When your company is sued for a business tort and/or breach of contract, you inevitably have many concerns. One of those is making sure there’s fairness, including fairness concerning the appointment of people who will make factual findings. If an improper person is named in your case, you can take action, but you must know how to take action. Having an experienced Atlanta commercial litigation attorney on your side can pay invaluable benefits to you and your business when it comes to ensuring that your process is a fair one.
Here in Georgia, the court rules allow a judge to appoint what’s called a “special master.” A special master, under the rules, may potentially address the parties’ pre-trial motions, conduct accountings, hold trial proceedings, and make recommended findings of fact, among other things. In other words, this master may have many jobs similar to things a judge might do.
The person holding this role should be free of conflicts. If that’s not the case, then you can potentially use the appointment of an improper master as the basis for a successful appeal, as a recent business tort case from South Georgia illustrates.
The business was originally owned by two women, P.A. and J.M., who formed an LLC in 1998 to develop and operate a hotel in Lake Park. Eventually, J.M. transferred half of her ownership stake to her husband, D.M.
Years later, the relationship had soured and P.A., who owned 25% of the company, sued. Her lawsuit asserted claims against the company, J.M., and D.M. for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty.
As part of that lawsuit, the judge appointed a special master. The court rules are explicit that a master must not have a special relationship with the parties, their attorneys, the case, or the court. Specifically, any special relationship that, under similar circumstances, would require the disqualification of a judge is something that should preclude a particular person from serving as a master, unless all parties consent and the judge approves.
In this LLC’s case, the man who became the special master was someone who had exchanged private correspondence with P.A.’s attorney, including discussions of trial strategy. That man was also on P.A.’s potential witness list. This alone was enough to mean that this man should not have been the special master in this case.
Additionally, the special master was wearing so many hats in this case that he was “performing an impermissible combination of roles by acting as investigator, witness, and judge of fact and law, which combination requires him to assess the credibility of his own work.” This, of course, was wholly improper and meant that the appointment was an abuse of the trial court’s discretion.
As a businessperson, just like any other person, the main thing you want from your civil case, whether you’re the plaintiff or defendant, is a “fair shake.” When it comes to getting that fair shake, as well as putting forward the strongest case possible, that’s where we come in. Count on the experienced contract dispute attorneys at Poole Huffman, LLC to serve as your shield and sword, effectively defending you against wrongful accusations and unfair processes, while also aggressively advancing your arguments and your interests. Contact our attorneys online or by calling 404-373-4008 to schedule your confidential consultation.
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