A “Special Master” or “master” is generally a private individual appointed by a court to carry out an express directive on its or the parties’ behalf in a pending action. New York courts commonly employ Special Masters to carry out a variety of express tasks in civil cases. In complex litigation, the use of Special Masters, or referees as they are sometimes called in New York state court, is pervasive and can be strategically utilized to the benefit of the parties and the court alike.
Authority for the Use of Special Masters
In federal court, it has long been common practice for courts to appoint Special Masters to perform a variety of pre- and post-trial duties. Unlike magistrate judges, who are full-time, salaried officers of the court, Special Masters are usually private individuals appointed for a specific purpose in a specific case or set of related cases. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 53(a)(1) authorizes the court to appoint a Special Master to:
(A) Perform duties consented to by the parties.
(B) Hold trial proceedings and make or recommend findings of fact on issues to be decided without a jury, if appointment is warranted by:
(i) some exceptional condition; or
(ii) the need to perform an accounting or resolve a difficult computation of damages.
(C) Address pretrial and post-trial matters that cannot be effectively and timely addressed by an available district judge or magistrate judge of the district.