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Siers v. Morrash


decided: February 16, 1983.



Adams, Weis and Van Dusen, Circuit Judges.

Author: Van Dusen


VAN DUSEN, Senior Circuit Judge.

This is a direct appeal from an order of the United States magistrate, who denied plaintiff's motion for appointment of counsel in a civil rights suit challenging the defendants' alleged failure to provide adequate medical treatment. Defendants seek to dismiss the appeal on the ground that the magistrate's order, which the referring district court has neither reviewed nor adopted, is not a "final" order of the district court within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and that, therefore, this court lacks jurisdiction. We agree.


On August 7, 1981, Chuck Siers, while incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh (SCIP),*fn1 brought a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that defendants had deprived him of his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by failing to provide adequate treatment for a testicular disorder. Siers named as defendants the Hospital Administrator at SCIP, the staff urologist, a caseworker, and the Deputy Commissioner.*fn2

The magistrate granted Siers' motion to proceed in forma pauperis. Subsequently, Siers filed a motion for appointment of counsel under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d),*fn3 alleging his indigent status and his general ignorance of legal procedures. On December 3, 1981, the magistrate denied Siers' motion on the ground that he had not demonstrated that appointment of counsel "would materially aid the overall interests of the parties as well as the Court in the proper administration of justice." Siers v. Morrash, No. 81-1315 (Dec. 3, 1981). Fifteen days later, Siers filed an untimely motion for reconsideration which the magistrate also denied.*fn4 Siers did not seek review in the district court, nor did the district court rehear the matter sua sponte. On January 4, 1982, Siers filed this appeal.


28 U.S.C. § 1291 provides that "the courts of appeals shall have jurisdiction from all final decisions of the district courts of the United States."*fn5 To be a "final" order of the district court within the meaning of section 1291, the magistrate's decision must have been reviewed by the district court, which retains ultimate decision-making power. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 46 L. Ed. 2d 483, 96 S. Ct. 549 (1976). Every circuit which has considered this question holds that a magistrate's order is not a "final" order of the district court within the meaning of section 1291. See Horton v. State Street Bank & Trust Co., 590 F.2d 403 (1st Cir. 1979); Matter of Mackin, 668 F.2d 122 (2d Cir. 1981); Glover v. Alabama Board of Corrections, 651 F.2d 1014, reh'g denied, 660 F.2d 120 (5th Cir. 1981); Taylor v. Oxford, 575 F.2d 152 (7th Cir. 1978); Metric & Multistandard Corporation v. Metric's Inc., 600 F.2d 1237 (8th Cir. 1979); United States v. First National Bank of Rush Springs, 576 F.2d 852 (10th Cir. 1978) (per curiam).

Siers argues, however, that Congress has indicated that a magistrate's determination of a nondispositive pretrial matter is a "final" appealable order for the purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1291. A studied reading of the Federal Magistrates Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 631-39, and its legislative history does not support this contention.

The Federal Magistrates Act provides in part that, except for certain enumerated dispositive motions,*fn6 "a judge may designate a magistrate to hear and determine any pretrial matter pending before the court." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). The legislative history pertaining to this section reveals Congress' express intention that a magistrate's determination of such pretrial matters "shall be 'final ' subject only to the ultimate right of review by a judge of the court."*fn7 H.R. Rep. No. 94-1609, reprinted in 1976 U.S. Code Cong. & Ad. News 6162, 6170.

Congress has thus made clear that a magistrate's decision of a pretrial matter, such as the order from which Siers appeals in this case, is to be considered "final" absent review by a district judge. It does not follow, however, that the order should be considered a "final" decision of the district court for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1291.*fn8

Indeed, the Federal Magistrates Act provides that a "judge of the court . . . . may reconsider any pretrial matter under . . . . subparagraph A," and that, if a party files objections within 10 days, a "judge of the court . . . . may accept, reject, or modify" the findings of the magistrate. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Furthermore, Congress indicated in the legislative report on the act that the decision of the magistrate on such matters is "intended to be 'final ' unless a judge of the court exercises his ultimate authority to reconsider the magistrate's determination." 1976 U.S. Code Cong. & Ad. News at 6169 (emphasis supplied).

Clearly, Congress intended that review of a magistrate's decision on a nondispositive pretrial matter must, initially, be had in the district court.*fn9 Significantly, when Congress has intended that certain decisions of a magistrate be directly appealable to a circuit court, it has expressly said so.*fn10 In conclusion, although a magistrate's determination of a nondispositive pretrial matter is "final" if not reviewed by a district judge, we hold that direct appeal to this court will not lie from such a decision.

In the case at bar, Siers did not timely request reconsideration of the magistrate's order, and the district court did not rehear the matter sua sponte. Without a district court order showing review of the magistrate's decision, we have no jurisdiction to hear this appeal. We recognize, nevertheless, that pro se litigants such as Siers are not always familiar with court procedures, particularly where, as here, Siers argued for appointment of counsel precisely because he was "generally ignorant about legal procedures" (Br. at 5). To protect pro se litigants under these circumstances, the better practice for district courts to follow would be for the magistrate to inform the pro se litigant that, if he wishes to appeal a pretrial decision, he must seek review by the district court by filing an application within 10 days of the date of the magistrate's order with the Clerk of the district court and that failure to do so will waive the right to appeal. See United States v. Walters, 638 F.2d 947 (6th Cir. 1981).


Because the magistrate did not advise Siers, a pro se party, of the rule and time limit governing district court review, as suggested in Walters, supra, and the record does not show that Siers was aware of this procedure,*fn11 the appeal will be dismissed without prejudice to Siers' right to renew his application to the magistrate for appointment of counsel.*fn12


* The court wishes to express its appreciation to Ms. Alexis J. Anderson, who without compensation forcefully and effectively represented plaintiff on appeal.

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