On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. (W.D.Pa. Civ. No. 88-00133)
Before: Becker, Alito, and Garth, Circuit Judges
For the second time in four years, and after the labors of a federal magistrate Judge, two district court Judges and four panels of this Court, we must once again consider the case of two plaintiffs who, virtually from the commencement of their suit four years ago, have continually flouted court orders and denigrated the authority of the magistrate Judge to whom their case was assigned. Judicial resources are too valuable to be squandered on wasteful proceedings such as the Mindeks have instituted. We emphasize, therefore, that the dismissal of a complaint is an entirely appropriate response to deliberate defiance of court orders where the district court Judge has properly determined that no other sanction would adequately ensure future compliance.
On January 28, 1988, Ronald and Ben Mindek brought a section 1983 suit in the Western District of Pennsylvania alleging that police officers had used excessive force and had performed an unconstitutional seizure of their tape-recorder in connection with the enforcement of an allegedly unconstitutional anti-loitering ordinance. The Mindeks brought suit not only against the officers who had allegedly used excessive force but also against other police officers, McDonald Borough, and various government officials, including two magistrates and a Judge.
After initially dismissing claims against several of the defendants on June 3, 1988 as frivolous, the district court dismissed the entire complaint on June 11, 1988 because the Mindeks had refused to comply with the magistrate Judge's order. The magistrate Judge had directed the Mindeks to file an amended complaint which would detail their alleged injury in more specific terms. The Mindeks, asserting that orders of magistrate Judges need not be obeyed, refused to do so.
On appeal to this Court, the Mindeks argued that the magistrate Judge, not being an Article III Judge, had no authority over their case. This argument was unanimously rejected by the entire panel. The panel then divided on the issue of the dismissal of the Mindeks' complaint. See Mindek v. Rigatti, No. 88-3577 (3d Cir. May 15, 1989) (unpublished opinion). The majority of the panel identified those claims of the Mindeks which had stated a cause of action and determined that the Mindeks' failure to file an amended complaint regarding those claims, as per the magistrate Judge's instructions, may have resulted from the Mindeks' ignorance and confusion regarding the role of federal magistrate. The majority therefore outlined for the Mindeks the validity and statutory basis for the magistrate Judge's involvement, and then remanded the case to the district court for entry of an order permitting the Mindeks to file an amended complaint as respects the few claims which ostensibly stated a cause of action. The majority also directed the district court to allow the Mindeks to join additional defendants only with respect to the tape-recorder seizure claim.
The Dissent criticized the majority's indulgence of the Mindeks' behavior and contended that dismissal had been entirely appropriate in light of the Mindeks' obdurate refusal to obey court orders. The Dissent asserted that
the plaintiffs had their opportunity to set forth their claims as to excessive force and to do it with specificity, as the district court properly required, and they refused to do so. Rather, as I have noted, they raised issues as to magisterial jurisdiction and other nonsubstantive issues, all of which ignored the district court's directions, and, as the majority opinion points out, were meritless. I do not believe that litigants can play that fast and loose with court processes. When a district court requires an action to be taken in order to preserve a right, it seems to me that even a pro se litigant must comply with that direction. Because these pro se litigants did not, I would affirm the district court's action in dismissing the complaints for excessive force against Officers Rigatti, Purdy and Barber.
Id. The Dissent also predicted that the Mindeks' obstinance would once again require the district court to dismiss their complaint. Noting that, in an unrelated case, a reversal of a district court's dismissal of a recalcitrant plaintiff's complaint, see Titus v. Mercedes Benz of North America, 695 F.2d 746 (3d Cir. 1982), had led to a second dismissal of the complaint by the district court and an affirmance of that second dismissal on appeal, see Titus v. Mercedes Benz of North America, 723 F.2d 898 (3d Cir. 1983), the Dissent urged that "I see no reason why, having ...