What's so Special for a Special Master?

In re Alford
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-22-00240-CV (May 16, 2022)
Before Justices Osborne (Opinion), Partida-Kipness, and Smith
In re Alford
concerns the sua sponte appointment of a Special Master to determine a pending plea to the jurisdiction and rule on future discovery disputes. Concluding that the appointment was not supported by findings from the trial court that “good cause” existed or that the case was “exceptional” under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 171, the Fifth Court of Appeals conditionally granted the petition for writ of mandamus.

Without a request or consent from the parties, the trial court appointed a Special Master under Rule 171. The Order required the parties to compensate the Special Master at $500 per hour, and granted him broad authority, including the ability to have ex parte communications with the court, parties, and witnesses. Although the Order stated that “good cause exists in this exceptional case” for a Special Master, it did not specify facts or circumstances in support.

The Court of Appeals determined that the appointment did not meet the requirements of Rule 171. There were no pending discovery disputes. In addition, the record did not demonstrate that the case was “unusually complicated” or required “special knowledge.” As such, without the consent of the parties, the appointment of the Special Master was a clear abuse of discretion, and mandamus relief was warranted.
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