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in a 5-4 decision, the justices reversed a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that a party’s failure to expressly consent to a proceeding before a magistrate judge is a nonwaivable jurisdictional error. Roell v. Withrow, No. 02-69. The case concerned a prisoner’s Eighth Amendment complaint that he hadn’t received adequate medical care. While the prisoner expressly consented to his claim being heard by the magistrate, two of three adverse parties did not. After the adversaries prevailed, the prisoner appealed, successfully arguing that, absent the express consent of all parties, the magistrate did not have jurisdiction over the case. Remanding, the high court ruled that consent to a magistrate judge’s designation can be inferred from a party’s conduct during litigation. Souter’s opinion was joined by Rehnquist, O’Connor, Ginsburg and Breyer. Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, in which Stevens, Scalia and Kennedy joined.

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