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Hubbard v. Sheffield

United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division

March 31, 2014

ROBERT G. HUBBARD, JR., Plaintiff,


JEREMIAH C. LYNCH, Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court is Defendants Roby Bowe, Roger Guches, Scott Rebo, Travis Smith, and Lincoln County's ("Defendants") Motion for Rule 37 Sanctions. Defendants request the Court dismiss this action on the ground that Plaintiff Robert Hubbard failed to comply with the Court's orders issued during a hearing conducted on March 27, 2013 with respect to Defendants' Motion to Compel Discovery Responses. For the reasons discussed, the Court concludes this action is properly dismissed.


Hubbard, proceeding pro se, commenced this action in an effort to remedy what he perceives as injustices that he suffered as a result of his encounters with the criminal justice system in Lincoln County, Montana. In 2010, Hubbard was convicted of disorderly conduct, and Defendant Jay Sheffield, Lincoln County Justice of the Peace, sentenced Hubbard on the conviction. But during the pendency of the direct appeal, Hubbard negotiated a plea agreement with Defendant Joseph Cik, Deputy Lincoln County Attorney, that reduced the sentence.

Hubbard believes that Sheffield, upset with the plea agreement, thereafter had a vendetta against him. Hubbard alleges Sheffield and the other Defendants conspired to target Hubbard for further adverse consequences within the criminal justice system.

On March 20, 2011, Hubbard and his son, Christian, got involved in a dispute which escalated into a physical confrontation at the family's residence in Libby, Montana. Christian called the police, and Defendants Roger Guches and Travis Smith, Lincoln County law enforcement officers, responded to the scene.

Hubbard believes Smith called Defendant Roby Bowe, the Lincoln County Sheriff, regarding the altercation. Hubbard contends that Bowe instructed Smith to arrest Hubbard because Bowe and Sheffield are close friends and Bowe knew Sheffield was upset with Hubbard. Smith arrested Hubbard for the offense of family member assault in violation of Mont. Code Ann. § 45-5-206.

Hubbard alleges Defendants engaged in various activities to wrongfully sustain the criminal prosecution. Hubbard alleges Guches manipulated physical evidence at the scene of the altercation, and that Smith provided false information in his police report following the incident. He further contends Guches, Smith and Cik conspired to fabricate facts about Hubbard's altercation with Christian to convict Hubbard. Ultimately, however, following a jury trial on September 20, 2011, Hubbard was found not guilty.

Hubbard advances numerous legal claims for relief against the various Defendants. Hubbard asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his rights under the United States Constitution, and he advances claims under Montana law. He seeks both compensatory and punitive damages.


On November 7, 2012, the Defendants each served their first sets of discovery requests on Hubbard. Hubbard provided his responses, but Defendants found those responses to be inadequate. Consequently, Defendants filed a motion requesting the Court compel Hubbard to provide proper responsive answers to their discovery requests.

During the same time frame, Hubbard served his own set of discovery requests on Defendants. Hubbard was similarly dissatisfied with Defendants' discovery responses, so he filed his own motion to compel.

On March 27, 2013, the Court convened a hearing on the parties' motions. During the course of the hearing, the Court found Hubbard's discovery answers were not adequately responsive to the discovery requests in violation of the applicable Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

During the hearing the Court explained discovery procedures and obligations, including the parties' obligations to supplement their prior discovery responses as required under Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(e). The Court expressly explained several times that if either party failed to provide proper discovery responses, failed to identify documents and witnesses, failed to disclose facts and evidence sought by an opposing party in discovery requests, or failed to supplement prior discovery responses with necessary information, then the Court would impose consequences pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2). Specifically, the Court cautioned that it would preclude the offending party from introducing any facts, documents, and witness testimony that the party had failed to disclose in discovery, or properly supplement in discovery.

The discovery deadline in this case was April 19, 2013. Following the close of discovery, Defendants filed their Motion for Rule 37 Sanctions. Defendants assert Hubbard completely failed to provide substantive discovery responses as ordered by the Court at the March 27, 2013 hearing. Hubbard never filed a brief in response to Defendants' motion for sanctions.

In the interim, Defendants filed multiple summary judgment motions addressing all of Hubbard's claims for relief. As a result of the Court's rulings on those summary judgment motions, the only claims which now remain for resolution in this case were reduced to the following:

1. Hubbard's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging Defendants are liable for the fabrication of evidence in violation of Hubbard's due process and equal protection rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments; and
2. Hubbard's claims alleging Lincoln County is liable under Montana law for malicious prosecution, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, slander, negligent and intentional spoliation of evidence, "malicious acts and/or omissions", "acting in concert", negligence, and punitive damages based on the conduct of Bowe, Guches, Smith, Rebo, and Ramos.

(Doc. 86 at 40.)

After the summary judgment rulings, the Court then turned to Defendants' motion for sanctions. On October 17, 2013, the Court conducted a hearing on the motion, and focused on Defendants' discovery requests that were relevant to the sole surviving legal claims. The Court reviewed Hubbard's discovery responses and found the information Hubbard provided was not adequately responsive to Defendants' discovery requests. (Doc. 93 at 2.)

During the hearing, though, Hubbard represented to the Court that he had provided Defendants with further supplemental discovery responses after the close of discovery on April 19, 2013, but before the October 17, 2013 hearing. Consequently, by Order entered October 22, 2013, the Court afforded Hubbard an opportunity to file copies of the supplemental discovery materials that he said he had provided to Defendants, and to file a brief explaining those responses.


A. Hubbard's Motion for Recusal

As a threshold matter, I address Hubbard's requests that I recuse or disqualify myself from further presiding over this action. In re Bernard, 31 F.3d 842, 843 (9th Cir. 1994) (concluding that a motion for disqualification "is addressed to, and must be decided by, the very judge whose impartiality is being questioned").

Hubbard does not expressly identify the legal authority on which he presents his request for disqualification. But I conclude the motion is properly construed as filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455.[1]

"Section 455 imposes an affirmative duty upon judges to recuse themselves." Yagman v. Republic Ins., 987 F.2d 622, 626 (9th Cir. 1983). It provides in relevant part as follows:

(a) Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.
(b) He shall also disqualify himself in the following circumstances:
(1) Where he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party[.]

28 U.S.C. § 455(a) and (b).

Section 455(a) requires disqualification for the appearance of partiality. Section 455(b)(1), in contrast, requires disqualification if a judge has a personal bias or prejudice for or against a party. See Hasbrouck v. Texaco, Inc., 842 F.2d 1034, 1045 (9th Cir. 1987). Section 455(b)(1) "simply provides a specific example of a situation in which a judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned' pursuant to section 455(a)." United States v. Sibla, 624 F.2d 864, 867 (9th Cir. 1980) (citing United States v. Olander, 584 F.2d 876, 882 (9th Cir. 1978)).

What matters under section 455(a) "is not the reality of bias or prejudice but its appearance[, ]" and the test for disqualification is an objective one. Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 548 (1994). Disqualification is warranted if "a reasonable person with knowledge of all the facts would conclude that the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned." Blixseth v. Yellowstone Mountain Club, LLC, 742 F.3d 1215, 1219 (9th Cir. 2014) (quotation and citation omitted). The "reasonable person" is not "hypersensitive or unduly suspicious, " and "is not a partly informed man-in-the-street[.]'" Blixseth, 742 F.3d at 1219, and United States v. Holland, 519 F.3d 909, 913-14 (9th Cir. 2008). Rather, the reasonable person is a "well-informed, thoughtful observer[, ]" and is "someone who understand[s] all the relevant facts' and has examined the record and the law." Holland, 519 F.3d at 913-14 (citation omitted).

The analysis under section 455(a) is also subject to the "extrajudicial source" doctrine. Liteky, 510 U.S. at 554. The doctrine requires that the basis for disqualification generally must be "something other than rulings, opinions formed[, ] or statements made by the judge during the course of trial." Holland, 519 F.3d at 913-14. Stated differently, a judge's alleged bias, prejudice, or partiality must be based on knowledge derived from a source outside of any judicial proceedings - some factor other than what the judge learned from his participation in the case. Liteky, 510 U.S. at 554; United States v. Briggs, 2007 WL 1364682, *2 (D. Idaho 2007) (citing United States v. Azhocar, 581 F.2d 735, 739 (9th Cir. 1978)). Ultimately, the analysis under section 455(a) requires a factdriven consideration of the circumstances of each case. Holland, 519 F.3d at 913.

Hubbard asserts two grounds for disqualification. He cites to: (1) allegedly biased statements I made in open court; and (2) judicial rulings I made adverse to Hubbard. For the reasons stated, neither ground warrants my disqualification.

1. "Biased" Statements

Hubbard asserts I have demonstrated a prejudicial and biased "predetermined opinion" in favor of Defendants' counsel, Gregory Bonilla, and against Hubbard. (Doc. 95 at 15.) He contends that my "actions and words" expressed during both the March 27, 2013 hearing, and the October ...

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