United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Lynn Winmill Chief U.S. District Court Judge
the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion to Reconsider (Dkt. 59).
Plaintiffs ask the Court to allow their quiet title action to
proceed in the State of Idaho's absence, even though
Idaho claims an interest in the same property plaintiffs
claim to own. Plaintiffs also ask the Court to rule in their
favor on a narrow issue related to their tort claims. For the
reasons explained below, the Court will grant both requests.
parties are familiar with the facts and procedural history of
this lawsuit.Briefly, however, this action concerns
Grays Lake, which is actually a 22, 000-acre marsh in eastern
Idaho. Title to the lakebed is disputed; over the years,
various ranchers, the State of Idaho, and the United States
have claimed ownership of the lakebed. The federal government
is currently using the marsh as a wildlife refuge and water
plaintiffs contend that the United States damaged their
properties by failing to remove a partially constructed dike
on the lakebed. The government began building this dike back
in the 1960s, but then stopped construction and left the
partially constructed dike in place. The ranchers allege that
the dike exacerbates seasonal flooding on their properties.
See, e.g., Am. Compl, Dkt. 39, ¶¶ 4, 6,
48, 90. The ranchers also ask the Court to quiet title to
them in a portion of the lakebed. See Id.
earlier order, the Court granted the government's motion
to dismiss because it appeared plaintiffs were attempting to
pursue contract claims, which must be pursued in the Federal
Court of Claims. See Sept. 29, 2016 Order, Dkt. 38.
Plaintiffs then amended their complaint to allege tort claims
and a quiet title claim. The government again moved to
dismiss, arguing that the tort claims were barred by
discretionary function exception to the Federal Tort Claims
Act. Additionally, the government said the ranchers'
quiet title claim should be dismissed for failure to join the
State of Idaho and other landowners. The Court denied the
government's motion to dismiss the tort claims but
ordered the ranchers to either join the State of Idaho or
make a showing under Federal Rule of Procedure 19(b) as to
why their quiet title action should proceed in the
State's absence. See Aug. 29, 2017 Order, Dkt.
54, at 29. The ranchers responded with the pending motion,
arguing that this action should proceed in the State's
absence. The plaintiffs also ask the Court to rule on a
narrow issue related to their tort claims.
The Quiet Title Claim
Court will begin with the quiet title claim. Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure mandates a three-step procedure for
determining whether an action must be dismissed for failure
to join an indispensable party. See, e.g., EEOC v.
Peabody W. Coal Co., 610 F.3d 1070, 1078 (9th Cir.
2010). First, the court determines whether the absent party
is “required” for the litigation according to the
factors enumerated in Rule 19(a). Second, the court
determines whether it is feasible to join the absent party.
Finally, if joinder is not feasible, the Court must determine
whether the action can nevertheless proceed in “equity
and good conscience” under Rule 19(b).
Step One: Idaho is a Required Party
Court completed the first step of this analysis in an earlier
order, concluding that the State of Idaho is a required party
under Rule 19(a). See Dkt. 54, at 24-27.
Step Two: Joinder is Not Feasible
next step is to decide whether it is feasible for the
plaintiffs to join the State of Idaho. The government
concedes that the State of Idaho is likely immune from suit
in federal court under the Eleventh Amendment, but says
plaintiffs should at least try to join the State because the
State might decide to waive its immunity. Response,
Dkt. 61, at 2-3; see also Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene
Tribe, 521 U.S. 261, 265-66 (1997).
speaking, “[a] state waives its Eleventh Amendment
immunity if it ‘unequivocally evidence[s its] intention
to subject itself to the jurisdiction of the federal
court.'” Johnson v. Rancho Santiago Community
College Dist., 623 F.3d 1011, 1021 (9th Cir. 2010)
(citing Hill v. Blind Indus. & Servs. of Md.,
179 F.3d 754, 758 (9th Cir. 1999)). Here, the is no
indication that the State of Idaho intends to subject itself
to the jurisdiction of the federal court. To the contrary,
the State has previously indicated it has no interest in
litigating the title to Grays Lake, see Jan. 24, 2014
Letter from Clive Strong to Stanley Speaks and Robyn
Thorson, Dkt. 42-8, and it has not otherwise consented
to be sued.
these circumstances, the Court will not force plaintiffs to
go through the exercise of suing the State to find out if the
State has changed its mind. Instead, the Court concludes that
for Rule 19(b) purposes it is not feasible for plaintiffs to
join the State of Idaho as a defendant. Cf. Long v. Area
Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, 236 F.3d 910, 917 (8th
Cir. 2002) (raising the state's lack of consent sua
sponte, determining that “[s]ince the state of South
Dakota has not consented to this lawsuit, the eleventh
amendment prevents us from asserting jurisdiction over a
claim against the state”).
Step 3: This Action Should Proceed in Idaho's
third and final step in the Rule 19 analysis is to determine
whether “in equity and good conscience” the
action should proceed in the State of Idaho's absence or
whether the quiet title action should be dismissed. The Court
considers four nonexclusive factors in deciding this
(1) the extent to which a judgment rendered in the
person's absence might prejudice that person or the
(2) the extent to which any prejudice could be lessened or
(A) protective provisions in the judgment;
(B) shaping the relief; or
(C) other measures;
(3) whether a judgment rendered in the person's absence
would be adequate; and
(4) whether the plaintiff would have an adequate remedy if
the action were dismissed for nonjoinder.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 19(b). The rule does not specify the weight
be given to each factor. “This must be determined by
the court in terms of the facts of a given case and in light
of the governing equity-and-good-conscience test.”
Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller et
al., 7 Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. § 1608 (3d
Whether Plaintiffs Would Have an Adequate Remedy if this Case
Were Dismissed for Nonjoinder
case, the Court finds the fourth factor - whether plaintiffs
have an adequate remedy if the action were dismissed for
nonjoinder - to be particularly compelling.
earlier order, the Court indicated that if it dismissed this
action for nonjoinder, plaintiffs might be able to pursue
their quiet title claim in state court. See Aug. 29, 2017
Order, Dkt. 54, at 29. But the federal government has
since clarified that if plaintiffs sue Idaho and the United
States in state court, the federal government will exercise
its right to remove the action to federal court. See
generally McClellan v. Kimball,623 F.2d 83, 86 (9th
Cir. 1980) (“A state court does not have jurisdiction
to decide quiet title actions against the United
States.”). So if plaintiffs were to attempt to
sue both sovereigns in state court, they would ultimately
find themselves precisely where they are right now:
attempting to sue the State of Idaho in federal court
notwithstanding the Eleventh Amendment. Thus, if this action