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Royster v. Kelshaw

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY


October 9, 1998

JOHN P. ROYSTER,
PLAINTIFF,
V.
GARY KELSHAW, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joel A. Pisano United States Magistrate Judge

OPINION

Before the Court is plaintiff's motion for appointment of a special master pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 53. Defendants did not file opposition, and the court decides the motion without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the following reasons, plaintiff's motion is denied.

FACTS

For the purpose of this motion, the Court need not describe at length and in detail the complex procedural history behind this case. *fn1 Plaintiff filed his complaint in January 1994, alleging that members of the East Orange and New York City Police Departments violated his federal civil rights by stealing his belongings after arresting him in the early morning hours of January 8, 1988. Specifically, plaintiff claims that business suits, dress shoes, ties, gloves, jewelry, and cash were stolen from his car by police officers on the morning he was arrested. Plaintiff also claims that New Jersey State Troopers and members of the New York City law enforcement community conspired to steal over $200,000 worth of belongings from his home in Newton, New Jersey. In this vein, plaintiff alleges that these defendants stole clothing, electronics equipment, art, and rare books.

On August 5, 1998, plaintiff filed a motion for appointment of a special master in order that he might "conserve taxpayer expense and use of man-hours, in completing the assemblage of parties, witnesses, and evidence without the necessity of an investigator or the protraction of endless litigation." (Pl.'s Mot. for Apptm. of Special Master, filed 8/5/98) The motion was originally returnable September 14, 1998, but defendants failed to file opposition. On September 14, 1998, this Court ordered plaintiff's motion carried until October 5, 1998, and directed defendants to file opposition by September 21, 1998. Plaintiff's reply, if any, was due by October 5, 1998.

Defendants failed to file opposition, but instead filed on September 21, 1998, several "Certifications in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Compel." Thereafter, on September 31, 1998, plaintiff filed his reply.

DISCUSSION

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 53(a) provides that a federal court may appoint a special master in any pending action. Rule 53(b) states, in relevant part,

A reference to a master shall be the exception and not the rule. In actions to be tried by a jury, a reference shall be made only when the issues are complicated; in actions to be tried without a jury, save in matters of account and of difficult computation of damages, a reference shall be made only upon a showing that some exceptional condition requires it. Id. (emphasis added).

Pursuant to Rule 53(b), courts have distilled the following rules. If a matter is to be tried to a jury, the issues involved must be "complicated" before a court may appoint a special master. See Prudential Ins. Co. of Am. v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 991 F.2d 1080, 1084 (3d Cir. 1993). If on the other hand there will be a non- jury trial, there must exist an "exceptional condition" before the court may appoint a special master. See id.

The Third Circuit has explained that determinations by a court regarding discovery matters, motions to dismiss, motions to strike, and summary judgment motions "traditionally have been decided by judges without jury involvement." Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 991 F.2d at 1084. Furthermore, a court should not place before a special master those issues that would properly be before a United States Magistrate Judge. See id. at 1085. After determining that the "exceptional condition" standard should have been applied to the pre-trial matters before the district court, *fn2 the Third Circuit in Prudential examined the Supreme Court's seminal case concerning the propriety of appointing a special master in non-jury cases. See id. at 1086 (citing La Buy v. Howes Leather Co., 352 U.S. 249 (1957)). According to the Prudential court, La Buy determined that, as the complexity of litigation increases, so too does the need for the attention of a judge who has been appointed according to federal law. See id. The court of appeals in Prudential noted, significantly, that La Buy was decided more than a decade prior to the 1968 enactment of the Federal Magistrates Act. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 631-639 (1993). The Third Circuit concluded that "any contemporary examination of `exceptional circumstances' must be made in light of the Magistrate's Act and the current availability of magistrate judges to whom Congress has specifically authorized the referral of pre-trial matters." See Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 991 F.2d at 1087.

Like the Third Circuit in Prudential, this Court finds nothing in the record that would suggest that a special master might possess superior ability in managing discovery and pre-trial disputes. Applying the rules surveyed above to the facts of the case at bar, there is nothing exceptional about plaintiff Royster's case or the pre-trial disputes that have persisted throughout the litigation.

In October 1997, Magistrate Judge Chesler denied plaintiff's motion to compel the production of documents. Plaintiff appealed Judge Chesler's decision, and in January 1998, Senior District Judge Debevoise vacated the magistrate judge's order concerning plaintiff's motion to compel discovery. Subsequently, in April 1998 Judge Chesler granted plaintiff's motion to compel the production of documents and answers to interrogatories. Currently, there appears to be a live discovery dispute, because on September 21, 1998, defendants filed certifications in opposition to plaintiff's motion to compel.

This Court is sufficiently competent to manage discovery in this case. There is nothing exceptional about protracted litigation and disputes over evidence, witnesses, interrogatories, and depositions. This Court tackles these matters every day of every week. Therefore, plaintiff's motion for the appointment of a special master is denied because the record reveals no "exceptional circumstances" with which this Court is not fully familiar.

CONCLUSION

For the reasons stated above, plaintiff's motion for the appointment of a special master is denied. An appropriate Order follows.

Orig: Clerk

cc: Hon. Dickinson R. Debevoise

All parties

ORDER

Before the Court is plaintiff's motion for appointment of a special master pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 53. Defendants did not file opposition, and the court decides the motion without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons set forth in the accompanying opinion, plaintiff's motion is

DENIED.

JOEL A. PISANO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

Orig: Clerk

cc: Hon. Dickinson R. Debevoise

All parties

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