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In re Hughes

Supreme Court of Minnesota

October 7, 2019

IN RE Alexander HUGHES, Petitioner
v.
Independent School District 194, Respondent. Kevin C. Flynn et al., Plaintiffs Alexander Hughes, Petitioner,

          ORDER

         Lorie S. Gildea, Chief Justice

         Petitioner Alexander Hughes has filed and served a Petition for Removal, or in the alternative, a Petition for a Writ of Mandamus or Prohibition. He seeks an order of this court removing the assigned district court judge from the proceedings in Flynn & Hughes v. Independent School District 194, Nos. 19-HA-CV-18-728/19HA-CV-18-5708 (Dakota Cty. Dist. Ct.). Hughes contends that he filed a timely notice to remove and the assigned judge erred by failing to honor that notice. Respondent Independent School District 194 (ISD 194) opposes the requested relief. We consider Hughes’s petition as one for accelerated review of his request for relief by way of an extraordinary writ, see Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 118, subd. 3 (allowing the supreme court to order accelerated review "on its own motion"). For the reasons explained below, we deny the requested relief.

         The district court proceedings that are the subject of Hughes’s petition began in February 2018, when Kevin Flynn and others filed a complaint in Dakota County District Court against respondent ISD 194. The first judge assigned to this case, in September 2018, was removed by ISD 194. The next judge assigned to the case was removed by Flynn, also in September 2018. These two removals occurred under the procedure provided in Minn. R. Civ. P. 63.03. A third judge was then assigned to the case under Minn. Stat. § 2.724, subd. 1 (2018) (conferring authority on the chief justice to "assign any judge of any court to serve and discharge the duties of judge of any court in a judicial district not that judge’s own" when "public convenience and necessity require it"). The next event relevant here was in December 2018, when petitioner Hughes served and filed his complaint against ISD 194. Shortly thereafter,

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the chief judge of the First Judicial District consolidated the Flynn and Hughes cases before the judge that the chief justice had assigned to the Flynn case.

         Some months later, the judge assigned by the chief justice to the consolidated Flynn/Hughes cases resigned, and a new judicial assignment was made by the chief justice, again under Minn. Stat. § 2.724, subd. 1. When notice of this assignment was filed in district court, Hughes filed a notice to remove the assigned judge under Rule 63.03. The assigned judge denied the request to remove, concluding that the plain language of the rule requires an "affirmative showing that the judge is disqualified" when the judge is assigned to the case by the chief justice.

         Rule 63.03 of the Rules of Civil Procedure allows a party to serve and file a notice to remove a judge assigned to a case in district court, without proof of bias or prejudice, if the party does so "within ten days" after receiving "notice of which judge or judicial officer is to preside at" a trial or hearing in the case. Minn. R. Civ. P. 63.03; see McClelland v. Pierce, 376 N.W.2d 217, 219 (Minn. 1985) (explaining that "[p]roof of actual bias or prejudice is not required"). The removal, in other words, is automatic when the notice is timely. See In re OCC, LLC, 917 N.W.2d 86, 91 (Minn. 2018). The rule also states, however, that a judge who is "assigned by the Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court may not be removed except upon an affirmative showing that the judge ... is disqualified under the Code of Judicial Conduct." Minn. R. Civ. P. 63.03. In summary, under Rule 63.03, a timely notice to remove automatically results in the assigned judge’s removal, without a showing of bias or prejudice, unless the judge was assigned to the case by the chief justice, in which case an affirmative showing of the reason for the judge’s disqualification is required.

         In his petition, Hughes contends that he has one right to remove a judge for no reason at all, he exercised that right in a timely manner, and the assigned judge erred as a matter of law by failing to automatically step aside. Relying on the plain language of Rule 63.03, ISD 194 responds that the automatic right of removal provided by the rule is unavailable when the chief justice assigns a judge to preside over the case in district court.

         We agree with ISD 194.[1] The court has carefully considered the parties’ arguments, and we recognize that Hughes’s notice to remove the assigned judge was timely. But we have not held that the automatic removal right provided by Rule 63.03 is absolute; rather, we have restricted that right on occasion as a necessary exercise of the supreme court’s inherent supervisory authority over cases pending in the state’s courts. See, e.g., State v. Erickson, 589 N.W.2d 481, 485 (Minn. 1999) (restricting the State’s right to an automatic removal after finding that the right was abused with respect to cases assigned to a particular judge); cf. In re Burns, 542 N.W.2d 389, 389-90 (Minn. 1996) (noting, in reversing a direction by

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the court of appeals to honor a removal notice and hold a new hearing, that a chief judge has "considerable supervisory authority" over matters in the district court).

         One of the necessary exercises of supervisory authority over cases pending in the district courts occurs with judicial assignments. See Minn. Stat. § 2.724, subds. 1, 4(c) (allowing the chief justice to make judicial assignments outside the judge’s district and stating that the chief justice "exercise[s] general supervisory powers over the courts in the state," including the "administrative operations of the courts"). Further, the language of Rule 63.03 is plain and unambiguous: a judge assigned by the chief justice "may not be removed" as a matter of right. See In re OCC, LLC, 917 N.W.2d at 92 ("We start with the plain language of the rule.").[2] This language is unqualified by any conditions; put another way, nothing in this plain language suggests that a party retains one automatic removal right even when the judge is assigned under section 2.724.[3]

          Based upon all the files, records, and proceedings herein,

          IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the petition of Alexander Hughes to remove the judge assigned to Flynn & Hughes v. Independent School District 194, Nos. ...


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