Roell v. Withrow, 538 U.S. 580 (2003)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fifth circuit

No. 02-69. Argued February 26, 2003—Decided April 29, 2003

The Federal Magistrate Act of 1979 (Act) empowers full-time magistrate judges to conduct "any or all proceedings in a jury or nonjury civil matter and order the entry of judgment in the case," as long as they are "specially designated . . . by the district court" and acting with "the consent of the parties." 28 U. S. C. 636(c)(1). Respondent Withrow, a state prisoner, brought an action under 42 U. S. C. 1983 against members of the prison's medical staff, petitioners Roell, Garibay, and Reagan, alleging that they had deliberately disregarded his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. During a preliminary hearing, the Magistrate Judge told Withrow that he could choose to have her rather than the District Judge preside over the entire case. Withrow agreed orally and later in writing, but the petitioners did not at that point give their consent. Without waiting for their decision, the District Judge referred the case to the Magistrate Judge for final disposition, but with the caveat that all petitioners would have an opportunity to consent to her jurisdiction, and that the referral order would be vacated if any of them did not consent. Only Reagan gave written consent to the referral; Roell and Garibay said nothing about the referral. The case nevertheless proceeded in front of the Magistrate Judge, all the way to a jury verdict and judgment for the petitioners. Roell and Garibay voluntarily participated in the entire course of proceedings and voiced no objection when, at several points, the Magistrate Judge made it clear that she believed they had consented. When Withrow appealed, the Fifth Circuit sua sponte remanded the case to the District Court to determine whether the parties had consented to proceed before the Magistrate Judge. Only then did Roell and Garibay file a formal letter of consent stating that they consented to all of the prior proceedings before the Magistrate Judge. The District Court referred the Fifth Circuit's enquiry to that same Magistrate Judge, who reported that by their actions Roell and Garibay clearly implied their consent to her jurisdiction, but ruled that she had lacked jurisdiction because, under Circuit precedent, such consent had to be expressly given. The District Court adopted the report and recommendation. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that, under 636(c)(1), lack of consent and defects in the referral order are nonwaivable jurisdictional errors, that 636(c) consent must be ex-

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