United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division
Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge.
Crystal VL Rivers, proceeding pro se, recently paid
the filing fee for this civil case. At the same time, she
filed a motion to amend her complaint, which was also titled
as a “motion to validate.” (Dkt. No. 14.) That
motion, as well as several other motions filed before she
paid the filing fee, are addressed herein.
Motion for Reconsideration Concerning Recusal (Dkt. No.
a reassignment of this case would mean that this court would
not be ruling on her other pending motions, the court turns
first to Rivers's request for reassignment of the case.
prior order (Dkt. No. 10), the court denied as moot a motion
by Rivers to disqualify the “judges of the Lynchburg
Division of this court.” Her motion only mentioned by
name two judges: Judge Moon, to whom this case was initially
assigned, and United States Magistrate Judge Robert Ballou.
Because the case was transferred after the filing of the
recusal motion to the undersigned, who is based in Roanoke,
and because Rivers's motion included a request that the
case be moved to the Roanoke Division, the court found the
motion moot. (Dkt. No. 10.)
response, Rivers filed a motion for reconsideration. (Mot.
Recons., Dkt. No. 11.) In it, she describes this case as a
“complex” RICO case and asks that the case be
transferred to the Eastern District of Virginia and assigned
to a three-judge panel of judges familiar with “complex
banking and money laundering, RICO Racketeering cases.”
(Id. at 3.) Her motion repeatedly references the
“unique” and “complex” nature of her
claims. She also asserts, without any factual support, that
many of the judges and staff in the Western District
“may have conflict[s] of interests” concerning a
number of the named defendants, who live or work in this
district or are attorneys who practice before this court.
Lastly, she asserts as a basis for recusal that a fellow
judge of this court, United States Magistrate Judge Robert S.
Ballou, may be a potential witness in this case.
court has carefully reviewed her motion and its assertions,
but finds no grounds for transfer or recusal. In short, as
discussed below, she has not pointed to anything specific to
the undersigned that would warrant recusal.
to the extent the case is a complicated one, this court is
capable of addressing complicated matters. To the extent her
request is based on alleged “conflicts of interest,
” Rivers seeks recusal under § 455(a), which
directs a judge to recuse “in any proceeding in which
his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” 28
U.S.C. § 455(a). The standard to be applied is an
objective one and directs a judge to recuse herself if
“a reasonable person with knowledge of relevant facts
might reasonably question [her] impartiality.”
United States v. Cherry, 330 F.3d 658, 665 (4th Cir.
2003). “The analysis assumes that a reasonable person
not only knows all the relevant facts, but also understands
them.” Kolon Indus., Inc. v. E.I. duPont de Nemours
& Co., 846 F.Supp.2d 515, 531 (E.D. Va. 2012)
(internal citations omitted); United States v.
Nixon, 267 F.Supp.3d 140, 148 (D.D.C. 2017) (“The
Court must consider how the facts would appear to a
‘well-informed, thoughtful and objective observer,
rather than the hypersensitive, cynical, and suspicious
person.'”) (citations omitted). In making any
recusal decision, moreover, the court must be cognizant of
“the need to prevent parties from too easily obtaining
the disqualification of a judge, thereby potentially
manipulating the system for strategic reasons.” In
re Bulger, 710 F.3d 42, 47 (1st Cir. 2013). This last
consideration has some bearing here, as Rivers requests
transfer to another district that she believes is more
capable of handling her case and that she believes will be
more “favorable” to her. (Mot. Recons. 4, 8.)
claiming that all of the judges and magistrate judges here
should be recused, Rivers alleges circumstances that occur
with some regularity in cases handled by judges of this court
and that do not provide a basis for recusal: many of the
defendants live in the same cities and towns where the judges
and their families live; some of the defendants are delegates
who may represent the judges' districts; the defendants
who are attorneys practice law in this district and the
judges of this court “all have at least a professional,
and likely personal” relationship with them and with
certain institutional defendants and government agents; and
the first-named defendant, Gary Bowman, previously clerked
for Judge Moon. None of these provide a basis for the
undersigned to recuse.
regard to her suggestion that the undersigned should recuse
because another judge of this court, United States Magistrate
Judge Robert S. Ballou, is a potential witness in the case or
may be called to testify and produce discovery, the court
does not believe that warrants recusal at this time.
of all, it is not even clear that any claims requiring
testimony from Judge Ballou will survive a motion to dismiss
or that his testimony will be necessary. Indeed, even in
cases where there is “speculation to the possibility
that” the presiding judge will be a material
witness in the proceeding, that is not always enough to
require recusal. United States v. Lanier, No.
2:14-CR-83, 2018 WL 296725, at *5 (E.D. Tenn. Jan. 3, 2018)
(collecting authority). At least at this stage of the case,
the court cannot say with any certainty that Judge Ballou is
likely to be a witness.
importantly, even if Judge Ballou ultimately is called to
give testimony, he will be testifying merely about events
that occurred in the course of a mediation that he conducted
in his role as a judge. Specifically, at least in the current
version of plaintiff's allegations contained in the
amended complaint, references to Judge Ballou all revolve
around his mediating the case of CVLR Performance Horses,
Inc. v. Wynne, No. 6:14-cv-35 (W.D. Va.) in 2016. Rivers
does not accuse Judge Ballou of any wrongdoing, and she
simply argues that false statements were made by her
then-attorney and by others during the course of that
mediation and a related conference call. Presumably, Rivers
proposes calling Judge Ballou to testify about what was said
during those proceedings.
considering the importance of this potential testimony, it is
important to note that the amended complaint is lengthy and
contains varied and far-reaching allegations against a large
number of persons and organizations who Rivers alleges have
wronged her. Thus, the incidents in which Judge Ballou