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ENRD Resource Manual

3. Policy Regarding Consent to Trial of Condemnation Cases by United States Magistrates

The Federal Magistrate Act of 1979 (Pub.L. No. 96-82) authorized United States Magistrates to conduct any or all proceedings in a jury or non-jury civil matter and order the entry of judgment in the case, when specifically designated to exercise such jurisdiction by the district court or courts he/she serves, provided the parties consent thereto. The Act preserves to the parties the right to appeal as from a judgment of the district court.

This Division is favorably disposed to the use of United States Magistrates to conduct the trial of condemnation cases and to enter judgment therein whenever, in the opinion of the responsible attorney, consent to such trial would be in the litigating interests of the United States. Because of the very large number of condemnation cases pending throughout the country and the difficulty generally experienced in obtaining trial time for these cases, the option of consensual trial by magistrate provides an effective means of expediting the disposition of condemnation cases in appropriate circumstances.

Accordingly, it is the policy of this Division to encourage, in appropriate cases, consent to the conduct of condemnation trials by United States Magistrates if the attorney in charge of the case determines that trial before a magistrate would be in the litigating interests of the United States. In making this determination (on an individual case basis), all relevant factors should be considered, including the complexity of the case, the relief sought, the amount involved, the importance and nature of the issues raised, and the likelihood that the referral of the case to the magistrate will expedite resolution of the litigation. The attorney in charge of the case should similarly determine whether the consent should be to a trial by the magistrate or by a jury presided over by the magistrate.

The Federal Magistrate Act of 1979 provides that where a magistrate is designated to exercise civil litigation jurisdiction, the clerk of court shall, at the time the action is filed, notify the parties of their right to consent to the exercise of such jurisdiction. In many districts, however, there are backlogs of condemnation cases that were filed before the October 10, 1979 enactment of the Act for which such notification has not been given by the clerk. Accordingly, this Division urges the responsible attorneys to review their cases and determine which, if any, are appropriate for trial before a magistrate and that such action as necessary and appropriate be taken to notify the parties thereto of their right to consent to the magistrate's exercise of litigation jurisdiction.

[cited in JM 5-15.002; JM 5-15.514]