The question presented in this case is whether the Federal Magistrates Act, 28 U. S. C. § 631 et seq., permits a United States district court to refer all Social Security benefit cases to United States magistrates for preliminary review of the administrative record, oral argument, and preparation of a recommended decision as to whether the record contains substantial evidence to support the administrative determination—all subject to an independent decision, on the record, by the district judge who may, in his discretion, hear the whole matter anew.
Respondent Weber brought this action in the United States District Court for the Central District of California to challenge the final determination of the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare that he was not entitled to reimbursement under the Medicare provisions of the Social Security Act, as added, 79 Stat. 291, and amended, 42 U. S. C. § 1395 et seq., for medical payments he made on behalf of his wife. Such a suit for judicial review is authorized by § 205 (g) of the Federal Magistrates Act, as added, 53 Stat. 1370, and amended, 42 U. S. C. § 405 (g), and governed by its standards. The court may consider only the pleadings and administrative record, and must accept the Secretary's findings of fact so long as they are supported by substantial evidence.
When respondent's complaint was filed, the Clerk of the court pursuant to court rule assigned the case to a named District Judge, and simultaneously referred it to a United States Magistrate with directions "to notice and conduct such factual hearings and legal argument as may be appropriate" and to "prepare a proposed written order or decision, together with proposed findings of fact and
The Secretary moved to vacate the order of reference, arguing (1) that referral under a general order of this type violated Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 53 (b) and (2) that such referral was not authorized by the Federal Magistrates Act. The Secretary also argued that the reference was of doubtful constitutionality and in contravention of the judicial review provisions of the Social Security Act, arguments that he has expressly declined to make in this Court. The District Court refused to vacate the order of reference, but certified the reference question for appeal under 28 U. S. C. § 1292 (b).
The Court of Appeals affirmed. 503 F.2d 1049 (CA9 1974). That court stressed the limited and preliminary nature of the inquiry in review actions brought under 42 U. S. C. § 405 (g), the limited scope of the Magistrate's role on reference, and the fact that final authority for decision remained with the District Judge. "Were the broad provisions of General Order No. 104-D . . . before us, the Secretary might have grounds to complain. As applied, the rule is not vulnerable to the attack here mounted." 503 F. 2d, at 1051. The Court of Appeals thus reached a decision squarely in conflict with the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Ingram v. Richardson, 471 F.2d 1268 (1972). We granted certiorari, 420 U.S. 989 (1975),
After several years of study, the Congress in 1968 enacted the Federal Magistrates Act, 28 U. S. C. § 631 et seq. The Act abolished the office of United States commissioner, and sought to "reform the first echelon of the Federal judiciary into an effective component of a modern scheme of justice by establishing a system of U. S. magistrates." S. Rep. No. 371, 90th Cong., 1st Sess., 8 (1967) (hereafter Senate Report). In order to improve the former system and to attract the most competent men and women to the office, the Act in essence made the position analogous to the career service, replacing the fee system of compensation with substantial salaries; the Act also gave both full- and part-time magistrates a definite term of office, and required that wherever possible the district courts appoint only members of the bar to serve as magistrates. Magistrates took over most of the duties of the commissioners, and the Act gave them new authority to try a broad range of misdemeanors with the consent of the parties.
Title 28 U. S. C. § 636 (b) outlines a procedure by which the district courts may call upon magistrates to perform other functions, in both civil and criminal cases. It provides:
The three examples § 636 (b) sets out are, as the statute itself states, not exclusive. The Senate sponsor of the legislation, Senator Tydings, testified in the House hearings:
See also Hearings on the Federal Magistrates Act before the Subcommittee on Improvements in Judicial Machinery of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 89th
Section 636 (b) was included to "permit . . . the U. S. district courts to assign magistrates, as officers of the courts, a variety of functions . . . presently performable only by the judges themselves." Senate Report 12. In enacting this section and in expanding the criminal jurisdiction conferred upon magistrates, Congress hoped by "increasing the scope of the responsibilities that can be discharged by that office, . . . to establish a system capable of increasing the overall efficiency of the Federal judiciary . . . ." Id., at 11.
The Act grew from Congress' recognition that a multitude of new statutes and regulations had created an avalanche of additional work for the district courts which could be performed only by multiplying the number of judges or giving judges additional assistance. The Secretary argues that Congress intended the transfer to magistrates of simply the irksome, ministerial tasks; respondent
Congress manifested concern as well as enthusiasm, however, in considering the Act. Several witnesses, including the Director of the Administrative Office and representatives of the Justice Department, expressed some fear that Congress might improperly delegate to magistrates duties reserved by the Constitution to Article III judges. Senate Hearings 107-128, 241n; House Hearings 123-128.
We need not define the full reach of a magistrate's authority under the Act, or reach the broad provisions of General Order No. 104-D, in order to decide this case. Under the part of the order at issue the magistrates perform a limited function which falls well within the range of duties Congress empowered the district courts to assign to them. The magistrate is directed to conduct a preliminary review of a closed administrative record— closed because under § 205 (g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U. S. C. § 405 (g), neither party may put any additional evidence before the district court. The magistrate gives only a recommendation to the judge, and only on the single, narrow issue: is there in the record substantial evidence to support the Secretary's decision?
The magistrate's limited role in this type of case nonetheless substantially assists the district judge in the performance of his judicial function, and benefits both him and the parties. A magistrate's review helps focus the court's attention on the relevant portions of what may be a voluminous record, from a point of view as neutral as that of an Article III judge. Review also helps the court move directly to those legal arguments made by the parties that find some support in the record. Finally, the magistrate's report puts before the district judge a preliminary evaluation of the cumulative effect of the evidence in the record, to which the parties may address argument, and in this way narrows the dispute. Each step of the process takes place with the full participation of the parties. They know precisely what recommendations the judge is receiving and may frame their arguments accordingly.
We conclude that in the context of this case the preliminary-review function assigned to the magistrate, and
The Secretary argues that the magistrate, in taking this reference, functions as a special master. From this premise, the Secretary asks us to hold that a general rule requiring automatic reference in a category of cases does not comply with the mandate of Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 53 (b) that "reference to a master shall be the exception and not the rule," made in nonjury cases "only upon a showing that some exceptional condition requires it." He also argues that, for similar reasons, the reference here is
Section 636 (b) expressly provides that a district court may, in an appropriate case and in accordance with Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 53, call upon a magistrate to act as a special master. But the statute also is clear that not every reference, for whatever purpose, is to be characterized as a reference to a special master. It treats references to the magistrate acting as master quite separately in subsection (1), indicating by its structure that other references are of a different sort. Moreover, Rule 53 (e) provides that, in nonjury cases referred to a master, the court shall accept any finding of fact that is not clearly erroneous. Under the reference in this case, however, the judge remains free to give the magistrate's recommendation whatever weight the judge decides it merits. It cannot be said, therefore, that the magistrate acts as a special master in the sense that either Rule 53 or the Federal Magistrates Act uses that term. The order of reference at issue does not constitute the magistrate a special master.
The Secretary argues that the magistrate will be a master in fact because the judge will accept automatically the recommendation made in every case. Nothing
Our decision in La Buy v. Howes Leather Co., supra, does not call for a different result. In La Buy, the District Judge on his own motion referred to a special master two complex, protracted antitrust cases on the eve of trial. The cases had been pending before him for several years, he had heard pretrial motions, and he was familiar with the issues involved. The master, a member of the bar, was to hear and decide the entire case, subject to review by the District Judge under the "clearly erroneous" test. The judge cited the problems attendant to docket congestion to satisfy Rule 53's requirement that a reference to a special master be justified by "exceptional circumstances." The Court held that on these facts reference was not permissible and affirmed the Court of Appeals' supervisory prohibition.
La Buy, although nearly two decades past, is the most recent of our cases dealing with special masters, and our decision today does not erode it.
Finally, our decision in Wingo v. Wedding, 418 U.S. 461 (1974), does not bear on this case. The Secretary has abandoned any claim that the statute giving the District Court jurisdiction of the case in the first instance, 42 U. S. C. § 405 (g), precludes reference to a magistrate. It was the Court's reading of the habeas corpus statute, 28 U. S. C. § 2243, that formed the basis for the holding in Wingo v. Wedding.
MR. JUSTICE STEVENS took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
"(A) Actions to review administrative determinations re entitlement to benefits under the Social Security Act and related statutes, including but not limited to actions filed under 42 U. S. C. § 405 (g).
"(B) Actions filed by the United States or a carrier to review, implement or restrain orders of the Interstate Commerce Commission re freight overcharges, including but not limited to actions under 28 U. S. C. § 1336 and 49 U. S. C. § 304a.
"(C) Actions, whether in the form of judicial review, habeas corpus or otherwise, for review of orders and other actions of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Included, but not by way of limitation, are actions involving deportation orders, denial of preference classification visas and denial of petitions to adjust status.
"(D) Actions for review of adjudications by the Civil Service Commission, or the various departments or agencies, involving personnel actions such as wrongful discharge, reductions in force, transfers, retirements, etc.
"(E) Actions for review of an order of any branch or establishment of the military service denying discharge of petitioner from the military, whether such actions are brought in the form of petitions for judicial review, habeas corpus or actions for declaratory relief and injunction.
"(F) Actions filed pursuant to 18 U. S. C. § 923 (f) (3) to review administrative decisions denying applications for licenses to engage in business as a firearms or ammunition importer, manufacturer or dealer.
"(G) Actions to review administrative decisions by the Department of Labor denying applications for alien employment certification required pursuant to the provisions of 8 U. S. C. § 1182 (a) (14)."
The petition for certiorari raises only the issue of the propriety of the part of subsection (A) of the General Order that authorizes reference of cases brought under 42 U. S. C. § 405 (g), and we intimate no opinion on the validity of its other provisions.
"Magistrates are judicial officers of the Federal district courts. . . . They may also be authorized to screen prisoner petitions, hold pretrial conferences in civil and criminal cases, hear certain preliminary motions, review social security appeals, review Narcotics Addict Rehabilitation Act matters, and serve as special masters. In short, they render valuable assistance to the judges of the district courts, thereby freeing the time of those judges for the actual trial of cases." S. Rep. No. 92-1065, p. 3 (1972) (emphasis added).
The Administrative Office of the United States Courts, the statutory body that supervises the administrative aspects of the Act pursuant to 28 U. S. C. § 604 (d) (1), reads the Act in the same way. It has distributed a "checklist" of magistrate duties that includes review of Social Security appeals brought under 42 U. S. C. § 405 (g). Judicial Conference of the United States, Committee on the Administration of the Federal Magistrates System, Duties Which Might Be Assigned to U. S. Magistrates (Mar. 14, 1975). The Administrative Office first noted in its 1972 report that district courts were assigning Social Security appeals to magistrates under the 1968 Act. Administrative Office of the U. S. Courts, Annual Report of the Director VI-8 (1972).
Several courts have relied upon these arguments to one extent or another in disapproving references that involved a broader grant of authority to the magistrate. See, e. g., Flowers v. Crouch-Walker Corp., 507 F.2d 1378 (CA7 1974); TPO, Inc. v. McMillen, 460 F.2d 348 (CA7 1972); Reed v. Board of Election Comm'rs, 459 F.2d 121 (CA1 1972).