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Magistrate Judge Cannot Enter Order on Post-Trial or Dispositive Motions

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a magistrate judge does not
have authority to rule upon motions seeking the award of attorney fees and
costs, and a district court's failure to make a de novo review of such an
order renders the appellate court without jurisdiction. This case, which
has a convoluted history, alleged claims related to the plaintiff's
temporary detention and search by an officer of the Ferndale Department of
Police at a Michigan bank. On two occasions, the plaintiffs moved to
voluntarily dismiss action on the claim, and the court ordered they pay the
defendants' costs upon dismissal.

The defendants then moved to be awarded attorney fees and costs. The motion
was referred to the Magistrate Judge, who held a hearing and awarded $1,497
in fees and costs against the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs then filed
objections to the order. The district court only reviewed the order to
determine if it was ""clearly erroneous or contrary to law", which it
determined the order was not. The plaintiffs appealed.

A Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b(1(A), may hear and
determine any pre-trial matter pending before the court." However, if the
motion is dispositive, the Magistrate may only enter a report and
recommendation for disposition. The Sixth Circuit held the motion at issue
is post-dismissal and not a pretrial matter before the court. Moreover, the
motion is dispositive of a claim of a party. Therefore, the district court
was required to make a de novo review of the Magistrate's order when
considering the plaintiffs' objections. When a district court fails to make
the required review and issue a final order, a reviewing court must dismiss
the appeal and remand for further proceedings.

Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed and remanded for further proceedings.
See: Massey v. City of Ferndale, 7 F.3d 506 (6th Cir. 1993).

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