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Beavertail, Inc. v. United States

United States District Court, D. Idaho

January 25, 2018

BEAVERTAIL, INC., et al., Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          B. Lynn Winmill Chief U.S. District Court Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         Before 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.

         BACKGROUND

         The parties are familiar with the facts and procedural history of this lawsuit.[1]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 storage facility.

         The 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.[2] See Id. ¶¶ 94-104.

         In an 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.

         DISCUSSION

         A. The Quiet Title Claim

         The 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).

         1. Step One: Idaho is a Required Party

         The 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.

         2. Step Two: Joinder is Not Feasible

         The 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).

         Generally 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.

         Under 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”).

         3. Step 3: This Action Should Proceed in Idaho's Absence

         The 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 question:

(1) the extent to which a judgment rendered in the person's absence might prejudice that person or the existing parties;
(2) the extent to which any prejudice could be lessened or avoided by:
(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 ed.)

         a) Whether Plaintiffs Would Have an Adequate Remedy if this Case Were Dismissed for Nonjoinder

         In this case, the Court finds the fourth factor - whether plaintiffs have an adequate remedy if the action were dismissed for nonjoinder - to be particularly compelling.

         In an 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 is ...


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