Chapter 4: Federal Courts in Oregon
Civil practice in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon is changing rapidly as a result of the court’s increase in filings, number of judges and clerks and the complexity of issues presented. Federal civil practice and procedure are now focused upon pretrial work which is increasingly concerned with committing each party’s case to paper.
U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon: U.S. District Courts are created by statute. The state of Oregon constitutes one judicial district. Court is held at Coquille, Eugene, Klamath Falls, Medford, Pendleton and Portland. In addition, court may be held at any place in the district that a judge directs. The judges of the court are appointed by the president, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.
Each judge, with one exception, has an office in the U.S. Courthouse in Portland. The other office is in Eugene. Regular court sessions are scheduled at the Portland and Eugene court facilities. Special sessions of the court are held in the district court facilities in Medford and Pendleton as business requires. When court sits in Coquille, Klamath Falls or other places, arrangements are generally made for temporary use of state court facilities.
Although district courtrooms are often made available to administrative law judges, arbiters and hearings offices, the clerk’s office does not schedule hearings or receive or maintain records for the agencies involved. The administrative staffs of the agencies should be consulted for information concerning any particular case.
Local rules for the United States District Court for the District of Oregon took effect on July 1, 1982. Copies of the local rules may be obtained from the clerk’s office for a minimal fee.
Jurisdiction: The territorial jurisdiction of the Federal District of Oregon is identical to the state of Oregon, although its jurisdiction may extend on the Columbia River north of the Oregon boundary.
Generally, jurisdiction of a particular subject matter requires the existence of a federal question which arises under the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States. As a rule, no minimum monetary amount in controversy is required for federal cases, except cases arising under the Consumer Product Safety Act.
Civil Case Management: Two basic systems are used for assigning cases to judges: the “individual calendar” system, under which a case does not become the responsibility of a single judge until it is actually set for a specific trial date. Until 1981, most cases in the district were processed through a master calendar procedure.
Management of civil cases is now governed by certain additional procedures. Civil cases are classified as “central calendar cases” and “assigned cases.” When initially filed, all cases are “central calendar cases” and remain so until assigned to a particular judge. Generally, cases are assigned to a particular judge or magistrate upon the lodging of a pretrial order (an order embodying the terms and stipulations agreed upon at a pre-trial hearing or meeting). Assigned cases also include Social Security cases, class actions and other cases as assigned by the chief judge or the calendar management committee based on the particular nature of the case or because of a judge’s involvement or investment of time and effort.
Central Calendar Cases: Central calendar cases are managed on a master calendar concept. A judge will not be assigned until the pretrial order is lodged. The court’s local rules governing all motion procedures apply to central calendar cases. An original copy of all documents should be filed with the clerk’s office. Scheduling is done by the clerk’s office. Appearances, conferences and hearings may be conducted by any judge or magistrate. At the commencement of an action, each party is given a form of consent to a magistrate hearing all matters and entering judgment, an order establishing a date for completion of discovery within 150 days and for lodging of a pretrial order within 180 days. A motion for extension of such times must be filed before the established date. The motion must be supported by affidavit and set forth good cause and appropriate use of prior time. Upon filing of such a motion for extension of time, a conference will be set before the judge or magistrate monitoring the central calendar on the second Monday after filing in Portland, and in Eugene on the second Tuesday after filing.
Assigned Cases: In all assigned cases, original documents should be filed by the parties with the clerk, and the extra copy should be delivered by the parties directly to the judge to whom the case is assigned. Upon assignment, notification is given to the parties that the case number is changed by the addition of letters indicating the assigned judge or magistrate and that, thereafter, all scheduling including the setting of hearings and trial date is done by that judge or magistrate.
Either at the same time or shortly after the notification of assignment, the parties will be informed of the specific intentions and requirements of the judge to whom the case is assigned. The assigned judge will set a time for a preliminary pretrial conference at which all aspects of the case will be discussed and schedules will be set. The conference may be conducted by telephone.
Special Handling: Certain types of actions receive special handling:
Government actions for recovery of money upon guaranteed student loans and overpayments of Veterans Administration benefits. No conferences or status reports are scheduled. Upon filing of the complaint, each party is given an order establishing a date for completion of discovery (presently 90 days from filing) and for lodging of the pretrial order (presently 120 days from filing).
Actions against the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services relating to Social Security benefits or claims for Social Security benefits. Again no conferences, calendar, or status reports are scheduled by the clerk. At the time of filing, the clerk must provide the parties with a copy of the special order for Social Security review cases. Upon submission of the action for summary judgment these cases are assigned to district judges and magistrates.
Civil Action: A civil action is commenced by filing a complaint with the court. Actions arising in the northern section of the district are filed with the clerk in Portland. Actions arising in the southern section of the district are filed with the clerk in Eugene.
Upon filing a complaint the clerk issues a summons and delivers it to the marshal or any other person authorized to serve. Summons can be by anyone who is not a party to the litigation and 18 years of age or older. In most cases in the Oregon District Court, however, the marshal cannot serve summons except in cases involving indigent defendants, seamen, on behalf of the United States and certain circumstances under court order. Upon request of the plaintiff, separate or additional summonses shall be issued against any defendants. Summons can also be issued by first-class mail, following special procedures and forms available through the court.
The summons is “issued” by the clerk when it is signed and sealed by the clerk or clerk’s deputy. The time within which a party may answer or otherwise respond is generally 20 days for a party served within the District of Oregon and 60 days when service is made upon the United States or any agency or official thereof.
Motion Practice: Motions are calendared by the clerk’s office on the fourth Monday after filing in Portland and on the fourth Monday after filing in Portland and on the fourth Tuesday after filing in Eugene if the motion does not pertain to discovery. An original copy of the motion and supporting materials are filed with the clerk. Two weeks before the scheduled motion date, a tentative motion calendar is prepared which apportions motions in unassigned cases among the judges and magistrates available for hearing on the calendar day. Approximately 10 to 12 days before the scheduled date of hearing, notice of the setting is given to counsel by the clerk.
Discovery motions are calendared for the second Monday after filing in Portland, and in Eugene on the Tuesday following the second Monday after the motion is filed.
Upon representation of an attorney that no party affected has an objection to a continuance, the clerk may grant an application to calendar a motion one week later than its regularly scheduled time, in either Portland or Eugene. The application must be made within one week after the motion is filed. Thereafter, continuances may be granted only by the court.
If oral argument is desired on a motion, a request must be endorsed on the motion, statement in opposition or reply to the statement. The determination whether to hear arguments will be made by the judge or magistrate deciding the motion. If no such request is made by any party, the motion will be decided on the written submissions. Special arrangements must be made in an application for a temporary restraining order and motion for preliminary injunction. Ex parte motions upon other central calendar cases are submitted to the clerk’s office for presentation to a judicial officer by the clerk. Counsel’s appearance will not be required unless requested by the court.
Pretrial Order: A trial judge is assigned to central calendar cases upon lodging the pretrial order. The pretrial order forms the framework for the pretrial conference or conferences.
Agreed facts may be collected from the pleadings, answers to discovery, and additional matter about which there is no dispute. These agreed facts may serve as the basis for motions for summary judgment.
A party’s contentions should include contentions of fact and law. These contentions should be sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss or, if appropriate, a motion for summary judgment and should include appropriate denial of an opposing party’s contentions which otherwise may be considered admitted.
Pretrial Conference: Following the lodging of the proposed pretrial order, the assigned judge will schedule a preliminary pretrial conference either by telephone conference call or by personal appearance. The attorney who will try the case must participate in the conference unless permission for substitution is granted in advance. If an attorney does not have authority to discuss settlement, the client or representative of the client with such authority must also be present. In addition to settlement, counsel should be prepared to discuss their estimates of the number of expert and lay witnesses, length of trial, the basic legal and factual questions involved, any special problems anticipated, the dates for further pretrial conferences and for trial and whether the trial is by jury or to the court. Thereafter, the judge or magistrate will issue an order confirming the dates and establishing pretrial requirements.
The trial date will be set by and may only be changed by the judge or magistrate to whom the case is assigned. Usually, all actions are tried where they are filed, either in Portland or Eugene.
The federal rules of evidence apply generally to all civil actions and proceedings, including admiralty and maritime cases, to criminal cases and proceedings, to contempt proceedings except those in which the court may act summarily, and to proceedings and cases under the bankruptcy act. During a trial in the Oregon District Court attorneys may not approach the bench or witness without leave of the trial judge. All papers and items submitted to the court or a witness during a trial must be handed to the bailiff.
All exhibits, except those which the court has specifically authorized to be secret, must be marked in advance of the trial and must be reviewed by counsel for all parties. Without leave of court, no exhibits may be introduced at trial that have not been previously marked.
Juries: In a civil case any party may demand a trial by a jury of six or twelve persons. In criminal cases, the number of jurors is 12. Alternate jurors may be selected in such numbers as the trial judge determines. Challenges for cause (bias) are taken orally. Peremptory challenges (discretionary) are exercised in writing.
The Clerk’s Office: In addition to maintaining the file, the clerk keeps a “docket” sheet for each case. An abstract notation is made in the appropriate docket of each paper filed, every process issued and all appearances, orders, verdicts and judgments. The date that the order or judgment is actually noted on the docket is the effective date of the order or judgment for purposes of appeal.
Case Numbering: The case number assigned at the time of filing indicates the year in which the case was filed. For example, 99-136 was the 136th civil action filed in 1999. To distinguish cases filed in Eugene, the case number consists of the year followed by four digits beginning with 6, such as 82-6042 was the 42nd case in Eugene in 1982. Suffixes may be added to indicate the judge assigned to the case. The initial “C” stands for Coquille; “M” is Medford; and “P” is Pendleton.
U.S. Magistrates: U.S. magistrates are appointed by the judges of the court. Full-time magistrates are appointed for a term of eight years; part-time magistrates serve a four-year term. Part-time magistrate positions are authorized for Pendleton, Bend and Coos Bay.
Jurisdiction and Powers of Magistrates: The jurisdiction and powers of the magistrates have been broadly interpreted by the U.S. District Court for Oregon. In addition to traditional powers conferred upon U.S. commissioners and their power to conduct trials of minor offenders, a magistrate may be designated to hear and determine any pretrial matter except motions: for injunctive relief; for judgment on pleadings; for summary judgment; to dismiss or quash an indictment or information; to suppress evidence in a criminal case; to dismiss or to prevent maintenance of a class action; to dismiss for failure to state a claim; and to involuntarily dismiss an action. The district judge may designate a magistrate to conduct hearings, and to submit to a judge proposed findings of fact and recommendations for disposition of those motions and for “applications for post-trial relief made by individuals convicted of criminal offenses and of prisoner petitions challenging conditions of confinement.” In these cases the magistrate files proposed findings and recommendations with the court and a copy is mailed to the parties.
The judge will determine whether to conduct a new hearing or hear arguments or may make a determination based on the record developed before the magistrate. Additionally, the judge may accept, reject or modify, in whole or in part, the magistrate’s findings and recommendations, receive new evidence, recall witnesses or recommit the matter to the magistrate with instructions.
The court has further specially designated the full-time magistrates to conduct any or all proceedings in jury or nonjury civil actions and to order the entry of judgments when consent to exercise such jurisdiction is given by the parties. Upon entry of judgment in such a case, an aggrieved party may appeal directly to the appropriate U.S. Court of Appeals from the judgment of the magistrate in the same manner as an appeal from any other district court judge.
Bankruptcy Court: Oregon has four full-time judges of the bankruptcy court. Three are in office in Portland; one is in Eugene. In addition to holding court regularly in Portland and Eugene, bankruptcy judges conduct hearings in Pendleton, Roseburg, Klamath Falls, Medford, Bend, Astoria, Seaside, Tillamook, The Dalles, Coos Bay, La Grande, Lincoln City, Albany, Grants Pass, Salem and Coquille. Initial petitions in bankruptcy filed on behalf of persons residing in Coos, Curry, Douglas, Klamath, Lake, Lane, Jackson and Josephine counties are filed with the bankruptcy court in Eugene. Initial petitions for persons residing in any other county in the district are filed with the bankruptcy court in Portland.
The judges of the court appoint a clerk who appoints deputies who may act in the name and with the authority of the clerk. The principal office of the clerk is in Portland. A divisional clerk’s office is in Eugene. The clerk’s duties include maintenance of court records and the docket and schedules.
Major Areas of Difference Between State and Federal Courts in Oregon: Significant differences occur between state court and federal court systems. These include:
- Different statutory systems (state Oregon Revised Statutes v. federal United States Code);
- Different procedures for handling of cases (federal courts tend to allow more discovery);
- Different privileges as far as excluding evidence (state courts tend to have more evidentiary privileges);
- Different case law precedents (the likely results of a case may vary greatly depending upon which court suit is brought in); and
- Different fee and cost structures depending on type of case (the costs to try a case vary greatly between state and federal courts).
Oregon Cases in Other Federal Courts: The federal judiciary includes not only the local U.S. District Courts and regional numbered Circuit Courts of Appeal (Oregon in the 9th Circuit), but a number of specialized federal courts including:
U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. : The ultimate appeal court, and a special trial court for suits between states;
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit: a national court of appeals in Washington, D.C. with jurisdiction over many types of suits against the United States (monetary claims, taxes, customs, contracts, etc.) and ALL patent appeals form any federal court;
U.S. Court of Federal Claims: a national trial court in Washington, D.C., with jurisdiction over many types of suits against the United States (monetary claims, taxes, customs, contracts, etc.);
U.S. Tax Court: a national trial court in Washington, D.C. for tax refund cases and a few types of other tax cases;
U.S. Court of International Trade in New York City: the trial court for most customs cases and some types of related cases;
U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals in Washington, D.C.: a new court for veterans claims appeals.
Federal Jurisdiction of Oregon Cases in Other States: Besides Oregon cases in the federal courts listed above, federal law allows Oregonians to sue and be sued in other federal district courts, depending upon the facts and nature of the case.
In addition, federal law allows for consolidation of similar cases in multiple district courts into a single federal district court. Typical of these cases are product liability cases, major airline crash cases, etc.
Also bankruptcy courts and district courts handling limitation of liability admiralty cases can force all related cases to be brought in the same proceeding.