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Parsons v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 6, 2018

Victor Antonio Parsons, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
Charles L Ryan, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          HONORABLE ROSLYN O. SILVER SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In advance of the December 6, 2018, status conference, and to comply with the Court's own obligation to confirm it has jurisdiction, the Court will address in some detail an argument Defendants have raised regarding Magistrate Judge Duncan's jurisdiction.

         BACKGROUND

         When this case was filed in March 2012, it was assigned to District Judge Neil V. Wake and referred to Magistrate Judge Mark E. Aspey. (Judge Wake subsequently withdrew that referral.) The case proceeded before Judge Wake with discovery and motion practice. Trial was set for October 20, 2014. A few months before trial, Judge Wake referred this case to Magistrate Judge Duncan for a settlement conference. (Doc. 978). The parties attended that settlement conference, continued to negotiate after the conference, and simultaneously prepared for trial. On August 11, 2014, the case was reassigned from Judge Wake to District Judge Diane J. Humetewa. (Doc. 1074). Less than a week before trial, the parties filed a “Stipulation” indicating that they had agreed to a settlement. Less than five minutes after filing that stipulation, the parties filed a “Joint Motion to Refer Remainder of Case to Magistrate Judge Duncan and to Refer Case to Magistrate Judge Buttrick for Mediation.” (Doc. 1186). That motion stated, in relevant part,

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties hereby consent to have Magistrate Judge David Duncan conduct all further proceedings in this case, including proceedings to determine the fairness of the settlement pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e), and any other proceedings contemplated by the settlement in this case.

         The parties explained their motion was based on Magistrate Judge Duncan's “constructive participation in the settlement negotiations” which had “provided him with a unique ability to effectuate the parties' intent in any future proceedings.” (Doc. 1186 at 2). The request for a referral to Magistrate Judge Buttrick was based on the parties' settlement contemplating the mediation of certain disputes before more formal “enforcement proceedings” could be initiated. Based on the parties' filings, Judge Humetewa vacated the trial.

         On October 22, 2014, Judge Humetewa granted the parties request for “reassignment of this case to Magistrate Judge Duncan pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” In doing so, Judge Humetewa stated Judge Duncan would “conduct all further proceedings in this case.” (Doc. 1194). Judge Humetewa denied the request to refer the case to Magistrate Judge Buttrick because “[i]n light of the reassignment of this matter to Judge Duncan, any requests to refer the matter to a magistrate judge . . . should be directed to Judge Duncan.” (Doc. 1194). Once the case was reassigned to Magistrate Judge Duncan, he held the necessary hearings and formally approved the parties' settlement. (Doc. 1458). As recounted in prior orders, Magistrate Judge Duncan then undertook a multi-year effort to have Defendants comply with their settlement obligations. Magistrate Judge Duncan eventually issued multiple rulings, prompting multiple appeals. (Doc. 1817). Proceedings continued before Magistrate Judge Duncan while the appeals were being briefed.

         In May 2018, Magistrate Judge Duncan informed the parties he would be retiring in June 2018. That announcement prompted defense counsel to research the “legal ramifications” of Magistrate Judge Duncan's retirement. (Doc. 2825 at 2). Defense counsel discovered a 2003 case from the Seventh Circuit that prompted them to conclude Magistrate Judge Duncan never had “subject matter jurisdiction to conduct any proceedings in this case.” (Doc. 2825 at 2). On May 18, 2018, Defendants filed a motion asking Judge Humetewa “to vacate the referral of this matter to Magistrate Judge [Duncan].” (Doc. 2825). Defendants' motion prompted Magistrate Judge Duncan to issue an Order stating:

Defendants have filed a motion seeking the return of the case to Judge Humetewa pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(4) based upon the extraordinary circumstances of the undersigneds disability retirement. This text only order does not address that issue which is properly before the District Judge. This Order addresses the Defendants jurisdictional argument and the request to stay matters presently before the undersigned. Hatcher v. Consolidated City of Indianapolis, 323 F.3d 513 (7th Cir. 2003), is neither controlling authority and, in any event, is not persuasive given that it does not address the factual scenario presented here. This action was referred to the undersigned to conduct a settlement conference (Docs. 961, [978]). After that referral, and successful negotiation of the Stipulation, the parties explicitly consented to the undersigned continuing to exercise jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) to promote the interests of judicial economy and efficiency (Doc. 1186). Moreover, there is no statutory or Ninth Circuit authority precluding such assignment. Accordingly, the undersigned rejects Defendants jurisdictional argument and affirms all rulings, briefing schedules, and pending matters set for hearing until an order to the contrary issues.

(Doc. 2826).

         On June 5, 2018, Judge Humetewa issued a similar order. Judge Humetewa ruled, in relevant part,

Citing 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(4) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73(b)(3), Defendants attack Judge Duncan's subject matter jurisdiction over this action and request that the referral of this action be vacated for extraordinary circumstances. Defendants allege that under Hatcher v. Consolidated City of Indianapolis, 323 F.3d 513 (7th Cir. 2003), their explicit agreement to Judge Duncan's jurisdiction in October 2014 is invalid. Judge Duncan has addressed this argument, but the undersigned agrees that Hatcher is factually and legally distinguishable from this case. Defendants' position is also foreclosed by the Supreme Court's decision in Roell v. Withrow, 538 U.S. 580, 587 (2003), because while there does not appear to be any defect in the process by which Judge Duncan became involved in this case, and even if there was one, it was cured by the parties' explicit consent to his jurisdiction in their standalone joint motion at Doc. 1186 (“Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties hereby consent to have Magistrate Judge David Duncan conduct all further proceedings in this case[.]”).
***
As a consequence, the transfer of this case consistent with the parties' consent extinguished this Court's jurisdiction over this matter. The motion to vacate the ...

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