North Carolina General Statutes § 53 Referees

(a)        Kinds of reference. -

(1)        By Consent. - Any or all of the issues in an action may be referred upon the written consent of the parties except in actions to annul a marriage, actions for divorce, actions for divorce from bed and board, actions for alimony without the divorce or actions in which a ground of annulment or divorce is in issue.

(2)        Compulsory. - Where the parties do not consent to a reference, the court may, upon the application of any party or on its own motion, order a reference in the following cases:

a.         Where the trial of an issue requires the examination of a long or complicated account; in which case the referee may be directed to hear and decide the whole issue, or to report upon any specific question of fact involved therein.

b.         Where the taking of an account is necessary for the information of the court before judgment, or for carrying a judgment or order into effect.

c.         Where the case involves a complicated question of boundary, or requires a personal view of the premises.

d.         Where a question of fact arises outside the pleadings, upon motion or otherwise, at any stage of the action.

(b)        Jury trial. -

(1)        Where the reference is by consent, the parties waive the right to have any of the issues within the scope of the reference passed on by a jury.

(2)        A compulsory reference does not deprive any party of his right to a trial by jury, which right he may preserve by

a.         Objecting to the order of compulsory reference at the time it is made, and

b.         By filing specific exceptions to particular findings of fact made by the referee within 30 days after the referee files his report with the clerk of the court in which the action is pending, and

c.         By formulating appropriate issues based upon the exceptions taken and demanding a jury trial upon such issues. Such issues shall be tendered at the same time the exceptions to the referee's report are filed. If there is a trial by jury upon any issue referred, the trial shall be only upon the evidence taken before the referee.

(c)        Appointment. - The parties may agree in writing upon one or more persons not exceeding three, and a reference shall be ordered  to such person or persons in appropriate cases. If the parties do not  agree, the court shall appoint one or more referees, not exceeding three, but no person shall be appointed referee to whom all parties in the action object.

(d)       Compensation. - The compensation to be allowed a referee shall be fixed by the court and charged in the bill of costs. After appointment of a referee, the court may from time to time order advancements by one or more of the parties of sums to be applied to the referee's compensation. Such advancements may be apportioned between the parties in such manner as the court sees fit. Advancements so made shall be taken into account in the final fixing of costs and such adjustments made as the court then deems proper.

(e)        Powers. - The order of reference to the referee may specify or limit his powers and may direct him to report only upon particular issues or to do or perform particular acts or to receive and report evidence only and may fix the time and place for beginning and closing the hearings and for the filing of the referee's report. Subject to the specifications and limitations stated in the order, every referee has power to administer oaths in any proceeding before him, and has generally the power vested in a referee by law. The referee shall have the same power to grant adjournments and to allow amendments to pleadings and to the summons as the judge and upon the same terms and with like effect. The referee shall have the same power as the judge to preserve order and punish all violations thereof, to compel the attendance of witnesses before him by attachment, and to punish them as for contempt for nonattendance or for refusal to be sworn or to testify. The parties may procure the attendance of witnesses before the referee by the issuance and service of subpoenas as provided in Rule 45.

(f)        Proceedings. -

(1)        Meetings. - When a reference is made, the clerk shall forthwith furnish the referee with a copy of the order of reference. Upon receipt thereof unless the order of reference otherwise provides, the referee shall forthwith set a time and place for the first meeting of the parties or their attorneys to be held within 20 days after the date of the order of reference and shall notify the parties or their attorneys. It is the duty of the referee to proceed with all reasonable diligence. Any party, on notice to all other parties and the referee, may apply to the court for an order requiring the referee to expedite the proceedings and to make his report. If a party fails to appear at the time and place appointed, the referee may proceed ex parte, or, in his discretion, may adjourn the proceedings to a future day, giving notice to the absent party of the adjournment.

(2)        Statement of Accounts. - When matters of accounting are in issue before the referee, he may prescribe the form in which the accounts shall be submitted and in any proper case may require or receive in evidence a statement by a certified public accountant or other qualified accountant who is called as a witness. Upon objection of a party to any of the items thus submitted or upon a showing that the form of statement is insufficient, the referee may require a different form of statement to be furnished, or the accounts of specific items thereof to be proved by oral examination of the accounting parties or upon written interrogatories or in such other manner as he directs.

(3)        Testimony Reduced to Writing. - The testimony of all witnesses must be reduced to writing by the referee, or by someone acting under his direction and shall be filed in the  cause and constitute a part of the record.

(g)        Report. -

(1)        Contents and Filing. - The referee shall prepare a report upon the matters submitted to him by the order of reference and shall include therein his decision on all matters so submitted. If required to make findings of fact and conclusions of law, he shall set them forth separately in the report. He shall file the report with the clerk of the court in which the action is pending and unless otherwise directed by the order of reference, shall file with it a transcript of the proceedings and of the evidence and the original exhibits. Before filing his report a referee may submit a draft thereof to counsel for all parties for the purpose of receiving their suggestions. The clerk shall forthwith mail to all parties notice of the filing.

(2)        Exceptions and Review. - All or any part of the report may be excepted to by any party within 30 days from the filing of the report. Thereafter, and upon 10 days' notice to the other parties, any party may apply to the judge for action on the report. The judge after hearing may adopt, modify or reject the report in whole or in part, render judgment, or may remand the proceedings to the referee with instructions. No judgment may be rendered on any reference except by the judge. (1967, c. 954, s. 1; 1969, c. 895, s. 13.)

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Last modified: March 23, 2014