Roell v. Withrow, 538 U.S. 580, 2 (2003)

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Cite as: 538 U. S. 580 (2003)


press, and that petitioners' postjudgment consent was inadequate under the Act.

Held: Consent to a magistrate judge's designation can be inferred from a party's conduct during litigation. Roell's and Garibay's general appearances before the Magistrate Judge, after they had been told of their right to be tried by a district judge, supply the consent necessary for the Magistrate Judge's "civil jurisdiction" under 636(c)(1). It is true that 636(c)(2) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73(b), which establish the procedures for a 636(c)(1) referral, envision advance, written consent communicated to the clerk. This procedure is by no means just advisory, and district courts are bound to adhere strictly to it. But the text and structure of 636(c) as a whole indicate that a defect in the referral under 636(c)(2) does not eliminate that magistrate judge's "civil jurisdiction" under 636(c)(1) as long as the parties have in fact voluntarily consented. So far as concerns full-time magistrate judges, 636(c)(1), which is the font of magistrate judge authority, speaks only of "the consent of the parties," without qualification as to form, and 636(c)(3) similarly provides that "[t]he consent of the parties allows" a full-time magistrate judge to enter a final, appealable judgment of the district court. These unadorned references to the "consent of the parties" contrast with the language in 636(c)(1) covering referral to certain part-time magistrate judges, which requires not only that the parties consent, but that they do so by "specific written request." In addition, there is a good pragmatic reason to think that Congress intended to permit implied consent. In giving magistrate judges case-dispositive civil authority, Congress hoped to relieve the district courts' caseload while still preserving every litigant's right to insist on trial before an Article III district judge. Strict insistence on the express consent requirement embodied in 636(c)(2) would minimize any risk to the latter objective, but it would create an even greater risk to the former one: the risk of a full and complicated trial wasted at the option of an undeserving and possibly opportunistic litigant. Here, Withrow gave express, written consent; he thus received the protection intended by the statute and deserves no boon from the other side's failure. Had the outcome of the case been different, the shoe might be on the other foot; insistence on the bright line would let parties in Roell's and Garibay's position hedge their bets, keeping a poker face to conceal their failure to file the form, and then sandbagging the other side when the judgment turned out not to their liking. The preferable rule, which does better by the mix of congressional objectives, is to infer consent from a litigant's general appearance before the magistrate judge, after having been told of his right to be tried by a district judge. Pp. 585-591.

288 F. 3d 199, reversed and remanded.


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