Joinder of Necessary and Indispensable Parties

Joinder of necessary and indispensable parties can be a confusing issue, and requires some explanation. It arises when there is someone who was not joined as a party to the lawsuit when the complaint was filed, but who has such a strong interest in the outcome of the lawsuit that the lawsuit cannot proceed without that person’s involvement. When someone qualifies as a necessary and indispensable party, that person must be joined as a party to the action. The flow chart below lays out the analysis used to determine whether the party who has not been joined is, in fact, a necessary and indispensable party who must be made a party.

Very often, students are confused about when this is even an issue. Most often, the rule is used by a defendant in a lawsuit as a way to get the lawsuit dismissed.

For example, imagine two adjoining parcels of land in Texas – we will call them Parcel A and Parcel B. The owner of Parcel A lives in California and rents the property out. Parcel B is jointly owned. One co-owner lives on the parcel in Texas, and the other co-owner lives in California. A dispute arises over the correct boundary between the two properties, and the owner of Parcel A brings suit in a United States District Court in Texas to quiet title to the disputed area and for damages of $100,000 under Texas state law. The owner of Parcel A only names the resident co-owner (the one who lives in Texas) as a defendant; the other co-owner (the one who lives in California) is not named as a defendant.

In a situation like this, the defendant could file a motion to dismiss for failure to join a necessary and indispensable party. Why? Because (1) the co-owner’s rights to the property are likely to be materially affected by the lawsuit; and (2) joining the co-owner will destroy the federal court’s jurisdiction.

Let’s walk through this. The action is in federal court, so there must be a basis for federal court jurisdiction. Jurisdiction here has to be based on diversity (all claims are based on state law). When the action was originally filed, there was diversity jurisdiction because (1) the plaintiff is domiciled in California; (2) the defendant is domiciled in Texas; and (3) the amount in controversy is $100,000. However, if the co-owner is joined, there would be no diversity, because the other co-owner and the plaintiff are both domiciliaries of the same state (California). Joining the other co-owner would destroy the federal court’s subject matter jurisdiction, and the action would have to be dismissed. In other words, if the co-owner is a necessary and indispensable party – meaning the co-owner must be joined – and the owner cannot be joined, the action has to be dismissed.

As you can see, the analysis requires some knowledge of other areas of Civil Procedure, so if you are confused about jurisdiction please take a look at our resources on personal and subject matter jurisdiction.. The flow chart below walks you through the steps for determining whether or not a party is necessary and indispensable.