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Seventh Circuit Holds Magistrate Judge May Dismiss Case Using Wisconsin’s Memorandum of Understanding Granting Limited Consent

On October 10, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that a limited granting to the exercise of jurisdiction by a United States Magistrate Judge (magistrate), as expressed in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Wisconsin Department of Justice (WDOJ) and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin (court), was a sufficient agreement to permit a magistrate to dismiss a case in which the prisoner plaintiff had agreed to the magistrate’s jurisdiction.

On March 14, 2018, the WDOJ and the court agreed to an MOU in which the WDOJ gave a limited consent for magistrates to, among other things, conduct the initial screening of prisoners’ lawsuits described in 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A, 1915(a), and 1915(e)(2)(B). The question before the Seventh Circuit was whether this authorized a magistrate to dismiss a prisoners’ suit during initial screening and before Wisconsin made an appearance given that, in Coleman v. Labor & Industry Review Commission, 860 F.3d 461 (7th Cir. 2017), the appellate court held that a magistrate is without authority to enter a final judgment in a case when only one party has consented to the magistrate’s jurisdiction.

In this case, the magistrate had determined at initial screening that Wisconsin state prisoner Victor Brown had failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted in his federal civil rights lawsuit over alleged deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. Brown had already consented to the magistrate’s jurisdiction, so the magistrate dismissed the lawsuit.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit held that the MOU acted as consent on behalf of the two state employee defendants to permit the magistrate to perform the initial screening. “That includes the authority to decide that a prisoner’s complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” The appellate court also agreed with the magistrate that Brown failed to state a claim. The judgment was affirmed. See: Brown v. Peters, 7th Cir., No. 19-1420

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Related legal case

Brown v. Peters