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Second Circuit Vacates Magistrate’s Judgment Entered without Consent

On March 6, 2013, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the summary judgment dismissal of a New York prisoner’s lawsuit, finding he had not consented to having the case decided by a magistrate judge.

Willie James Yeldon filed suit in federal court against numerous New York and Wyoming prison and community-based doctors under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Although he expressly declined to consent to the appointment of a magistrate judge, the district court entered a February 8, 2008 order referring the case to a magistrate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The magistrate judge then granted summary judgment to the defendants on all of Yeldon’s claims.

On appeal, the Second Circuit noted it had previously held in N.Y. Chinese TV Programs, Inc. v. U.E. Enterprises, 996 F.2d 21 (2d Cir. 1993) that consent to appoint a magistrate judge must be “truly voluntary,” and “consent of all parties must be clear and express or the requirement would mean little.”

Recognizing that Yeldon had expressly refused to consent to a magistrate, the Court of Appeals could not find on the record before it that he gave implied consent by failing to object to the district court’s February 2008 order.

“As a pro se litigant, he may not have appreciated that participating in proceedings before the Magistrate Judge could impugn the effectiveness of his written refusal to consent,” the appellate court wrote.

Since “the lack of consent is a jurisdictional defect that cannot be waived,” the Court of Appeals found the magistrate lacked authority to enter final judgment under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1), and that the Court consequently lacked jurisdiction to review that judgment. The Second Circuit therefore vacated the judgment, holding that Yeldon had not consented to the appointment of a magistrate judge. See: Yeldon v. Fisher, 710 F.3d 452 (2d Cir. 2013).

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