United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
A. EIFERT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
is Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Billie Catlett to Comply
with Subpoena Duces Tecum. (ECF No. 266). Judge
Catlett, a non-party to this litigation, has filed a response
to the Motion. (ECF No. 282). For the reasons that follow,
the Motion to Compel is DENIED. Furthermore,
Plaintiff is ORDERED to stop serving
subpoenas on Judge Catlett and others seeking employment,
financial, business, and educational information related to
Judge Catlett and her relatives.
Catlett is the chief administrative law judge of the West
Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board
(“WVPEGB”). (ECF No. 282 at 1). As part of her
duties, Judge Catlett presided over Plaintiff's grievance
challenging the decision of Marshall University to deny him
tenure and terminate his employment. Judge Catlett held a
five-day hearing and wrote a 69-page decision, denying
Plaintiff relief. (Id.) Plaintiff appealed Judge
Catlett's decision to the Circuit Court of Kanawha
County, West Virginia, which denied Plaintiff's appeal.
sole reason that Judge Catlett ruled against him, and without
any apparent basis in fact, Plaintiff suspected that Judge
Catlett might have a bias in favor of Marshall University.
Therefore, he supplied Judge Catlett with an affidavit that
she was to complete, providing information regarding her
relationship with Marshall University. (ECF No. 267 at 2).
Plaintiff also asked Judge Catlett to provide information
regarding her relatives' relationships with Marshall
University. Plaintiff defined “relatives” as
including third degree relatives and their spouses. (ECF No.
282 at 2). Judge Catlett advised Plaintiff that neither she,
nor her relatives, had significant contacts with Marshall
University, and she declined to complete and sign the
affidavit. (ECF No. 267 at 2).
with this response, Plaintiff proceeded to serve multiple
subpoenas on Judge Catlett, as well as on the WVPEGB, seeking
the same personal information regarding Judge Catlett and her
relatives. (ECF No. 282 at 2). Ultimately, counsel for Judge
Catlett contacted Plaintiff, again emphasizing Judge
Catlett's response that neither she, nor her family
members, had any significant connection to Marshall
University. Counsel also confirmed for the record that Judge
Catlett had no contacts that would disqualify her from
participating in a proceeding involving Marshall University.
(Id. at 5). Counsel pointed out that Plaintiff's
subpoenas were defective in certain respects, but despite
that failure, Judge Catlett had given Plaintiff all of the
information to which he was entitled. (Id. at 6).
Still unsatisfied with the responses and representations,
Plaintiff filed the instant motion to compel.
law judges (“ALJ”), like Judge Catlett, are
presumed to be unbiased. Schweiker v. McClure, 456
U.S. 188, 195 (1982). “Indeed, administrative law
judges are entitled to the same presumption of honesty and
integrity as are judges, so any allegation of bias must begin
from the presumption that the ALJ is unbiased.”
Warren v. Colvin, No. 4:14-cv-02517-JMC, 2015 WL
5673118, at * 2 (D.S.C. Sept. 25, 2015) (citations and
markings omitted). “Accordingly, a plaintiff alleging
ALJ bias bears a ‘heavy burden' of proof.”
Id. (quoting Simpson v. Macon County, N.C.,
132 F.Supp.2d 407, 411 (W.D.N.C 2001)). To demonstrate that
an ALJ was biased in rendering a decision, the party
challenging the ALJ must show an “extrajudicial”
source for the alleged bias; that is “the bias proved
personal in nature and was not merely the result of the
ALJ's participation in the decisional process.”
Suarez v. Berryhill, No. 3:18CV128 (REP), 2019 WL
959606, at *21 (E.D. Va. Jan. 28, 2019), report and
recommendation adopted, No. 3:18CV128, 2019 WL 943389
(E.D. Va. Feb. 26, 2019) (citing Bowens v. North Carolina
Dep't of Human Resources, 710 F.2d 1015, 1020 (4th
Plaintiff started with Judge Catlett's decision, which
reportedly found no wrongdoing on the part of Marshall
University in its treatment of Plaintiff, and from that
decision extrapolated that Judge Catlett must have been
biased in favor of Marshall University. Plaintiff's
unsupported suspicion provides a wholly insufficient basis
upon which to conduct discovery of Judge Bartlett's
personal information; particularly, in this civil
action, which does not directly involve the state grievance
process. Judge Bartlett is required by West Virginia law to
disqualify herself if she has a bias or prejudice concerning
a party, or a financial interest in the outcome of a
grievance. See W.Va. ADC § 158-13-4.3.d.
Plaintiff has not provided any reason to believe that Judge
Catlett violated a duty to disqualify herself. Therefore,
Plaintiff may not conduct further discovery on the financial,
educational, employment, or business associations of Judge
Bartlett and her family at this time.
Clerk is instructed to provide a copy of this Order to
Plaintiff, counsel of record, and to Robert Paulson, General