474 U.S. 140 (1985), 84-5630, Thomas v. Arn

Docket Nº:No. 84-5630
Citation:474 U.S. 140, 106 S.Ct. 466, 88 L.Ed.2d 435, 54 U.S.L.W. 4032
Party Name:Thomas v. Arn
Case Date:December 04, 1985
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 140

474 U.S. 140 (1985)

106 S.Ct. 466, 88 L.Ed.2d 435, 54 U.S.L.W. 4032

Thomas

v.

Arn

No. 84-5630

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 4, 1985

Argued October 7, 1985

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner was convicted of homicide in an Ohio court, and ultimately the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the conviction. She sought habeas corpus relief in the Federal District Court, which referred the case to a Magistrate, who issued a report recommending denial of the writ and containing proposed findings and conclusions of law and a notice that failure to file objections within 10 days waived the right to appeal the District Court's order. Petitioner failed to file objections even though she had received an extension of time to do so, but the District Judge sua sponte reviewed the entire record de novo and dismissed the petition on the merits. On appeal, petitioner provided no explanation for her failure to object to the Magistrate's report. Without reaching the merits, the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that petitioner had waived the right to appeal by failing to file objections to the Magistrate's report.

Held: A court of appeals may adopt a rule conditioning appeal, when taken from a district court judgment that adopts a magistrate's recommendation, upon the filing of objections with the district court identifying those issues on which further review is desired. Such a rule, at least when (as here) it incorporates clear notice to the litigants and an opportunity to seek an extension of time for filing objections, is a valid exercise of the court's supervisory power that does not violate either the Federal Magistrates Act or the Constitution. Pp. 145-155.

(a) Here, the Court of Appeals intended to adopt a rule of procedure in the exercise of its supervisory power. Neither the intent nor the practical effect of the court's waiver rule is to restrict the court's own jurisdiction. Pp. 145-146.

(b) The courts of appeals have supervisory powers that permit, at the least, the promulgation of procedural rules governing the management of litigation. The fact that the Sixth Circuit has deemed petitioner to have forfeited her statutory right to an appeal is not enough, standing alone, to invalidate the court's exercise of its supervisory power. Moreover, the Sixth Circuit's decision to require the filing of objections is supported by sound considerations of judicial economy. Pp. 146-148.

(c) Neither the language nor the legislative history of the Federal Magistrates Act -- which provides that a litigant "may" file objections to

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the magistrate's report within 10 days and thus obtain de novo review by the district judge, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C) -- supports petitioner's argument that the Act precludes the waiver rule adopted by the Sixth Circuit. The Act does not require that the district court review the magistrate's report under some lesser standard than de novo review when no objection is filed. Nor does the obligatory filing of objections under the Act extend only to findings of fact, and not to the magistrate's conclusions of law. Moreover, the waiver of appellate review is not inconsistent with the Act's purposes. Pp. 148-153.

(d) The waiver of appellate review does not violate Article III of the Constitution. Although a magistrate is not an Article III judge, a district court may refer dispositive motions to a magistrate for a recommendation so long as the entire process takes place under the district court's control and jurisdiction, and the judge exercises the ultimate authority to issue an appropriate order. The waiver of appellate review does not implicate Article III, because it is the district court, not the court of appeals, that must exercise supervision over the magistrate, and the waiver rule [106 S.Ct. 468] does not elevate the magistrate from an adjunct to the functional equivalent of an Article III judge. Nor does the waiver rule violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Petitioner's statutory right of appeal was not denied; it was merely conditioned upon the filing of a piece of paper. Pp. 153-155.

728 F.2d 813, affirmed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 156. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 157.

MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1976, Congress amended § 101 of the Federal Magistrates Act, 28 U.S.C. § 636, to provide that a United States district judge may refer dispositive pretrial motions, and petitions for writ of habeas corpus, to a magistrate, who shall conduct appropriate proceedings and recommend dispositions.

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Pub.L. 94-577, 90 Stat. 2729.1 The amendments also provide that any party that disagrees with the magistrate's recommendations "may serve and file written objections" to the magistrate's report, and thus obtain de novo review by the district judge.2 The question presented is whether a court of appeals may exercise its supervisory powers to establish a rule that the failure to file objections to the magistrate's report waives the right to appeal the district court's judgment. We hold that it may.

I

Petitioner was convicted by an Ohio court in 1978 of fatally shooting her common law husband during an argument.

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The evidence at trial showed that the victim was a violent man who had beaten petitioner on a number of occasions during the previous three years. Petitioner raised the issue of self-defense at trial, and sought to call two witnesses who would present expert testimony concerning the Battered Wife Syndrome. After conducting a voir dire of these witnesses in chambers, the trial court refused to admit the testimony, on the grounds that the jury did not need the assistance of expert testimony to understand the case, and that the witnesses, who had not personally examined petitioner, could not testify about her state of mind at the time of the shooting.

The Court of Appeals of Cuyahoga County reversed. State v. Thomas, 64 Ohio App.2d 141, 411 N.E.2d 845 (1979). [106 S.Ct. 469] The court's syllabus3 concluded that testimony concerning the Battered Wife Syndrome is admissible "to afford the jury an understanding of the defendant's state of mind at the time she committed the homicide." App. 9. The Ohio Supreme Court, on discretionary review, reversed. State v. Thomas, 66 Ohio St.2d 518, 423 N.E.2d 137 (1981). The court held that the testimony was irrelevant to the issue of self-defense, and that its prejudicial effect would outweigh its probative value. Having exhausted state remedies, petitioner sought habeas corpus relief in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. The petition raised, inter alia, the question whether petitioner was denied a fair trial by the trial court's refusal to admit testimony concerning the Battered Wife Syndrome. Petitioner filed a memorandum of law in support of the petition. The District Judge, acting pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), referred the case, including petitioner's memorandum of law, to a Magistrate. The Magistrate did not hold a hearing. On May 11, 1982, the Magistrate issued his report, containing proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law and recommending

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that the writ be denied. On the issue of the Battered Wife Syndrome testimony, the Magistrate concluded that the trial court's failure to admit the proffered testimony had not impaired the fundamental fairness of the trial, and therefore was not an adequate ground for habeas corpus relief. The last page of the Magistrate's report contained the prominent legend:

ANY OBJECTIONS to this Report and Recommendation must be filed with the Clerk of Courts within ten (10) days of receipt of this notice. Failure to file objections within the specified time waives the right to appeal the District Court's order. See United States v. Walters, 638 F.2d 947 (6th Cir.1981).

Despite this clear notice, petitioner failed to file objections at any time. She sought and received an extension of time to file objections through June 15, 1982, on the grounds that "this case entails many substantive issues and counsel needs more time to write his brief." However, petitioner made no further submissions on the merits to the District Court. Notwithstanding petitioner's failure to file objections, the District Judge sua sponte "review[ed] . . . the entire record de novo," App. 59, and dismissed the petition on the merits. Petitioner sought and was granted leave to appeal.

Petitioner's brief on appeal raised only the issue of the Battered Wife Syndrome testimony. The brief provided no explanation for petitioner's failure to object to the Magistrate's report. Counsel for petitioner waived oral argument, and the case was decided on the briefs. The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. 728 F.2d 813 (1984). Without reaching the merits, it held that petitioner had waived the right to appeal by failing to file objections to the Magistrate's report. Id. at 815. The court relied upon its prior decision in United States v. Walters, 638 F.2d 947 (1981), which established the prospective rule that failure to file timely objections with the district court waives subsequent review in the

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court of appeals. We granted the petition for a writ of certiorari, 470 U.S. 1027 (1985), and we now affirm.

II

In United States v. Walters, supra, the appellant failed to object to the Magistrate's report, and the District Court adopted that report as its disposition of the case. The appellant then brought an appeal. The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit considered the threshold question whether the appellant's failure to apprise the District Court of its disagreement with [106...

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