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decided: July 1, 1974.


Appeal from order of Commonwealth Court, No. 576 C.D. 1972, reversing in part decree of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, Feb. T., 1971, No. 2437, in case of Gerald Jackson et al. v. Edward J. Hendrick et al.


David Rudovsky, with him Bruce E. Endy, David Kairys, Kairys & Rudovsky, and Community Legal Services, Inc., for appellants.

John Mattioni, Deputy City Solicitor, with him Nicholas Panarella, Jr. and James M. Penny, Jr., Assistant City Solicitors, and Martin Weinberg, City Solicitor, for appellees.

Mercer D. Tate and Gratz, Tate, Spiegel, Ervin & Ruthrauff, for Philadelphia Bar Association, amicus curiae.

Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts.

Author: Roberts

[ 457 Pa. Page 406]

Appellants, on behalf of themselves and all others confined in Philadelphia prisons, commenced this action seeking equitable relief from the allegedly unconstitutional conditions existing in the Philadelphia prison system. After taking extensive testimony, a special three-judge court found that confinement in Philadelphia prisons constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The court made findings of fact, conclusions of law, and entered a decree nisi. After appellees' exceptions were overruled, the decree was made final.

Appeal to the Commonwealth Court*fn1 resulted in affirmance of the trial court's decree "except that portion providing for the appointment of a master, which portion

[ 457 Pa. Page 407]

[was] reversed." Hendrick v. Jackson, 10 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 392, 403, 309 A.2d 187, 192-93 (1973). We granted appellants' petition for allowance of appeal to determine whether the trial court abused its discretion in appointing the master.*fn2 We modify the order of the Commonwealth Court by reinstating the trial court's decree in its entirety.

The question before us is whether after entering a final decree and retaining jurisdiction, a court of equity may appoint a master as an administrative aid to assist the court and the parties in preparing and implementing a plan to eliminate unconstitutional conditions of confinement. Appellants contend that the Commonwealth Court erroneously found such an appointment violative of Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure 1514 and 1515.*fn3 We agree.

[ 457 Pa. Page 408]

In 1894 this Court by rule discontinued the office of master in chancery.*fn4 "By insensible degrees the office of master outgrew its position as a mere executive or administrative arm of the court, and usurped or had imposed upon it, functions which were strictly judicial." Commonwealth ex rel. v. Archbald, 195 Pa. 317, 319, 46 A. 5, 5 (1900). Masters had been "appointed to take testimony, make findings of fact and law, and report decrees for consideration by the chancellor." Rowley v. Rowley, 294 Pa. 535, 539, 144 A. 537, 539 (1928). Although discontinued, the office of master was not abolished for it was viewed as "a necessary part of the equipment of a court of chancery." Commonwealth ex rel. v. Archbald, supra at 319, 46 A. at 6.

It is clear that the rather strict limitations imposed upon the power of a court of equity to appoint a master were aimed at the practice of delegating exclusively judicial functions to non-judicial officers. Arcadia Theatre Co. v. Sablosky, 418 Pa. 34, 47, 209 A.2d 375, 381 (1964); Houghten v. Restland Memorial Park, Inc., 343 Pa. 625, 629, 23 A.2d 497, 500 (1942); Yetter v. Delaware Valley R.R., 206 Pa. 485, 487, 56 A. 57, 57 (1903). In Arcadia, this Court approved appointment of a master to supervise a meeting of shareholders and a corporate

[ 457 Pa. Page 409]

    election. We concluded that because the chancellor made all factual and legal determinations and left to the master only the conduct of the shareholders' meeting, the appointment was within the chancellor's discretion.

"It is necessary in some equitable actions for the court to avail itself of persons who can see to the performance of certain duties, either defined and outlined by the court, or by agreement of the parties and approved by the court, just so long as those duties are not judicial." 418 Pa. at 47, 209 A.2d at 381.

In Houghten and Yetter, on the other hand, we found that our rules had been violated when the chancellor delegated his factfinding function to a master. Houghten v. Restland Memorial Park, Inc., supra at 629, 23 A.2d at 500; Yetter v. Delaware Valley R.R., supra at 487, 56 A. at 57. The Houghten master, appointed to liquidate the assets of a failing business, filed a report which was marked "confirmed nisi." The chancellor did nothing more than pass on exceptions to the master's report. 343 Pa. at 629, 23 A.2d at 500. The chancellor in Yetter delegated to a master the task of determining who could vote at a stockholders' meeting. The court, however, made no findings either of fact or law and entered no decree before appointing the master. This Court commented that the chancellor had "exercised no judicial function whatever, except to appoint [the master]." 206 Pa. at 487, 56 A. at 57.*fn5

What we must determine is whether the functions assigned to the master by the trial court are exclusively judicial.*fn6 If they are, the master's performance of those

[ 457 Pa. Page 410]

    functions is barred by Rule 1514. If the duties assigned to the master are non-judicial, our rules do not deny a court of equity the right to avail itself of the assistance of a master.*fn7

In the instant case, six days of testimony produced a complicated and prolix record. Upon exhaustively analyzing the evidence, the court made seventy-four detailed findings of fact and numerous conclusions of law. Because of the complexity of the case before it, the court properly concluded that fashioning appropriate relief would require a detailed study of the available alternatives.

"Apart from the extraordinary nature of the problems presented by the record, it would be 'manifestly impossible' for the Court to anticipate and to appraise all of the factors requiring consideration in administering the prisons, and to draft rules accordingly. This is not the function of the Court but of the prison officials, and through the master, who will serve as an organizer and a conduit, the fruits of their labor will be brought to the Court for its approbation." Jackson v. Hendrick, No. 71-2437, February Term, 1971, at 253 (Pa. C.P.

[ 457 Pa. Page 411]

Phila., filed April 7, 1972). The court therefore retained jurisdiction, appointed the master, and ordered the parties, with the master's help, to devise and submit to the court a plan to remedy conditions in the Philadelphia prisons.

Once conditions of confinement have been found unconstitutional, a court of equity has broad discretion to decide what relief should be granted.*fn8 It may direct the prison authorities to prepare a plan to eliminate the constitutionally-objectionable conditions, see United States v. Alsbrook, 336 F. Supp. 973, 981 (D.D.C. 1971); Holt v. Sarver, 309 F. Supp. 362, 385 (E.D. Ark. 1970), aff'd, 442 F.2d 304 (8th Cir. 1971), or the court may simply order the parties to prepare for a conference at which a decree will be framed. Rhem v. Malcolm, 371 F. Supp. 594, 636 (S.D.N.Y. 1974). Alternatively, the court may itself, without submission of any plan or comments, grant mandatory or injunctive relief. Landman v. Royster, 333 F. Supp. 621, 657 (E.D. Va. 1971); Jones v. Wittenberg, 330 F. Supp. 707, 714-22 (N.D. Ohio 1971), aff'd sub nom., Jones v. Metzger, 456 F.2d 854 (6th Cir. 1972).

Here the court decided that the most efficient method of arriving at a remedy was for the parties together with the master to explore all the alternatives and then report to the court. The parties and the master were instructed that the court's findings of fact should be used as a checklist in determining what the plan should include.

[ 457 Pa. Page 412]

We discern no function assigned to the master which could be characterized as exclusively judicial. Cognizant of the complex nature of the problem and the need for speedy action to correct it, the court provided for appointment of a master. The duty of the master, as envisioned by the court, was to act as a mediator and reporter -- not as a judge.

No support has been found in the trial court's opinion for appellees' assertion that the master will attempt to act as administrator of the Philadelphia prison system. Neither is the master authorized to take testimony and make findings of fact. What the master is charged with is "the formidable task of collecting and compiling all relevant data, and, thereafter with all of the parties, formulating recommendations to the Court responsive to the record and the Court's Findings of Fact."*fn9 We conclude that appointment of a master in the role envisioned by the trial court is completely consistent with Rules 1514 and 1515.*fn10 See Arcadia Theatre Co. v. Sablosky, 418 Pa. 34, 47-49, 209 A.2d 375, 381-82 (1964).

In Commonwealth ex rel. v. Archbald, 195 Pa. 317, 320, 46 A. 5, 6 (1900), this Court reasoned: "Whether the person to whom the case is sent be called an assessor, an auditor, a referee or a master is of no importance, the substance of the matter is the right of the court in exceptional cases to avail itself of exceptional assistance, in executing or supervising the execution of the details of its work, not requiring the exercise of exclusively judicial functions."

This is certainly an exceptional case requiring exceptional assistance. We have found nothing to indicate

[ 457 Pa. Page 413]

    that in exercising its discretion the trial court violated Rules 1514 or 1515.*fn11

[ 457 Pa. Page 414]

The order of the Commonwealth Court is modified and the decree of the court of common pleas is reinstated. Each party pay own costs.


Order of Commonwealth Court modified and decree of Court of Common Pleas reinstated.

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