A referral of any or all issues in a case, pursuant to an agreement or consent of the parties, is a general reference which results in a binding determination by the referee. (Code of Civil Procedure (“CCP”) §638(a).)
The Code of Civil Procedure provides that, in the case of a consensual general reference, the decision of the referee must stand as the decision of the court, and upon filing of the statement of decision with the clerk of the court, judgment may be entered thereon in the same manner as if the action had been tried by the court. (CCP §644(a).) Thus, where the reference is general, the referee’s findings are conclusive and binding on the court; it has no authority to enter a judgment except in accordance with the referee’s findings.
The referee’s statement of decision, which stands as the decision of the court, is reviewable in the same manner as if the court had rendered it. A statement of decision reported by a referee under a voluntary general reference is the equivalent of a statement of decision rendered by a superior court after trial to the court, and as a result, a referee’s statement of decision is reviewed by an appellate court using the same rules that apply to a trial court’s statement of decision. Accordingly, on review, the appellate court independently reviews questions of law and applies the substantial evidence standard to findings of fact.
General/Judicial Referees (CCP §638(a); CRC rules 3.900-3.907, 3.930-3.932):
- Only have the powers set forth in the order of appointment,
- May be appointed to “hear and determine any and all of the issues in an action or proceeding, whether of fact or of law, and to report a statement of decision,”
- Parties may contractually agree in advance of filing a lawsuit to submit their disputes to a referee (CCP §638); may also be appointed by parties’ stipulation in open court,
- Need not take Oath of Office,
- No power to punish for contempt (see Marcus v. Workmen’s Comp. Appeals Board (1973) 35 Cal.App.3d 598),
- Renders a statement of decision, which must stand as the finding of the court as if the matter had been tried by the court, but the actual judgment is entered by the court,
- No post-trial authority without parties’ agreement, and
- No authority to conduct mediations