State of Mississippi sued several insurers alleging that the insurers mischaracterized claims resulting from Hurricane Katrina as flood, not wind, damage (meaning there was no coverage), resulting in the State having to pay under its Homeowner Assistance Program. trial judge in the first case approved a special master, and later sua sponte appointed a special master in the second and third suits, one of which (the Safeco suit) was not assigned to her. judge then reassigned the third case to her docket. insurers in the later suits filed an interlocutory appeal. Safeco Insurance Co. of Am. v. State ex rel. Jim Hood, No. 2017-IA-01554-SCT, 2019 Miss. LEXIS 296 (Miss. Aug. 22, 2019).
The Mississippi Supreme Court vacated the reassignment of the Safeco case due to “procedural irregularities” and “the totality of the circumstances.” It then vacated the order appointing a special master, finding that it required both parties to pay a special master (a Louisiana lawyer) without requiring the master to detail his bills and allowing either side to meet with him ex-parte and without requiring the master to disclose such meetings, which the Court held far exceeds the trial court’s discretionary authority under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 53.