Worsham v. Eaves, No. 654

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtOpinion by Fader, C.J.
PartiesMICHAEL C. WORSHAM v. ANGELA M. EAVES
Decision Date15 July 2021
Docket NumberNo. 654

MICHAEL C. WORSHAM
v.
ANGELA M. EAVES

No. 654

COURT OF SPECIAL APPEALS OF MARYLAND

September Term, 2020
July 15, 2021


Circuit Court for Harford County
Case No.
C-12-CV-19-001046

UNREPORTED

Fader, C.J., Reed, Alpert, Paul E. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

Opinion by Fader, C.J.

*This is an unreported opinion and therefore may not be cited either as precedent or as persuasive authority in any paper, brief, motion, or other document filed in this Court or any other Maryland court. Md. Rule 1-104.

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Michael C. Worsham, the appellant, filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Harford County against the appellee, the Honorable Angela M. Eaves, Administrative Judge for that court. In the complaint, Mr. Worsham sought declaratory and injunctive relief barring Judge Eaves from "deciding or taking part in any case or portion of a case involving [him]." The circuit court granted Judge Eaves's motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. On appeal, Mr. Worsham argues that the circuit court erred in: (1) granting the motion to dismiss; and (2) striking a line he had filed and staying discovery pending its decision on the motion to dismiss. We hold that the trial court properly dismissed the complaint, which renders the discovery ruling moot. Accordingly, we will affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

BACKGROUND

Mr. Worsham, who is self-represented in this action, was formerly a licensed attorney in Maryland. In that capacity, he "carved out a practice that concentrated in the private enforcement of federal and state laws prohibiting unsolicited faxes and telephone calls[,]" under the federal and Maryland versions of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Att'y Grievance Comm'n v. Worsham, 441 Md. 105, 109 (2014).

Mr. Worsham's criticisms of Judge Eaves originate with an attorney grievance proceeding against him. In May 2013, the Attorney Grievance Commission charged Mr. Worsham with multiple violations of the Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct stemming from (1) his failure to file state and federal income tax returns and to pay income taxes over a period of several years and (2) his representation of four clients.

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Id. at 110. The Court of Appeals designated Judge Eaves to hold a hearing on the charges, make findings of fact, and recommend conclusions of law. Id. After a two-day evidentiary hearing, Judge Eaves issued a 91-page memorandum detailing her findings and concluding that Mr. Worsham "had committed nearly all of the violations alleged by the Commission[.]" Id. Judge Eaves further found "that Mr. Worsham's testimony at the hearing . . . was 'at the best, not credible and at the worst, misrepresentations to the Court.'" Id. at 117.

On October 3, 2014, the Court of Appeals issued a per curiam order disbarring Mr. Worsham. Att'y Grievance Comm'n v. Worsham, 440 Md. 183 (2014) (per curiam). In its subsequently filed opinion explaining its decision, the Court rejected Mr. Worsham's substantive objections to Judge Eaves's findings and determined that Mr. Worsham "engaged in intentional misconduct" by not filing his state and federal tax returns over a period of eight years. Worsham, 441 Md. at 134-35. Because the Court agreed that the evidence of tax-related violations was "overwhelming" and concluded that those violations merited disbarment, the Court declined to address the alleged violations stemming from Mr. Worsham's representation of clients.1 Id. at 111.

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After his disbarment, Mr. Worsham continued to pursue Telephone Consumer Protection Act actions on his own behalf against various entities, litigating at least eight lawsuits in the Circuit Court for Harford County. Judge Eaves was initially recused in two of those lawsuits, Worsham v. MacGregor, No. 12-C-09-001879 ("MacGregor"), and Worsham v. Lifestation, Inc., No. 12-C-17-000645 ("Lifestation"). However, scheduling issues subsequently arose in several of Mr. Worsham's cases, apparently attributable at least in part to the recusal of several other judges. By letter dated May 15, 2019, Judge Eaves advised the parties to the pending cases that she would: (1) "resume handling procedural matters as well as pretrial motions and hearings"; (2) rescind her recusals in MacGregor and Lifestation; (3) schedule motions hearings in the cases, including joint hearings for motions raising similar issues; (4) assign judges for trial, as necessary; and (5) "reserve the right to preside over any of the trials [her]self."

On October 22, 2019, Mr. Worsham filed this action, in which he alleged that Judge Eaves had violated his "rights to due process and equal protection guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments" to the United States Constitution and by Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. In his complaint, as later amended, Mr. Worsham alleged that Judge Eaves was biased against him. As evidence of bias, Mr. Worsham pointed to Judge Eaves's findings in his attorney grievance case, which, he alleged, contained at least six false statements, including that his testimony was evasive, that he had made

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misrepresentations to the court, that he had filed a frivolous tax appeal, and that the testimony of one of his clients (who was also a defendant in one of the pending cases) was "completely credible." Mr. Worsham also alleged improper conduct by Judge Eaves in some of the pending cases, including her denial of motions for her recusal in some of those cases. In light of that conduct, Mr. Worsham alleged that Judge Eaves was demonstratively biased against him and obligated to recuse herself from involvement in his cases. Because she had refused to do so, Mr. Worsham sought a declaration that Judge Eaves's "impartiality might reasonably be questioned[,] that she has a personal bias or prejudice concerning [him], and that she should be disqualified from deciding cases involving [him] under Maryland Rule 18-102.11(a)(1)." Mr. Worsham also sought a declaration that Judge Eaves's conduct violated his rights under the federal constitution and Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and a permanent injunction preventing her from violating his rights and "deciding or taking part in any case or portion of a case involving [him]."

Judge Eaves moved to dismiss Mr. Worsham's complaint on alternative grounds, including that he had failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and that she was judicially immune from suit. Mr. Worsham opposed the motion. After a hearing, the circuit court granted the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.2 The court reasoned that judges were empowered to decide motions to recuse on a case-by-case basis. Because Mr. Worsham could seek appellate review in any action in which Judge Eaves was alleged

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to have improperly presided, the court ruled that recusal of a judge was not an "appropriate subject for a declaratory or injunctive action." This timely appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

THE CIRCUIT COURT DID NOT ERR IN GRANTING THE MOTION TO DISMISS.

Mr. Worsham first contends that he stated a claim for relief under the Maryland Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, §§ 3-401 - 3-415 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, because he sought a determination that Judge Eaves violated both Rule 18-102.11(a)(1) and administrative regulations governing the assignment of judges.3 He asserts that Judge Eaves's impartiality might reasonably be questioned based on her involvement in his attorney grievance case, and therefore declaratory relief was proper to terminate the ongoing controversy in the eight other cases and in any future cases...

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