(a) Master and Special Referee Defined. The term "master" means the master-in-equity for the county. The term "special referee" means a member of the South Carolina Bar to whom a matter has been referred under S.C. Code Ann. § 14-11-60.
(b) References. In an action where the parties consent, in a default case, or an action for foreclosure, some or all of the causes of action in a case may be referred to a master or special referee by order of a circuit judge or the clerk of court. In all other actions, the circuit court may, upon application of any party or upon its own motion, direct a reference of some or all of the causes of action in a case. Any party may request a jury pursuant to Rule 38 on any or all issues triable of right by a jury and, upon the filing of a jury demand, the matter shall be returned to the circuit court. A case shall not be referred to a master or special referee for the purpose of making a report to the circuit court. The clerk shall promptly provide the master or special referee with a copy of the order of reference.
(c) Powers. Once referred, the master or special referee shall exercise all power and authority which a circuit judge sitting without a jury would have in a similar matter.
(d) Compensation of Special Referees. The compensation of the special referee shall be paid by the parties in such amount as shall be set by the special referee, subject to review by the circuit court upon objection by any party within ten (10) days of receipt of the order.
(e) Appeals. When a matter has been referred, any appeal from any order or judgment issued by the master or special referee shall be to the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals as provided by the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules.
This Rule 53 follows the Federal Rule as to form but is considerably modified to conform to State practice and needs. References in Federal Courts are rare, but absolutely necessary in State Courts, particularly to handle a large volume of State litigation such as foreclosures, partitions, and other equity matters. The State practice allowing judgment to be entered on the master's report in appropriate cases is preserved, as is the allowance of 10 days to file exceptions to the report. Other post-trial motions, such as a motion to amend judgment under Rule 52(b), would apply when the order of reference directs that judgment be entered on the master's report, just as they apply in actions tried by the court.
Rule 53(c) is amended to make clear that the master has the same powers as a court sitting without a jury unless the order of reference limits his authority. Changes in that paragraph as well as Rule 53(d) leave the scheduling of the time and place of the hearings to the master. Rule 53(e)(1) is amended to remove the need for filing the transcript of proceedings if one has not been prepared, but Rule 53(e)(2) allows any party to obtain the transcript of proceedings before any hearing on exceptions to the master's report. Rule 53(e)(5) now authorizes the master to request briefs or proposed orders from counsel.
This Rule 53(b) amendment clarifies the authority of the clerk of court to issue orders of reference in default cases and where all the parties consent.
This amendment substantially revises this rule. It eliminates the practice of referring a matter for the purpose of making a report to the circuit court. Under the revised rule, the master or special referee will enter final judgment on any matter which is referred and any appeal from a decision of the master or special referee is to the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court as provided by the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules. The detailed discussion of the powers of masters and special referees, and the procedure to be followed in matters pending before them, has been eliminated as unnecessary since the master or special referee has all the powers that a circuit court judge sitting without a jury would have in the matter and the procedure is that provided by the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure.
Rule 53(d) is amended to provide that fees for special referees are set by the special referee subject to review by the circuit court if a party timely objects.
The 2002 amendment permits referral of foreclosure cases to the master-in-equity by order of the clerk of court. If there are counterclaims requiring a jury trial, any party may file a demand for a jury under Rule 38 and the case will be returned to the circuit court.
Last Amended by Order effective September 1, 2002.