The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge
Defendants James Molen and Sandra Molen (the "defendants") are proceeding without counsel in this action.*fn1 Defendants have filed two motions contending that the Status (Pretrial Scheduling) Order (the "PTSO") (Dkt. No. 76), was both prematurely issued and improper. (Dkt. Nos. 80 ("Opposition To Pretrial Scheduling Order As Premature And Denial Of Magistrate Judge Forms"); 87 ("Opposition To And Motion To Reverse Pretrial Scheduling Order As Premature And Submission Of Magistrate Judge Denial Forms").)*fn2 Plaintiff the United States of America (the "plaintiff") filed a written opposition to the motions. (Dkt. No. 90.) Because oral argument would not materially aid the resolution of the pending motions, these matters are submitted on the briefs and record without a hearing. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b); E.D. Local Rule 230(g). The undersigned has fully considered the parties' briefs and the record in this case and, for the reasons that follow, the undersigned denies both defendants' motions challenging the PTSO. (Dkt. Nos. 80, 87.)
On September 23, 2010, plaintiff filed its complaint against defendants, as well as against defendants' alleged trust and partnership entities. (Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) The complaint alleges multiple failures to pay federal taxes by the defendants and the partnership. (Compl. ¶¶ 17-18, 28, 30, 34, 36-41.) The complaint also alleges that the trust is both a sham and the defendants' alter ego, and plaintiff seeks to set aside the purported transfer of real property from the defendants to the trust. (Id. ¶¶ 42-54, p. 13 ¶¶ D-E.) Plaintiff seeks foreclosure of tax liens encumbering the defendants' alleged real property in Butte County, California. (Id. at p. 13 ¶ I.)
The complaint alleges that defendants "reside in Butte County, California, within this judicial district . . . ." (Compl. ¶ 5.) The complaint further alleges that defendants have occupied 189 Connors Avenue in Butte County, California, "as their residence from at least 1976 to the present." (Compl. ¶¶ 17-18, 44, 49.)
Defendants filed a verified Answer to the complaint on November 15, 2010. (Answer, Dkt. No. 4.) In that answer, defendants asserted defenses, including a lack of personal jurisdiction, on behalf of themselves as individuals, as well as on behalf of entities (i.e., the trust and the partnership). (Id. at 1-2, 5, 7, 8.) The portion of the Answer asserting defenses on behalf of these entities has since been stricken. (Dkt. Nos. 26.)
a. The PTSO Was Not "Premature"
In anticipation of the Status (Pretrial Scheduling) Conference set for June 9, 2011, plaintiff filed a Joint Scheduling Statement that included electronic signatures from plaintiff and both defendants. (Dkt. No. 68.) The Joint Scheduling Statement contained both plaintiff's and defendants' respective positions on issues of jurisdiction, trial, discovery, and the like. (Id.) In reviewing these respective positions, the undersigned found that the parties had supplied the information required for setting a trial date and related deadlines, and accordingly, the undersigned issued an order vacating the June 9, 2011 hearing date. (Dkt. No. 73.) Within that order, however, the undersigned directed all parties to complete and file "Consent to / Decline of Jurisdiction of United States Magistrate Judge" forms by June 23, 2011, so as to ensure that the appropriate trial judge was identified within the PTSO. (Id.)
A discussion of the Local Rules governing the undersigned's role in
this action helps explain the timing of the entry of the PTSO. The
Eastern District Local Rule 302(c)(21)*fn3 provides
that the Magistrate Judge shall preside over dispositive and
non-dispositive motions and matters in "pro se actions"*fn4
like this one. The Magistrate Judge shall hear "all general
pretrial matters" in such cases, making determinations regarding
certain specific issues and making "proposed findings of fact and
recommendations" regarding others. E.D. Local Rule 303(a), 304(a).
Upon "the consent of all parties," however, the Magistrate Judge may
conduct the trial itself, in addition to the "general pretrial matters" referenced
above. E.D. Local Rule 305(b) (emphasis added). Thus, in civil "pro se
actions" like this one, the Magistrate Judge makes determinations
regarding all "general pretrial matters" short of the actual trial,
and typically, if the matter progresses through trial, the assigned
District Judge serves as the trial judge. E.D. Local Rules 302(c)(21),
303(a), 304(a), 305(b). If, however, all parties consent, the
Magistrate Judge may serve as the trial judge in place of the District
Judge. E.D. Local Rule 305(b). Accordingly, if and when one litigant
files the "Consent to / Decline of Jurisdiction of United States
Magistrate Judge" form expressly declining to have the Magistrate
Judge serve as the trial judge, this obviates the need for other
parties to file the form. In short, when one litigant declines to have
the Magistrate Judge serve as trial judge, it becomes impossible for
"all parties" to consent to the Magistrate Judge serving as the trial
judge (E.D. Local Rule 305(b), and it becomes clear that the United
States District Judge will indeed preside over the trial in that case.
Here, in response to the undersigned's order (Dkt. No. 73), plaintiff filed the requisite form declining to have the undersigned serve as the trial judge. (Dkt. No. 74.) Upon that filing, it became clear that the assigned district judge, Judge Morrison England, would preside over the trial in this case. Accordingly, there being no need to wait to receive "Consent" forms from other parties, on June 15, 2011, the undersigned issued the PTSO identifying Judge England as the trial judge. Accordingly, that the undersigned's previous order (Dkt. No. 73) directed the parties to file "Consent to / Decline of Jurisdiction of United States Magistrate Judge" forms by June 23, 2011, does not render the PTSO premature or improper. The PTSO (Dkt. No. 76) designates the proper trial judge and is properly based on the undersigned's review of the parties' Joint Scheduling Statement (Dkt. No. 68). Defendants' motions to "reverse" the PTSO as "premature" (Dkt. Nos. 80, 87) are therefore denied.
Plaintiff and defendants agree that the district judge should preside over trial in this case. (Dkt. Nos. 74, 77-78.) Indeed, like plaintiff, defendants filed forms expressly declining to have the undersigned preside over the trial. (Dkt. Nos. 77-78.) The PTSO, which identifies United States District Judge Morrison England as the trial judge, is thus in keeping with the defendants' preferences on the issue. In any case, even assuming arguendo that the PTSO was "premature" because it was issued before defendants filed their "Consent to / Decline of Jurisdiction of United States Magistrate Judge" forms, defendants were not prejudiced by such issuance. The PTSO identifies the district judge as the trial judge, exactly as the defendants have requested. (Dkt. Nos. 77-78.)
The undersigned also notes that defendants challenge the PTSO in part because their "Consent to / Decline of Jurisdiction of United States Magistrate Judge" forms were "denied by [Judge] Newman." (Dkt. No. 87 at 2.) This is inaccurate. The undersigned did not "deny" defendants' "Consent to / Decline of Jurisdiction of United States Magistrate Judge" forms. Similarly, defendants claim that the undersigned issued the PTSO "setting dates and assignment to Morrison C. England for trial without hearing from all parties." (Dkt. No. 87 at 2.) This is also inaccurate. As described ...