Giangola v. Walt Disney World Co.

Citation753 F. Supp. 148
Decision Date27 November 1990
Docket NumberCiv. No. 90-2497 (DRD).
PartiesCarmella GIANGOLA and Mario Giangola, Plaintiffs, v. WALT DISNEY WORLD COMPANY, Walt Disney Company, Inc., John Doe, and XYZ Corporations, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Jersey


Hogger and Sheeler by Charles F. Sheeler, Closter, N.J., for plaintiffs Carmella Giangola and Mario Giangola.

Richard A. Tanner, P.C., Cedar Grove, N.J., for defendants Walt Disney World Co.


DEBEVOISE, District Judge.

Defendant Walt Disney World Company hereafter "Disney" moves to dismiss this personal injury action for lack of personal jurisdiction over the defendant pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In the alternative, defendant moves for transfer of venue to the Middle District of Florida pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404. Plaintiffs contend that this case is no longer pending in this court, having been remanded to state court as improperly removed, and thus argue that I am without jurisdiction to decide this motion.


This case came before the District Court on removal from the New Jersey Superior Court—Law Division. The petition for removal predicated federal jurisdiction on the complete diversity between the litigants pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Plaintiff Carmella Giangola, a citizen of New Jersey, was injured while attending EPCOT Center, a facility owned and operated by defendant Walt Disney World Company, a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Defendant has no place of business or employees in the State of New Jersey nor does the record indicate that it had any direct contact or executed any agreement with the plaintiff in the State. An action was filed on or about May 31, 1990 in the New Jersey Superior Court, Law Division naming Walt Disney World Company the defendant herein and Walt Disney Company1 seeking recovery for personal injuries against defendant Disney. That action was removed to this Court on June 21, 1990 on the petition of defendant. The Magistrate assigned to this case raised the issue of the sufficiency of the petition for removal sua sponte and issued an Order to Show Cause why the case should not be "dismissed" or "transferred". After considering memoranda of law submitted by the parties, the Magistrate ordered the case remanded to the Superior Court. An Order of Remand to this effect was prepared and entered by the Magistrate.

Defendant moved for reconsideration of the Magistrate's determination of the removal issue on August 8, 1990. On September 24, 1990, the Magistrate held a hearing on the motion for reconsideration of the ruling and found in defendant's favor. An Order was to have been prepared restoring the case to the jurisdiction of the District Court and ensuring return of the case file from the Superior Court.

Defendant filed this motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction November 15, 1990. In opposition, plaintiff claims that the merits of the motion cannot be reached because this case has been remanded. Once an Order of Remand has been filed it cannot be undone.


The threshold jurisdictional issue in this matter is whether the case is still within the jurisdiction of this Court. Unfortunately, defendant has not even bothered to respond to plaintiffs' argument that an Order of Remand cannot be reconsidered and vacated once entered. While this is not a sterling example of diligent lawyering, I must conclude that this case is still within the jurisdiction of this Court for reasons not touched upon in plaintiffs' brief.

I find that the Magistrate acted outside the scope of his authority as defined by 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) & (B) and the Local Rules of the District Court. For the Court's jurisdiction to have been destroyed by the Order of Remand, the Magistrate must have been empowered to issue such an Order in the first place. A federal magistrate's authority to act derives from federal statute and the Local Rules of this Court. In passing the Federal Magistrates Act, Congress conferred only limited powers on the magistrates who would wield them.2 Sections 636(b)(1)(A) & (B) of the Federal Magistrates Act state

(A) a judge may designate a magistrate to hear and determine any pretrial matter pending before the court, except a motion for injunctive relief, for judgment on the pleadings, for summary judgment, to dismiss or quash an indictment or information made by the defendant, to suppress evidence in a criminal case, to dismiss or to permit maintenance of a class action, to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and to involuntarily dismiss an action. A judge of the court may reconsider any pretrial matter under this subparagraph (A) where it has been shown that the magistrate's order is clearly erroneous or contrary to law.
(B) a judge may also designate a magistrate to conduct hearings, including evidentiary hearings, and to submit to a judge of the court proposed findings of fact and recommendations for the disposition, by a judge of the court, of any motion excepted in this subparagraph (A), of applications for posttrial relief made by individuals convicted of criminal offenses and of prisoner petitions challenging conditions of confinement.

28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) & (B) (emphasis added).

The Local Rules of this Court also define the scope of a magistrate's powers with respect to nondispositive and dispositive motions. See Local Rules 40(A) & (B). Tracking the language of 28 U.S.C. § 636(B)(1)(A) to a significant degree, Local Rule 40(A)(2) provides that a magistrate may

Hear and conduct such evidentiary hearing as are necessary or appropriate and submit to a Judge proposed findings of fact and recommendations for the disposition of motions for injunctive relief ..., for judgment on the pleadings, for summary judgment, to dismiss or permit the maintenance of a class action, to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, to involuntarily dismiss an action, for judicial review of administrative determinations, for review of default judgments, and for review of prisoners' petitions challenging conditions of confinement, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and (C) and Rule 72 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Any party may object to the Magistrate's proposed findings, recommendations or report issued under this Rule by serving and filing an objection in accordance with subsection D.5 below, entitled "Objections to Magistrate's Proposed Findings."

Local Rules of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, Rule 40(A)(2) (emphasis added) hereafter "Local Rules".

In the instant case, the scope of authority granted to the Magistrate by both the Congressional statute and the Local Rules was exceeded as to the substance of the matter adjudicated and the manner of disposition of the jurisdictional issue did not accord with the procedure mandated by both the statute and the Local Rules. First, the issue decided by the Magistrate was dispositive.3 Perhaps no issue is so accurately described as dispositive as a determination which will destroy or uphold the Court's jurisdiction. While neither the statute nor the Local Rules specifically remove an order of remand from the jurisdiction of a magistrate, a remand order is the equivalent of a dismissal. The Magistrate's Order thus sought to effect an "involuntary dismissal" of the action. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). As such, the Magistrate was not empowered to hear the matter without being so designated by a District Judge. The Magistrate, though able to hold a hearing on the issue of whether removal was proper in this case given proper authorization, was restricted to submitting proposed findings of fact and a recommendation for the disposition of the matter. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Local Rule 40(A)(2). Thus the Magistrate could not enter a valid Order remanding the case to the Superior Court. The Order to remand was without legal effect and was null and void ab initio. Therefore, this case never left the jurisdiction of the Court and is not in "limbo" as plaintiffs suggest.

Second, and closely related to the first error, the Magistrate was not empowered, by statute or under the Local Rules, to render the final reconsideration of his ruling. Since he was without the authority to issue an Order in this matter, the Magistrate could not properly reconsider a determination he had no power to make in the first place. The procedure provided for by the Local Rules, in accord with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), permits the Magistrate to conduct a hearing on a dispositive motion and thereafter submit proposed findings and recommendation for the disposition of the motion. Id.; and see Applegate v. Dobrovir, Oakes & Gebhardt, 628 F.Supp. 378, 381 (D.D.C.1985), aff'd 809 F.2d 930 (D.C.Cir.1987). The parties may thereafter submit any objections they may have to the trial judge presiding over the case for final reconsideration pursuant to Local Rules 40(A)(2) and (D)(5). See also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Devore & Sons, Inc. v. Aurora Pacific Cattle Co., 560 F.Supp. 236, 238-239 (D.Kan.1983). The final determination, and the issuance of any enforceable court Order, must derive from an Article III judge who remains ultimately responsible for the exercise and declination of a federal court's jurisdiction.

Accordingly, I find that the Magistrate committed a clear error of law and that no effect can be given his Order to Remand this case to the state court. This conclusion is not reached by way of "review" in the sense that term is employed by 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d). Plaintiffs correctly note that pursuant to § 1447(d) a remand of a case to the state court of origin is not "reviewable on appeal or otherwise." Id. However, all the cases plaintiffs cite in support of that proposition do not support the...

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