MAGISTRATE JUDGE ASSIGNMENT AT CASE OPENING
I just filed a case and it was assigned to a magistrate judge. What do I do now?
The first thing to do is to check that the case is appropriate for magistrate
judge assignment. The clerk's office should screen for that but if there is
an error, it would be best to get that straightened out right away.
The next thing is to serve the complaint and continue to work on the case
as usual. Discuss the options with your client and decide whether or not you
will consent to having the magistrate judge handle the case through final disposition.
You should then complete the consent/ request for reassignment form in accordance
with your client's wishes. The form is confidentially transmitted to the clerk's
office. A notation on the docket will be made that the form has been received.
If my client requests reassignment to a district
judge, how soon will that occur?
Barring exceptional circumstances, the reassignment of the case will not occur
immediately upon receipt of the form requesting a reassignment if that will
indicate which party did not consent.
For example, if a plaintiff files a request for reassignment four days after
the case was filed and the case is reassigned upon receipt of the consent form,
it is pretty clear what choice the plaintiff made. If, however, the receipt
of the complaint is noted on the docket and subsequently the defendant is served,
files an answer and a consent form, the receipt of the defendant's consent form
is noted and the case is reassigned, with no one aware of which party or parties
If the plaintiff consents and the defendant consents, consents are docketed
and case continues with the magistrate judge.
All fine and dandy, but in my case, I
have seven defendants and one defendant has filed a third party complaint and
it's going to take forever to get consents and I have pending dispositive motions
against some defendants. What happens then?
A magistrate judge can only proceed under 28 U.S.C. § 636 ( c ) when all
the parties consent. If, as the case develops, it becomes clear that consents
can't be filed within a reasonable period of time, the magistrate judge, sua
sponte or upon motion by a party, can order the clerk to randomly reassign the
case to a district judge.
I've got a case filed in state court that I am
removing. Will this be handled any differently?
The case will be reviewed by the intake office to see whether it is eligible
for a magistrate judge assignment. If it is and it is assigned to a magistrate
judge, both plaintiffs and defendants will have the opportunity to privately
consent or request a reassignment to a district judge. In a removal action,
the process will proceed a little more quickly and the case either assigned
to the magistrate judge or reassigned to a district judge early in the process.
Will all cases that are in class of cases eligible
for magistrate judge assignment at case opening be assigned to magistrate judges?
No, each case which is eligible for assignment to a magistrate judge will be
randomly assigned and may be assigned to a district judge, senior judge or magistrate
judge. The assignment deck will always have more district judge "cards"
than senior judge or magistrate judge cards.
Will this policy be in effect for criminal matters?
No, criminal cases will be assigned in the same manner in which they are assigned
Okay, how will the consents/requests for reassignment
be handled so the judges won't know which party requested a reassignment? Will
the judges really not know?
The consents will be handled separately from the CM/ECF case docket. You can
email the form to a separate, private email box. (email@example.com ). You also could mail the form to the court in paper, directed to the Consent
Clerk. A deputy clerk will docket the fact that a consent/request for reassignment
has been received from the party and only that. No image will be attached. The
consent will be placed in a secure paper file. The next consent/request will
be again docketed but not imaged. After all the parties have responded, the
clerk will review the forms and if everyone has consented, the consents will
be imaged and docketed. If there are any requests for reassignment, the case
will be reassigned without any images being docketed. The paper file will not
be retained. It will not be the case that as soon as a request for reassignment
has been received, the reassignment is done immediately so that anyone reading
the docket would figure out which party didn't consent. For example, if the
case has three defendants each with individual counsel, the court would be looking
for four entries that consent/ request for reassignment had been filed. First
to file is the plaintiff who consents on day 30 after filing. Second, defendant
A requests reassignment on day 34. Defendant B files a consent on day 37 and
Defendant C files a consent on day 45. The clerk will review the forms on day
46 and reassign the case. Any other scenario is possible with consents/requests
for reassignment but the judges will only know that forms were returned and
at least one party did not consent.
What if a party doesn't return the consent/request
Because all parties must consent, if any party fails to return a form indicating
their choice, the case cannot be adjudicated by the magistrate judge. The clerk's
office will send one reminder notice to the party which will appear on the docket.
If there is still no response, the case will have to be reassigned, even if
all other parties have consented. It will be clear from the docket which party
or parties did not return the consent/request for reassignment.
I've got parties that I can't serve. What about
You may need to make some strategic decisions and either dismiss non served
parties or place them in default. There may be some challenges to a default
judgment entered by a magistrate judge against a non defaulting, non consenting
defendant. As in the multiple defendant and multiple claim case, any party may
ask the magistrate judge or the magistrate judge sua sponte may order that the
clerk reassign the case to a district judge.
Why would I want to consent to the magistrate
judge assignment? What would be the advantage to my client?
The court has a very heavy criminal caseload which has an effect on trial dates
for district judges. The court also has four well qualified magistrate judges
who can, with the consent of the parties, provide a judicial resource for civil
cases which can assist in efficiently dealing with the court' s caseload . The
assignment of a small number of civil cases at case opening to magistrate judges,
contingent upon consent of the parties, has been very successful in other federal
courts which have initiated similar programs.
I've spoken with opposing counsel and we want
to consent as quickly as possible to get some motions decided. Do we have to
follow the whole consent process as outlined?
There is no problem in filing a joint consent, similar to a stipulation. This
document can be efiled and place on the docket immediately as there is no reason
to shield the judge from knowing that the consents have been received. Please
call the Consent Clerk prior to efiling a joint consent to ensure it will be
filed appropriately. (801-524-6100)