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Santos-Santos v. Torres-Centeno

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

November 23, 2016

WILMARY SANTOS-SANTOS, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
REYNALDO TORRES-CENTENO, ET AL., Defendants, Appellees.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO [Hon. Pedro A. Delgado-Hernández, U.S. District Judge]

          Eric C. Marion, with whom Law Office of Eric Marion was on brief, for appellant.

          Michelle Camacho-Nieves, Assistant Solicitor General of Puerto Rico, with whom Margarita L. Mercado-Echegaray, Solicitor General of Puerto Rico, was on brief, for appellee.

          Before Lynch, Selya, and Lipez, Circuit Judges.

          LIPEZ, Circuit Judge.

         Appellant Wilmary Santos-Santos ("Santos"), an officer with the Puerto Rico Police Department ("PRPD"), filed this employment discrimination case against the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the PRPD, and a number of her coworkers under various federal and Puerto Rico statutes. Santos alleges that she was transferred against her wishes to a different department within the PRPD after she co-signed a sexual harassment complaint against a coworker, acted as a witness in a separate investigation of that coworker, and filed an unrelated complaint regarding the misuse of police property by her superiors. Santos sought compensatory and punitive damages, as well as an injunction barring the PRPD from further discrimination.

         The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on all of Santos's claims in two rulings in August 2012 and November 2014. On appeal, Santos attempts to challenge both entries of summary judgment. Because Santos failed to adhere to procedural requirements relating to the dispositions of a magistrate judge as set forth by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b) and Puerto Rico Local Rule 72(d), we affirm the district court's decisions without reaching the merits of Santos's claims.

         I.

         We recount in detail the complicated procedural history of this case because it is determinative of the appeal. Santos filed this action in January 2011. While several discovery motions were pending before the district court, the defendants moved for summary judgment. Instead of filing a standard opposition to the defendants' summary judgment motion, Santos, citing Rule 56(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, filed a response asserting that she still required certain documents that were among her discovery requests to effectively counter the defendants' motion. In August 2012 the district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on nearly all of Santos's claims, [1] finding that her attempted reliance on pending discovery related only to her First Amendment claim -- which the court dismissed for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted under Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006).[2] Only Santos's retaliation claims under Title VII and Law 115 survived, and the court instructed Santos to file her opposition to the summary judgment motion on these issues.

         After Santos filed her opposition memorandum, the district court dismissed her Title VII retaliation claims against individual defendants Gregorio Merced-Vázquez, Reynaldo Torres-Centeno, William Ruiz-Borrás, and Miguel Santiago-Rivera, and her Law 115 claim against William Ruiz-Borrás. At that point, the surviving claims consisted of Santos's Title VII claims against the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the PRPD and her Law 115 claims against the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the PRPD, Merced-Vázquez, Torres-Centeno, and Santiago-Rivera.

         Defendants next filed a motion for reconsideration, asking the court to dismiss the case in its entirety, which the court denied. While the defendants' motion for reconsideration was pending, Santos sought interlocutory review in this court of the order dismissing her other claims. We concluded that we did not have jurisdiction to hear her appeal at that time, dismissed the interlocutory appeal without prejudice, and returned the case to the district court.

         Discovery thus proceeded as the case moved toward trial. In June 2014, however, defendants filed a second motion for summary judgment on the remaining claims in light of the Supreme Court's decision in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, 133 S.Ct. 2517 (2013).[3] Santos filed her opposition, and the court referred the matter to a magistrate judge, who recommended that the motion be granted. Santos did not file an objection to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation within the fourteen-day deadline prescribed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b) and Puerto Rico Local Rule 72(d). On November 20, 2014, the district judge adopted the magistrate judge's report and recommendation in full and entered final judgment dismissing Santos's claims with prejudice. In its dismissal order the court noted that "[a]bsent objection . . . [a] district court ha[s] a right to assume that [the affected party] agree[s] with the magistrate judge's recommendation" and that the court "needs only [to] satisfy itself by ascertaining that there is no 'plain error' on the face of the record." Santos-Santos v. P. R. Police Dep't., 63 F.Supp.3d 181, 184 (D.P.R. 2014) (quoting Lopez-Mulero v. Velez-Colon, 490 F.Supp.2d 214, 217-18 (D.P.R. 2007)).

         On the same day that final judgment was entered, Santos responded by filing a "Motion to Reconsider and Set Aside Memorandum and Order as Well as Judgment." Santos complained that her lawyer was out of the jurisdiction when the magistrate judge posted his report and recommendation and, hence, did not see that it had been issued until final judgment was entered. She also asserted that because there was no docket entry informing parties of the motion's referral, her lawyer was never aware that it had been assigned to a magistrate judge. Santos asked the court to set aside its judgment dismissing her case and requested that she be given an opportunity to object to the report and recommendation.

         The district court chose to view Santos's motion as a "request for reconsideration, " but it responded by cautioning Santos as follows in an electronic ...


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