yuam, 739 F.2d 160, 163 (4th Cir. 1984), abrogated
on other grounds byMallard v. U.S. Dist. Ct.,
490 U.S. 296, 298 (1989) (holding that 28 U.S.C. § 1915
does not authorize compulsory appointment of counsel).
Notably, Mr. Blankumsee did not raise his mental illness as
grounds for appointment of counsel. Blankumsee v.
Buck, PWG-15-3495, ECF 42. Rather, he argued that he was
in an isolation cell, unable to retain counsel, and his
imprisonment limited his ability to litigate. Mr.
Blankumsee's mental illness does not appear to have
hindered his capacity to litigate in this court, as evidenced
by his numerous filings, a circumstance ...