The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOSE LINARES, District Judge
This matter comes before the Court on the motion of Defendants
the New Jersey Department of Education ("NJDOE"), Barbara Gantwerk ("Gantwerk"),
Director of Special Education Programs, Melinda Zangrillo
("Zangrillo"), Coordinator of Compliance, and Jeffery V. Osowski,
former Director, Division of Special Education (collectively
referred to as "State Defendants") appealing the July 29, 2004
Letter-Opinion and Order of the Honorable Magistrate Judge Ronald
J. Hedges, U.S.M.J., denying State Defendants' motion to strike
Plaintiff A.W.'s demand for a jury trial. The appeal is resolved
without oral argument. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78. For the reasons stated
herein, Judge Hedges' Order is AFFIRMED.
A detailed factual background in this case is set forth in an
earlier Opinion and Order of this Court dated April 21, 2005, and
will not be repeated here, except where necessary to provide
context for the resolution of the pending motion. Plaintiff
commenced suit against State Defendants on January 10, 2001.
Plaintiff alleged violations of the Individuals with Disabilities
Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 ("IDEA"), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation
Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a) ("§ 504"), the Civil Rights Act
of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the New Jersey Constitution, Art.
VIII, § 4, ¶ 1, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination,
N.J.S.A. 10:5-1, et seq. ("NJLAD").
Discovery in this matter is complete, and on January 29, 2004,
a Final Pre-Trial Order was filed. Thereafter, State Defendants
moved to strike Plaintiff's jury demand. By Letter-Opinion and
Order of July 29, Magistrate Judge Hedges denied State
Defendants' motion to strike. State Defendants subsequently
appealed this decision to this Court.
A United States Magistrate Judge may hear and determine any
[non-dispositive] pretrial matter pending before the court pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). The district court will only reverse a magistrate
judge's decision on these matters if it is "clearly erroneous or
contrary to law." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Fed.R.Civ.P.
72(a); L. Civ. R. 72.1(c)(1)(A). Therefore, "this Court will
review a magistrate judge's findings of fact for clear error."
Lithuanian Commerce Corp., Ltd. v. Sara Lee Hosiery,
177 F.R.D. 205, 213 (D.N.J. 1997) (citing Lo Bosco v. Kure Eng'g Ltd.,
891 F.Supp. 1035, 1037 (D.N.J. 1995)). Under this standard, a finding
is clearly erroneous when "although there is evidence to support
it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the
definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed."
Anderson v. Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 573 (1985) (citing
United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395, reh'g
denied, 333 U.S. 869 (1948)). The district court will not
reverse the magistrate judge's determination, even in
circumstances where the court might have decided the matter
differently. Bowen v. Parking Auth. of City of Camden, 2002 WL
1754493, *3 (D.N.J. Jul. 30, 2002). "A district judge's simple
disagreement with the magistrate judge's findings is insufficient
to meet the clearly erroneous standard of review." Andrews v.
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc., 191 F.R.D. 59, 68 (D.N.J.
A magistrate judge's legal conclusions, however, are subject to
de novo review. Haines v. Liggett Group, Inc., 975 F.2d 81,
91 (3d Cir. 1992); Lo Bosco, 891 F.Supp. at 1037. "A ruling is
contrary to law if the magistrate judge has misinterpreted or
misapplied applicable law." Bobian v. CSA Czech Airlines,
222 F.Supp.2d 598, 601 (D.N.J. 2002) (citing Gunter v. Ridgewood
Energy Corp., 32 F.Supp.2d 162, 164 (D.N.J. 1998)). In light of
this framework, the Court turns to State Defendants' appeal of
Magistrate Judge Hedges' July 29 decision. LEGAL DISCUSSION
State Defendants contend that Magistrate Judge Hedges' July 29
Order, wherein he ruled that Plaintiff is entitled to a jury
trail, should be reversed as his ruling was contrary to law. The
Seventh Amendment provides that, "[i]n Suits at common law, where
the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right
of a trial by jury shall be preserved." U.S. Const. amend. VII.
The Supreme Court has interpreted "suits at common law" to mean
cases involving legal rights; no right to a jury trial attaches
to equitable claims. Granfinanciera, S.A. v. Nordberg,
492 U.S. 33, 41 (1989). In determining whether the right to a jury trial
exists, a court must first analyze the nature of the claim.
Beard v. Braunstein, 914 F.2d 434, 437 (1990). Here, Plaintiff
seeks compensatory damages under the IDEA and § 504.
Magistrate Judge Hedges determined that Plaintiff is entitled
to a jury trial as legal damages are available under both claims.
This Court's ruling in its April 21, 2005 Opinion concerning
State Defendants' motion for summary judgment is determinative of
this issue. This Court specifically concluded that it was
"persuaded by Matula's analysis and holds that monetary damages
are available under the IDEA itself." (Opin. and Order, at 24).
Thus, the magistrate judge's ruling as to Plaintiff's IDEA claim
is not contrary to law. Moreover, this Court also agrees that a
jury trial is available as to Plaintiff's § 504 claims because,
as Judge Hedges noted, "[t]here appear to be few differences, if
any, between IDEA's affirmative duty and § 504's negative
prohibition." Matula, 67 F.3d 492-93. In view of the foregoing,
this Court cannot say that the magistrate judge's ruling that
Plaintiff is entitled to a jury trial was contrary to law, and
accordingly, that ruling will not be disturbed. CONCLUSION
For the foregoing reasons, it is on this 9th day of May, 2005,
ORDERED that Magistrate Judge Hedges' July 29, 2004
Letter-Opinion and Order is hereby ...