Mary E. Glover, a Pittsburgh-area homeowner, was subjected to a series of overcharges and misallocations of payments by Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo while they were servicing and collecting on her mortgage. In 2008, she sued them (along with a local debt collector) for breach of contract and violation of state and federal consumer protection laws; because the problems Ms. Glover experienced may have stemmed from policies that applied to tens of thousands of other homeowners, she sought to have her case certified as a class action.
Three years into litigation, the opposing sides asked the magistrate judge overseeing the case to decide disputes over production of documents and information. Frustrated by the parties’ inability to resolve the disputes on their own, the magistrate ordered Ms. Glover and the financial institutions to pay to have the discovery disputes decided by a special master—a local attorney appointed by the court—and to split the cost evenly between the banks and Ms. Glover. Because Ms. Glover, whose only income is Social Security disability benefits totaling less than $10,000 annually, could not afford the special master fees, the order put her at a grave disadvantage in discovery and rendered her unable to litigate her case fully.
In May 2012, on behalf of Ms. Glover, Public Citizen filed a petition asking the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to set aside the appointment of the special master, both because the appointment was made for the impermissible purpose of coercing the parties into settling their procedural disputes, and because the magistrate ordered that the costs be borne in part by a party who could not afford them. The question whether a low-income consumer can be priced out of court by the appointment of a special master is a consequential one for consumers nationwide, who rely on the courts to provide relief from unscrupulous conduct by sophisticated financial actors. In September 2012, the court denied our petition.
After mandamus review was denied, the case continued, but Ms. Glover was unable to obtain the discovery she needed because she could not afford to pay the special master. The court ruled against her on the merits. She has now appealed to the Third Circuit. In April 2015, Public Citizen (its representation of Ms. Glover having ended) filed an amicus brief on behalf of itself and AARP urging the court to rule that the appointment of the special master was invalid. In October 2015, however, the Third Circuit affirmed the appointment of the master.