What Is a “Special Master” and Why Is It Important (or Not) in Real Estate Law?

by Isaac Benmergui, Esq on February 3, 2014

We’ve all heard of mediators, and they are imperative in many niches, most specifically in something like divorce law. No one wants to see a soon-to-be ex-married couple go toe to toe in the greatest grudge match of all time in a court of law, so what do most cases expect? A mediator. They’re like peacekeepers. Who would’ve thought that they’d be integral in real estate law? And that’s exactly what a “special master” is.mediator

We’re looking at a unique style of dispute-resolver, typically appointed by a judge for the purpose of overseeing several aspects of litigation, if necessary. We could potentially see one either in a pre-trial hearing, or during the trial, or even after the trial. Whatever the case, the purpose of a special master is to resolve any conflict.

They’re not always required, though – and in this case between the Georgia Sheriffs Youth Homes, Inc. and Mary Jane Nelson, that is purely evident. There was an action involving title between these two entities, and the court granted a summary judgment for the Youth Homes. However, Nelson filed an appeal, arguing that there was an error in granting that judgment due to the fact that there was no final report filed by the special master.

Unfortunately, the law specifically states this: if no demand for a jury trial is filed prior to the time he hears the case, the special master is the arbiter of law and fact and decides all issues in the case. Fair enough, except for this one important fact: a jury trial was demanded before even a special master could hold a hearing. Therefore…. There was no need for such a special master to proceed with matters. There was no error, and therefore no reversal. Case closed.

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