Case of the Day: In re Gonzalez

The case of the day is In re Gonzalez (11th Cir. 2022). The issue of the magistrate judge’s role in a Section 1782 case has been on the Letters Blogatory radar for years. In cases where the parties have not consented to the magistrate judge’s jurisdiction, the court can delegate magistrate judge the power to decide most pretrial motions, and the power to make a report and recommendation on dispositive motions and motions for injunctive relief. The question that sometimes arises is: when a magistrate judge decides a Section 1782 application, is the decision dispositive, or not? If it is, then a disappointed party can ask the district judge to review it de novo. If the decision was just on a non-dispositive motion, then the disappointed party can ask the district judge to review it, but only for clear error.

In today’s case, after the court granted the 1782 application in aid of a lawsuit in Mexico and denied a motion to quash, the applicant filed a motion to compel and for sanctions. The target of the subpoena then appealed from the order denying the motion to quash. While the appeal was pending, the magistrate judge granted the motion to compel, but reserved judgment on the request for sanctions. The target appealed the order, without first seeking review from the district judge. The applicant then moved to dismiss the appeal of the second order.

The Eleventh Circuit correctly dismissed the appeal. The basic rule is that a magistrate judge’s decision is not final and not appealable unless the parties have consented to have the magistrate judge give a final decision, because the magistrate judge is not a judge for constitutional purposes and cannot make a final decision. The court did not reach the question whether the order would have been appealable had the district court reviewed it; on the one hand, the magistrate judge left open the question of sanctions, which suggests the order was not final, but on the other hand, the order on the motion to compel was a mandatory order that required the target to do something and was, therefore, in the nature of an injunction.

One question the court didn’t address was why the magistrate judge had any jurisdiction once the target appealed from the decision on the motion to quash. Ordinarily an appeal divests the district court of jurisdiction until the mandate issues. There are various exceptions. It’s unclear whether the target raised this point when the applicant moved to compel in the district court.

There are some implications in all this for how you should time your motion practice in a 1782 case, which, as they say, I will leave for the reader as an exercise!

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