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Woodruff v. Nation

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

May 31, 2018

RANDALL WOODRUFF and MICHAEL SHANE WOODRUFF, et. al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JUDGE SIDNEY NATION and JUDGE HARRY ALTMAN, et. al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM S. DUFFEY, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Randall Woodruff's response to the Court's May 14, 2018, order to show cause [66.5] and Plaintiffs Michael Shane Woodruff, Wooden Nickel Pub LLC, Wooden Nickel Holdings LLC, and Nationslink Communications Inc.'s (the “Woodruff Plaintiffs”) response to the Court's May 14, 2018, order to show cause [65] and Motion for Leave to File Matters Under Seal [53].

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 1, 2018, the Court ordered that Plaintiffs, on or before March 21, 2018, show cause why defendants were not served during the more than 150 days that elapsed since the filing of this action. ([23]). On March 14, 2018, Stephen F. Humphreys entered an appearance on behalf of the Woodruff Plaintiffs. ([24]). Represented by counsel, the Woodruff Plaintiffs filed a response to the order to show cause. ([25]). On March 22, 2018, the Woodruff Plaintiffs filed a Notice of Filing [26], to provide notice to the Court of “the Response by [pro se Plaintiff] Randall Woodruff to the show cause order of March 1, 2018.” The Response was attached.

         Counsel for the Woodruff Plaintiffs stated in response to the order to show cause that “[u]pon information and belief, plaintiffs have been proceeding pro se, necessitating judicial approval of their pleadings and service of same. Thus it would appear that plaintiffs believed they could not serve the complaint until summons were issued and approved by the Court.” ([25] at 1). Counsel represented that “Plaintiff Randall Woodruff has this day filed his response to the show cause order, includes a statement on the status of service of the party defendants.” (Id.). Counsel explained that “[u]ndersigned counsel entered an appearance on March 14, 2018, and is only now sorting the complexities of the multifarious parties and allegations” and “requests the Court to continue these proceedings to allow sufficient time to evaluate the matter and afford plaintiffs the opportunity to file an amended complaint with assistance of counsel.” (Id. at 1-2). Counsel anticipates that granting a 21-day continuance “will clarify the issues and streamline the proceedings.” (Id. at 2).

         On March 26, 2018, the Court, having considered the request and counsel's representations, granted a continuance of 21 days for Plaintiffs to file an amended complaint that complies with Fed.R.Civ.P. 11. ([28]). The Court stated that it would “consider the sufficiency of the parties' responses to the order to show cause after evaluating Plaintiffs' amended complaint.” (Id. at 2-3). The Court ordered Plaintiffs to file an amended complaint by April 13, 2018. (Id.). Due to excessive frivolous filings that did not comport with the Federal Rules, the Court further ordered Plaintiff Randall Woodruff to refrain from any additional filings until the filing of an amended complaint by counsel. (Id. at 3).

         Plaintiffs did not comply with the Court's order. The Woodruff Plaintiffs instead filed a Motion to Extend time to Amend Complaint [44] ¶ 10 days. Counsel requested the 10 day extension to “resolve issues of representation which should simplify the litigation going forward, and file an appropriate amendment that satisfies the requirements of Rule 11.” ([44] at 2). Plaintiffs did not file an amended complaint, or a motion for additional time, within the requested extension period.

         On April 25, twelve days after the Court imposed deadline for filing an amended complaint that complies with Rule 11, the Woodruff Plaintiffs filed a Preliminary Report [51]. Counsel stated that new claims had been discovered and that “[c]ounsel anticipates it will require an additional 10 days to review the potential new claims and file an amendment in compliance” with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Id. at 3). Plaintiffs did not file an amended complaint, or a motion for additional time to file, within this requested extension period.

         On May 8, 2018, 25 days after the date the Court set for filing an amended complaint, the Woodruff Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Leave to File Matters Under Seal [53]. That motion makes several requests, including: (1) general authority to file pleadings under seal; (2) a stay pending the outcome of unspecified criminal investigation(s); (3) 180 days to file “an amended complaint to serve as preliminary notice of all civil matters that may be stopped by criminal conviction;” (4) an order directing Defendants' counsel “to refrain absolutely from making any disclosures that would disclose the identity of informants (see 18 USC 1513 (e & f)), or would in any way impede or obstruct the ongoing investigations;” (5) an order directing “all parties now on notice that they may be party-defendants to this action, according to the style of the pro se complaint . . . to preserve and maintain all evidence, and not to conceal, alter, or destroy any record, including but not limited to any record of a financial institution or any public document or record, in any form, or stored in any medium whatsoever; and (6) an order that “no account associated with the Plaintiffs, whether for lending or deposit, whether opened by any of the Plaintiffs or opened or maintained by putative defendants in the name of any of the Plaintiffs, or any account into which funds have been transferred from Plaintiffs' possession, shall be closed.” ([53] at 4-5). Counsel offered little, if any, support justifying those requests. Plaintiff merely stated that “significant evidence of criminal activity has been uncovered in the course of this investigation that is beyond the scope of a private attorney within the Court's order regarding amendment of the pro se complaint” and that a stay is needed “to allow a full criminal investigation to be conducted.” ([53] at 1-2). Counsel did not provide specifics regarding the criminal investigation alleged to be needed. Nor did Counsel submit an amended complaint for the Court to evaluate and determine whether it contained information that should be sealed.

         On May 14, 2018, the Court ordered Plaintiffs to show cause why this case should not be dismissed for failure to comply with the Court's March 26, 2018, order to file a complaint that complies with Fed.R.Civ.P. 11. The Court noted Plaintiffs' failure to file an amended complaint by the Court-ordered April 13, 2018 deadline and warned that Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b) “authorizes a district court to dismiss a complaint for failure to prosecute or failure to comply with a court order or the federal rules.” ([60] at 4).

         On May 24, 2018, the Woodruff Plaintiffs filed a response to the order to show cause [65], including an affidavit of counsel Stephen Humphreys [65.1].[1]The Response repeats the assertion that “evidence of criminal conduct in this ongoing investigation needs to be protected.” ([65] at 2). The Response also complains that the Court quashed subpoenas counsel issued to obtain Michael Woodruff's bank records. (Id.). The Woodruff Plaintiffs further complain that the order to show cause “does not address counsel's latest assessment of the investigation, based on the experience of counsel of that of his colleagues in federal law enforcement and counterintelligence―both with respect to the time needed for completion and the need for secrecy.” (Id. at 3). The Response asserts that since the original deadline for filing of an amended complaint of April 13, 2018, “under every log turned over there was a big, fat Southwest Georgia timber rattler hiding. Every one of these new crime scenes has to be approached with care.” (Id.).

         Counsel avers that “new issues have arisen at every stage” and that there is “compelling evidence of banking fraud, which was a claim not included in any of the pro se pleadings.” ([65.1] at ¶ 8). Counsel states that “evidence sufficient to form pleadings for fraud that comply with Rule 9 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure has been hindered by the failure of certain putative defendants to cooperate, including by handing over records belonging to Michael Woodruff as sole owner of the business, Nationslink Communication, Inc.” ([65.1] at ¶ 9). Counsel further asserts that “other new issues have arisen since the Court barred Plaintiff Randall Woodruff . . . from filing any pleadings, ” including “an extortionate threat from a putative defendant” that “is now also under criminal investigation.” ([65.1] at ¶ 12-13).

         Counsel acknowledges “that he has had little assistance from the pro se complaint, which is not readily understandable” and that he “has also had difficulty getting assistance from Michael Woodruff because of health issues.” ([65.1] at ¶ 14). Counsel admits that “[i]n retrospect, overly optimistic assessments of tie [sic] needed to assess, in an attempt to clarify these proceeding and move them forward expeditiously” but maintains that “it was not possible to foresee the number of legal issues that would arise, or the need for confidentiality of investigation.” ([65.1] at ¶ 15).

         On May 30, 2018, the Woodruff Plaintiffs filed a Notice of Filing Exhibits [66]. They assert that “[b]ecause of painfully slow downloading on the electronic filing system on the evening of May 24, 2018, Plaintiffs were unable to include all exhibits with the Response to the Show Cause Order.” ([66] at 1). Plaintiffs offer no explanation for their subsequent 5-day delay in filing these exhibits. Plaintiffs also submit without explanation a new affidavit of Stephen Humphreys[2] which purports to “correct[] some typos and make[] some clarifications.” ([66] at 1). Plaintiffs argue in the Notice that Plaintiffs' previous filing of a motion to recuse and affidavit under 28 U.S.C. § 144 “requires the Court to take no further action, including the quashing of subpoenas and . . . the promised dismissal of the case.” ([66] at 3).

         The Woodruff Plaintiffs Notice of Filing also attached pro se Plaintiff Randall Woodruff's Response and Consolidate Brief to Show Cause Why Order [66.5].[3] Plaintiff Randall Woodruff's response incorporates the previously denied Motion to Recuse [4] and requests immediate recusal, appointment of a new judge, and “a hearing to address the merits of this response and all of plaintiff's pleadings . . . .” ...


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