The Proper Standard of Review for Required Party Determinations Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19

December 1, 2015

Rule 19 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, concerning the required joinder of parties, ensures that all parties with an interest in an action are joined in the litigation. At any time during the suit, a court may determine that an absent party has a specific interest that requires its presence in the dispute. When the court cannot join the absent party, however, the court must use Rule 19(b) to determine whether to continue the litigation without the absentee or dismiss the suit entirely. Despite the potentially drastic consequence of dismissal, federal courts of appeals cannot agree on the proper standard of review for Rule 19(b) decisions. Should the court review the decision de novo as if it were examining the issue for the first time? Or should it review for abuse of discretion with deference to the district court’s analysis?

This Note explores the history and application of Rule 19 before examining the two standards of review and the factors set out by the Supreme Court in Pierce v. Underwood to help appellate courts determine which of the two standards should apply. This Note argues that an analysis of those factors demonstrates that both Rule 19(a) and 19(b) decisions should be reviewed for abuse of discretion. It proposes that reviewing courts should use the single standard, but that the amount of deference given to the district court opinion depends on the specific determination within the larger Rule 19 inquiry.

December 2015

No. 3