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Thomas v. The City of St. Ann

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

September 3, 2019

QUINTON M. THOMAS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CITY OF ST. ANN, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RODNEY W. SIPPEL UNITED STATES DISCTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs in this matter have filed a class action lawsuit asserting claims against Defendant City of St. Ann (the City) alleging constitutional violations arising from Plaintiffs' arrest and incarceration as a result of their failure to pay fines for municipal ordinance violations (Counts I-V). Plaintiffs seek compensatory damages as well as declaratory and injunctive relief.

         The City filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' second amended complaint for failure to join an indispensable party under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19. There are four related cases in this Court which are being litigated by the same counsel representing Plaintiffs and the City in the present case. Those cases are Fant v. City of Ferguson, 4:15 CV 253 AGF, Baker v. City of Florissant, 4:16 CV 1693 NAB, Davis v. City of Normandy, 4:18 CV 1514 RLW, and Webb v. City of Maplewood, 4:16 CV 1703 CDP. Counsel for City of St. Ann, City of Ferguson, City of Florissant, City of Normandy, and City of Maplewood filed substantially similar motions to dismiss in all of these cases asserting that plaintiffs have failed to join the municipal court in each city as an indispensable party in the lawsuits. The four judges presiding over the related cases have all denied the motions to dismiss that the City also filed in the present case. I agree with those opinions and I adopt and share their analysis of the issues raised by the City. I specifically adopt the opinion of United States District Judge Audrey G. Fleissig issued on August 6, 2019 as follows:

         The City's present motion asserts arguments similar to those the City raised in prior motions but reframes them in terms of Rule 19. In short, the City argues that Plaintiffs' constitutional challenges are directed solely to the conduct of the St. Ann Municipal Court (the “municipal court”), which the City argues is a separate entity, and that the municipal court is therefore required to be joined as a co-defendant under Rule 19(a). But the City argues that joinder is not feasible because the municipal court is an arm of the state under Missouri law and, as such, entitled to sovereign immunity. The City contends that because there is a potential for injury to the interests of the municipal court and because the municipal court is immune from suit, dismissal of the claims at issue is required under Rule 19(b). For the reasons set forth below, I will deny the City's motion.

         DISCUSSION

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(7) permits dismissal of a claim for failure to join a party under Rule 19. Rule 19, in turn, sets forth a two-part inquiry. First, the Court must determine whether the absent person's presence is “required.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(a)(1). Joinder is required when:

(A) in that person's absence, the court cannot accord complete relief among existing parties; or
(B) that person claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and is so situated that disposing of the action in the person's absence may:
(i) as a practical matter impair or impede the person's ability to protect the interest; or
(ii) leave an existing party subject to a substantial risk of incurring double, multiple, or otherwise inconsistent obligations because of the interest.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 19(a)(1).

         “[T]he focus of Rule 19(a)(1) is on relief between the parties and not on the speculative possibility of further litigation between a party and an absent person.” Cedar Rapids Bank & Tr. Co. v. Mako One Corp., 919 F.3d 529, 534-35 (8th Cir. 2019) (citation omitted). When joinder is not required under Rule 19(a), “the inquiry is at an end, and the motion to dismiss for failure to join the party in question must be denied.” Rochester Methodist Hosp. v. Travelers Ins. Co., 728 F.2d 1006, 1016 (8th Cir. 1984).

         If joinder is required but not feasible, a court must proceed to the second step and “determine whether, in equity and good conscience, the action should proceed among the existing parties or should be dismissed, ” considering several enumerated factors. Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(b). Factors to consider include (1) the extent to which a judgment in the required person's absence might prejudice that person or the existing parties; (2) the extent to which such prejudice could be lessened or avoided by protective provisions or otherwise shaping the relief to be granted; (3) the adequacy of a judgment rendered in the person's absence; and (4) whether the plaintiff would have an adequate remedy if the action were dismissed for nonjoinder. Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(b). In analyzing these factors in the context of a claim of sovereign immunity, a court must give sufficient weight to the sovereign status of the absent person, which “in some instances, [will mean] that the plaintiffs will be left without a forum for definitive resolution of their claims.” Republic of Philippines v. Pimentel, 553 U.S. 851, 872 (2008).

         The Rule 19 inquiry is a “highly-practical, fact-based endeavor, ” and courts are “generally reluctant to grant motions to dismiss of this type.” Fort Yates Pub. Sch. Dist. No. 4 v. Murphy ex rel. C.M.B., 786 F.3d 662, 671 (8th Cir. 2015). “A decision under Rule 19 not to decide a case otherwise properly before the court is a power to be exercised only in rare instances.” N ...


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