March 12, 2020 View from the Bench

Unhappy with a Magistrate Judge’s Ruling? Know the Rules and Act Promptly

Procedures for challenging a magistrate judge’s pretrial nondispositive ruling are governed by local rules

By Hon. Karen L. Stevenson

A few months ago, I granted a motion to compel and ordered the defendant to produce documents by a certain date. The defendant thought my ruling was wrong and filed a motion before the presiding district judge for review. The defendant did not file a request before me to stay my order compelling production. Instead, the defendant included a request for a stay of my ruling in the motion for review filed with the district judge. Weeks later, the district judge denied the defendant’s motion for reconsideration but never ruled on the stay request. Therefore, under the local rules of this district, my original order remained in effect as issued, and the defendant still had not produced the documents.

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Photo Illustration by Elmarie Jara | Edited by Genuine Pyun | Getty Images

The plaintiff—thoroughly frustrated at having won the motion to compel, having defeated the defendant’s motion for reconsideration before the district judge, but still without the documents—filed a motion for an order of civil contempt and sanctions against the defendant for failure to comply with a court order. The plaintiff argued that under the district’s local rules, in the absence of a stay, my order compelling production remained effective, and the defendant had not complied with the order.

The district judge referred the civil contempt motion back to me for resolution by report and recommendation. During oral argument on the contempt motion, defense counsel conceded that no stay of the order compelling production was ever granted. Counsel also acknowledged that she should have either sought a stay from me or promptly requested a ruling from the district judge on the request for stay that was included in the motion for reconsideration. She did neither. Now what?

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