The Appellate Group

Washington Conservancy v. Washington Townhomes

Washington Conservancy v. Washington Townhomes, 2024 UT App 55 (Christiansen Forster, J.)

Civil Procedure

The district court appointed a special master under rule 53(b) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure to resolve yearslong litigation between the Washington County Water Conservancy District (the District) and a class of property owners. Rule 53(b) allows the district court to refer certain cases to a special master “only upon a showing that some exceptional condition requires it.” The District sought interlocutory appeal, and the Utah Court of Appeals reversed, holding:

  • The district court exceeded its discretion in making a reference to a special master.
  • Practice tip: The Utah Rules of Civil Procedure and Evidence are not relaxed in proceedings before a special master.
  • Practice tip: In limited circumstances (not seen here), special masters may have training or experience that make them uniquely qualified to oversee a complicated matter.
  • Judicial tip: Pending retirement, calendar congestion, and length and complexity of a case do not constitute an exceptional condition under rule 53(b).

Read the full court opinion