Richards Layton & Finger

District of Delaware Begins Magistrate Judge Pilot Program

November 14, 2011

The United States District Court for the District of Delaware has begun a pilot project by which the clerk of the court will randomly select a discrete number of cases for direct assignment to a magistrate judge in place of one of the district judges for pretrial case management. If the parties do not consent to the magistrate judge’s jurisdiction for all purposes (including trial and entry of final judgment) before the earlier of 60 days from the direct assignment of the case to a magistrate judge or the filing of a case-dispositive motion, the case will be randomly reassigned to one of the district judges. These cases may then be referred back to the magistrate judge by the district judge for pretrial purposes.

The district judges will periodically evaluate and determine the percentage of cases to be directly assigned to a magistrate judge, but initially it is said to be a small number. The standing order implementing the pilot project cites the District of Delaware’s “growing and complex” caseload as well as the goal of making “efficient and effective” use of the court’s resources as reasons for the program, which is initially scheduled to last for one year.

In addition to the provisions for the direct assignment of magistrate judges, the standing order also sets forth the authority of magistrate judges generally, as well as the procedure for objecting to a report and recommendation. If the district judge permits it, parties will also have the ability to consent to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge for the limited purpose of adjudicating a case-dispositive motion.