2.12 Magistrate Judge Jurisdiction

LibraryFederal Civil Practice in Virginia (Virginia CLE) (2018 Ed.)


2.1201 Role in the Judicial System. Magistrate judges do not have article III protection against salary reduction or tenure, but they are full members of the federal judiciary. Moreover, they increasingly exercise an expanding role in federal litigation.

Congress first provided a role for magistrate judges in the Federal Magistrates Act of 1968 793 and has expanded the role twice in later enactments. 794

2.1202 Powers. Most powers of magistrate judges are set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 636, including:

A. The power to hear and rule on nondispositive pretrial motions, such as discovery motions. 795 In one case, the

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Second Circuit considered an issue of "first impression" involving the interplay between the powers conferred upon a magistrate judge, and the ordinary rule of nonreviewability of an order remanding a case to state court. 796 In this case, the court noted that a remand order "determines the fundamental question of whether a case should proceed in a federal court" and is "indistinguishable from a motion to dismiss the action from federal court based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. . . ." 797 Accordingly, a magistrate judge presented with a motion for a remand does not have the power to issue an order remanding the case to state court but must, instead, present a report and recommendation to that effect to the district court, subject to de novo review by the district court under Fed. R. Civ. P. 72. 798
B. The power to conduct suppression hearings in criminal cases. 799
C. The power to hear dispositive pretrial motions, such as motions to dismiss or motions for summary judgment and to file a report containing recommended findings of fact and conclusions of law to the district court, which then rules. 800
D. The power to serve as a special master in a nonjury trial where a party shows an exceptional condition requiring such an appointment or, if the parties consent, without a showing of an exceptional condition. 801

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E. Only with the consent of all parties, the power to conduct civil jury or nonjury trials and to enter final judgment. 802

The Fourth Circuit has pointed out that a district court has an obligation to make a de novo review of only those portions of the magistrate judge's report and recommendations to which timely objections are made. 803 In the absence of a specific and timely filed objection, a district court need only to...

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