A motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 19 poses three successive inquiries. First, a court must determine whether a non-party should be joined under Rule 19(a). That non-party (or absentee) is referred to as a person required to be joined if feasible. If an absentee meets the requirements of Rule 19(a), the second stage is for the court to determine whether it is feasible to order that the absentee be joined. Finally, if joinder is not feasible, the court must determine at the third stage whether the case can proceed without the absentee or whether the action must be dismissed. A non-party in whose absence an action must be dismissed is one who not only has an interest in the controversy, but has an interest of such a nature that a final decree cannot be made without either affecting that interest, or leaving the controversy in such a condition that its final termination may be wholly inconsistent with equity and good conscience.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought an action for national origin discrimination against a coal company, which leased mines from the Navajo Nation as approved by the Secretary of the Interior. The Secretary required the leases to contain a preference for employment of members of the Nation, but the EEOC contended that the preference was discriminatory. The company contended that the Nation, as lessor, was a party required to be joined under Fed. R. Civ. P. 19, but the EEOC lacked authority to seek relief against the Nation, and that the preference required by the Secretary rendered the Secretary a necessary party who could not be sued by the EEOC. The district court granted summary judgment to the company based on the inability of the EEOC to join the Nation and the Secretary as required parties. The case was appealed by the EEOC.
Was the summary judgment proper?
The appellate court first held that the injunctive relief sought by the EEOC against the company and others did not necessarily require affirmative relief against the Nation, and thus the Nation could be joined for res judicata purposes. Further, the Secretary was also a party required to be joined since, if the EEOC prevailed, an injunction would directly conflict with the preference required by the Secretary, but the EEOC was statutorily precluded from filing suit against the Secretary. Nonetheless, while the EEOC could not recover damages from the company for which indemnification from the Secretary was not available, the Secretary could be impleaded as a third party for purposes of prospective relief.