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Estrada v. Walls


January 25, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge


Commenced four years ago, this prisoner civil rights action originally was assigned to District Judge James L. Foreman and Magistrate Judge Gerald B. Cohn. Judge Cohn entered a trial practice schedule in August 2004 (Doc. 18) containing a discovery cutoff of February 14, 2005 and a dispositive motion cutoff of March 1, 2005.

After Judge Cohn's retirement, the Honorable Donald G. Wilkerson assumed the Magistrate Judge duties on the case. Motions were filed and briefed by pro se Plaintiff Estrada and Defendants. In May 2005, Judge Wilkerson entered a new scheduling order which extended the deadlines for discovery completion and motion filing (see Doc. 29).

Those deadlines were extended again in November 2005, in an Order which also partially granted Plaintiff's pro se motion to compel discovery responses from Defendants (see Doc. 33). In the Fall of 2006, Magistrate Judge Wilkerson set a final pretrial conference in the case and appointed counsel for Estrada. The case was reassigned to the undersigned District Judge in mid-December 2006.

On January 10, 2007, Plaintiff moved to amend the complaint and extend the discovery schedule. After conducting the final pretrial conference the following day (a conference which had been continued twice at the request of Plaintiff's counsel, see Docs. 60-64), Judge Wilkerson granted the motion to amend complaint but denied the motion to extend the discovery schedule. Plaintiff now challenges that denial via objection filed on January 22, 2007 (Doc. 72).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a) permits a party dissatisfied with a Magistrate Judge's ruling on a nondispositive matter to appeal to the District Judge on the case by filing "objections" to the Magistrate Judge's order. Rule 72(a) provides:

The district judge ... shall modify or set aside any portion of the magistrate judge's order found to be clearly erroneous or contrary to law.

In the case at bar, Estrada complains that he would have had the assistance of counsel to conduct discovery, if the Court had appointed him an attorney sooner. Essentially, he contends that the October 2006 appointment of counsel required Magistrate Judge Wilkerson to reopen discovery in the case. The Court disagrees.

Nothing requires the appointment of counsel in a civil case. Moreover, Estrada did not sit idly while awaiting counsel. He capably filed motions and responded to motions while proceeding pro se. Additionally, the discovery deadline had been extended twice already (as had the dispositive motion deadline and the final pretrial conference date) when Estrada's counsel filed the latest motion to extend discovery.

Federal judges enjoy wide latitude in managing their dockets, setting discovery deadlines, and ruling on motions to continue. See, e.g., U.S. v. Firishchak, 468 F.3d 1015, 1023 (7th Cir. 2006); U.S. v. Rinaldi, 461 F.3d 922, 929 (7th Cir. 2006); Deere & Co. v. Ohio Gear, 462 F.3d 701, 706 (7th Cir. 2006). This case is four years old. The motion in question was filed late in the proceedings (one day before the final pretrial conference and three months after Plaintiff's counsel entered his appearance). Judge Wilkerson's denial of a third extension of the discovery deadlines was neither clearly erroneous nor contrary to law. For all these reasons, the Court OVERRULES the objection (Doc. 72) to Judge Wilkerson's ruling (Doc. 69). The Court notes that the objection refers to a June 2007 trial date. The actual trial date is June 23, 2008 (see Doc. 70). However, the Court hereby VACATES that setting, as both parties now have consented to final disposition by Judge Wilkerson (see Docs. 11 & 71). Judge Wilkerson will select a new trial date based on his calendar/docket.


Michael J. Reagan United States District Judge


© 1992-2007 VersusLaw Inc.

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