Whether a person is "indispensable," that is, whether a particular lawsuit must be dismissed in the absence of that person, can only be determined in the context of particular litigation. A decision to proceed is a decision that the absent person is merely "necessary" while a decision to dismiss is a decision that he is "indispensable." The decision whether to dismiss must be based on factors varying with the different cases, some such factors being substantive, some procedural, some compelling by themselves, and some subject to balancing against opposing interests.
A diversity action was instituted by the estate of a person who was killed in an automobile-truck collision, the estate of another deceased person and another person who had been injured in the collision also being joined as plaintiffs, against the estate of the driver of the automobile and the liability insurer of the owner of the automobile for a declaratory judgment that the driver's use of the automobile had been with the permission of the owner within the coverage of the insurance policy. The trial resulted in directed verdicts for the two estate plaintiffs and a jury verdict for the third plaintiff, and the trial court denied the insurer's motions for new trial and for judgment. On appeal by the insurer, the appellate court dismissed the insurer's appeal. On certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed.
Was the insured an indispensible party?
The Supreme Court vacated the judgment party because the insured would have prevented diversity jurisdiction and remanded the case for consideration of the issues raised on appeal. Although the insured was an indispensable party, the estates' interest in an adequate remedy would have been harmed by allowing only a state court action after fully litigating the judgment. The insured was not harmed by the judgment for the estates because he was not bound by it, and it was unlikely that the judgment against the insurer would have prevented him from relitigating his interests. Relief could be shaped to meet the criteria of Fed. R. Civ. P. 19, so that the action could proceed. The lower court had to next consider issues raised on appeal that had not been raised at trial.