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Wyatt v. Summers

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 24, 2014

HARVEY BRET SUMMERS, Personal Representative of the Estate of Danny J. Summers, deceased; and THE ESTATE OF DANNY J. SUMMERS, Defendants.


B. LYNN WINMILL, Chief District Judge.


The Court has before it defendants' motion to dismiss. The motion is fully briefed and at issue. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the motion.


The relevant facts of this case are not disputed. On March 8, 2011, Danny Summers was piloting an airplane in which Jodi Wyatt was a passenger. The plane crashed, and both Danny and Jodi were killed.[1]

On March 4, 2013, Nicholas Wyatt and Justin Wyatt, Jodi's sons (collectively "Plaintiffs"), brought this wrongful death action against Harvey Bret Summers as the personal representative of Danny's estate and Danny's estate itself (collectively "Defendants"). Plaintiffs alleged Danny's negligent operation of the airplane led to the fatal crash, and claim an amount in controversy in excess of $75, 000. Plaintiffs Nicholas and Justin are citizens of Washington and New York respectively. Defendants are citizens of Idaho. Thus, Plaintiffs invoked the court's diversity jurisdiction.

Defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiffs' claim under Rule 12(b)(7). Defendants point out that, in addition to her sons, Jodi is survived by her parents, Loree and Earl Reed Wyatt. Defendants argue that Loree and Earl are indispensable parties to this suit who cannot be joined without destroying the diversity of the parties.

Plaintiffs disagree. They contend that neither Loree nor Earl are necessary or indispensable parties to this suit because (1) the relevant Idaho statute of limitations prevents either from filing suit in their own name and (2) Loree has waived both her and Earl's interest in Plaintiffs' wrongful-death action. Loree claims the authority to act on Earl's behalf because Earl suffered a stroke that Loree believes left Earl unable to act on his own.


Rule 19 governs the compulsory joinder of parties and requires a three step inquiry. "First, the court must determine whether a nonparty should be joined under Rule 19(a)." EEOC v. Peabody W. Coal Co., 610 F.3d 1070, 1078 (9th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). Second, if the nonparty (or "absentee") should be joined, the court must determine if it is feasible to join do so. Id. "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." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). This third step is governed by Rule 19(b). Rule 19 and the cases interpreting it counsel the court to answer these questions "from a practical, and not technical, perspective." Aguilar v. Los Angeles County, 751 F.2d 1089, 1093 (9th Cir. 1985).


The first issue the Court must examine is whether Earl and Loree should be joined to this case as plaintiffs. An absentee should be joined as a party if "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)(B).

Idaho's wrongful-death statute, Idaho Code § 5-311, vests a cause of action in the "heirs or personal representatives" of a decedent whose death was caused by a wrongful or negligent act of another. That action is "one joint and indivisible action in which all the damages for the benefit of all the beneficiaries shall be recovered." Campbell v. Pac. Fruit Express Co., 148 F.Supp. 209, 211 (D. Id . 1957); see also Castorena v. General Electric, 238 P.3d 209, 221 (Id.Sup.Ct. 2010) (adopting Campbell ). Because a decedent's parents qualify as heirs under the statute, see Idaho Code § 5-311(2)(b), Earl's and Loree's interest in Plaintiffs' suit vested at the time of Jodi's death. Castorena, 238 P.3d at 220. Thus, as a matter of Idaho law, Plaintiffs' claims cannot proceed without (1) Earl and Loree being joined as parties or (2) Earl and Loree waiving their interests in Plaintiffs suit. Id. at 221.

Loree filed an effective waiver, at least as to her interest. Her affidavit states that "[w]e have no intention of making a claim against the estate of Danny Summers for the death of our daughter and we waive any claim that we may have against the estate ...

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