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Makah Indian Tribe v. Verity - 910 F.2d 555


To determine whether a party is "indispensable" under Fed. R. Civ. P. 19, a court must undertake a two-part analysis: it must first determine if an absent party is "necessary" to the suit; then if, as here, the party cannot be joined, the court must determine whether the party is "indispensable" so that in "equity and good conscience" the suit should be dismissed. The inquiry is a practical one and fact specific and is designed to avoid the harsh results of rigid application. 


Appellant Indian tribe sought to overturn the decision of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, which dismissed appellant's action against appellee federal agency because appellant had failed to join indispensable parties pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 19. Appellee federal agency promulgated rules pertaining to the permissible ocean harvests of salmon. Appellant Indian tribe argued that its quota was not adequate. Other sovereign Indian tribes had rights to the salmon. Appellant argued that appellee failed to allocate sufficient salmon to appellant and that appellee had made improper commitments outside of the administrative process. The lower court dismissed appellant's claims on the ground that appellant had failed to join indispensable parties pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 19.


Was the district court's conclusion that the absent tribes were necessary parties to an adjudication of claims an abuse of discretion?




The court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. The court held that because the other tribes' share of salmon would have been affected by appellant's action and they could not have been joined, the other tribes were necessary parties under Rule 19. Because there were no practical alternatives that would have ameliorated the absence of the other tribes, the court held that the other tribes were indispensable to appellant's challenge to the quota and affirmed the dismissal of the quota appeal. The court ruled that appellant's procedural challenge did not require the presence of the other tribes and reversed that portion of the lower court's ruling.

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