Noorlander v. Ciccone, 73-1532.

Decision Date27 December 1973
Docket NumberNo. 73-1532.,73-1532.
Citation489 F.2d 642
PartiesWalter Olie NOORLANDER, Appellant, v. Dr. P. J. CICCONE, Director, Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Walter Olie Noorlander, pro se.

Bert C. Hurn, U. S. Atty., and Frederick O. Griffin, Jr., and Anthony P. Nugent, Jr., Asst. U. S. Attys., Kansas City, Mo., for appellee.

Before VOGEL, Senior Circuit Judge, and HEANEY and ROSS, Circuit Judges.

ROSS, Circuit Judge.

A question of importance to the effective administration of justice is raised on this appeal—whether a district court rule, which permits a judge to delegate to a magistrate the power to hold preliminary evidentiary hearings in federal and state habeas corpus cases is valid. We give a qualified affirmative answer to that question.

The question arises out of a prisoner petition filed with the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri. The prisoner, an inmate at the United States Medical Center at Springfield, alleged that he had been denied equal access to the courts due to the inadequacy of the Medical Center's law library and limitations placed on his possession of legal materials essential to pro se representation. The district court referred the petition to a magistrate pursuant to its local Rule 26. The petitioner objected to this referral and requested that the matter be re-referred to the district court. Following pretrial consideration of the pleadings, the magistrate prepared a report and recommended to the United States District Judge that the petition be denied. The recommendation was adopted by the judge. For the reasons we set forth later in this opinion, we find that it is necessary that an evidentiary hearing be conducted to resolve the question of equal access to the court. We are convinced that the district court will again refer this matter to a magistrate for a preliminary evidentiary hearing pursuant to its present local rule unless we hold that it cannot do so. We, therefore, determine the propriety of such a referral.

Noorlander challenges the constitutionality of local Rule 26, Section B.1.b. (5) and its applicability to all habeas corpus cases emanating from the Springfield Medical Center. This rule provides as follows:

B. Additional Duties and Powers of Full-Time Magistrates.
1. Pursuant to Section 636(b), Title 28, United States Code, each full-time magistrate is assigned and shall perform the following additional duties anywhere in this district and for those purposes is hereby granted plenary powers necessary or desirable to perform those duties:
* * * * * *
b. Civil Proceedings.
* * * * * *
(5) Assisting district judges by preliminary review, pretrial, and prehearing processing of habeas corpus and civil rights petitions, motions, and complaints, and in other petitions and complaints, including, but not limited to, those seeking relief from custody or from conditions of confinement, filed by a convicted or unconvicted person in federal or state custody, under Sections 2241 and 2254, Title 28, United States Code, or other legal procedures, as authorized or directed by other general or special orders of the Court en banc. The magistrate\'s duties and powers shall include, but are not limited to, the following: (a) permitting the filing of such petitions, motions, and complaints in forma pauperis; (b) appointing counsel when authorized by law; (c) making such pretrial and prehearing orders that may be necessary or desirable to obtain relevant information useful in determining the merits of the motion, petition, or complaint and in determining whether a hearing is required; (d) making an order authorizing the transfer of a movant, petitioner, or complainant from the district; and (e) conducting evidentiary hearings. The magistrate shall submit a written report and recommendations, consisting of findings of fact, conclusions of law, and a proposed judgment or order to be entered by a district judge; provided, however, that there shall be a review de novo of any order or finding of a magistrate to which a written exception is filed by a party within five (5) days after notice of the order or finding of a magistrate before a party is required to comply with the order; and provided, further, that there shall be a review de novo of any finding of fact made by the magistrate to which a written exception is filed by a party within ten (10) days after notice of submission of a written report unless the district judge directs otherwise. The review de novo provided for herein shall include an evidentiary hearing when appropriate or required by law.

During the past several years an ever increasing number of prisoner petitions have been filed in federal court by and for inmates of the Springfield Medical Center. One result of this flood of litigation has been a substantial drain of the judicial manpower of the Western District of Missouri. Another result has been a substantial delay in processing these cases. In order to provide for prompt disposition of these cases, this rule was adopted by the district court en banc and positive efforts have been made by the court, the magistrate, the Public Defenders and the Assistant United States Attorney to reduce this backlog.

This Court has heretofore commented upon the general desirability of adopting procedures calculated to give inmates a prompt hearing upon their complaints. See generally Bridwell v. Ciccone, 310 F.2d 490 (8th Cir. 1973). We have not, however, heretofore analyzed Rule 26 nor expressed an opinion as to its validity. We note that other circuits have considered this problem under various fact situations with differing results.1 We also note that a preliminary draft of the Proposed Rules Governing Habeas Corpus Proceedings and Proposed Rules Governing § 2255 Proceedings permits district courts to authorize magistrates to conduct evidentiary hearings in habeas matters, subject only to the limitation that the magistrate cannot issue an order disposing of a petition.

We look first to the statute, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), which provides as follows:

(b) Any district court of the United States, by the concurrence of a majority of all the judges of such district court, may establish rules pursuant to which any full-time United States magistrate, or, where there is no full-time magistrate reasonably available, any part-time magistrate specially designated by the court, may be assigned within the territorial jurisdiction of such court such additional duties as are not inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States. The additional duties authorized by rule may include, but are not restricted to—
(1) service as a special master in an appropriate civil action, pursuant to the applicable provisions of this title and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for the United States district courts;
(2) assistance to a district judge in the conduct of pretrial or discovery proceedings in civil or criminal actions; and
(3) preliminary review of applications for posttrial relief made by individuals convicted of criminal offenses, and submission of a report and recommendations to facilitate the decision of the district judge having jurisdiction over the case as to whether there should be a hearing. (Emphasis supplied.)

This section of the statute gives magistrates the power to "preliminarily review" applications for posttrial relief and to submit a "report and recommendations to facilitate the decision of the district judge . . . as to whether there should be a hearing." It does not provide for, nor prohibit, the holding of an evidentiary hearing by the magistrate.

It is evident from an examination of the legislative history of § 636(b) that Congress initially had in mind a broader specific delegation of duties to the magistrates; but upon reconsideration, narrowed considerably the scope of such specific delegation, and instead made a general statement that duties could be delegated insofar as such delegation was consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States. The preliminary draft of § 636(b) reads as follows:

(b) Any district court of the United States may assign to any United States magistrate appointed by that court the discharge within the territorial jurisdiction prescribed by his appointment of such additional powers or duties as are not inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States. Such additional powers and duties may include, but are not restricted to—
(1) service as a special master in an appropriate civil action;
(2) supervision of the conduct of any pretrial discovery proceeding in a civil or criminal action; and
(3) preliminary consideration of applications for post-trial relief made by individuals convicted of criminal offenses. (Emphasis supplied.)

Many criticisms and suggestions were received from legislators and judges. These led to the present language. Judge Walter E. Hoffman, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, favored giving magistrates the power to conduct hearings. He stated:

Along the same lines as indicated above, I see no valid reason why an experienced Magistrate should not be given authority to conduct plenary hearings in habeas corpus proceedings. Of course, we realize that the district judge cannot delegate his judicial duties, but as the Federal Magistrates Act is a counterpart to the system employed by the Bankruptcy Act, it appears to me that a Magistrate could serve as a hearing officer or master for the purpose of taking evidence, making findings, stating conclusions, etc., with the district judge thereafter approving, modifying, reversing or remanding as the need may be. Such a suggestion, if adopted, may require some change in the language used in § 636(b)(3) as the words "preliminary consideration" may not be sufficient. The final order would, of necessity, be entered by the district judge.

Hearings on S. 3475...

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