Landmark California Cases on Necessary Parties to a Suit

The determination of whether a party is "indispensable" involves a two-step analysis under Code of Civil Procedure section 389. (See Deltakeeper v. Oakdale Irrigation Dist. (2001) 94 Cal.App.4th 1092, 1100.) The first step involves assessing whether the party is "necessary"--specifically, whether the party should be joined in the lawsuit if possible under criteria set forth in section 389, subdivision (a). (See County of San Joaquin v. State Water Resources Control Bd. (1997) 54 Cal.App.4th 1144, 1149.) The statute provides: "A person who is subject to service of process and whose joinder will not deprive the court of jurisdiction over the subject matter of the action shall be joined as a party in the action if (1) in his absence complete relief cannot be accorded among those already parties or (2) he claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and is so situated that the disposition of the action in his absence may (i) as a practical matter impair or impede his ability to protect that interest or (ii) leave any of the persons already parties subject to a substantial risk of incurring double, multiple, or otherwise inconsistent obligations by reason of his claimed interest. If he has not been so joined, the court shall order that he be made a party." ( 389, subd. (a).) If a party determined to be necessary under subdivision (a) of section 389 cannot be joined in the lawsuit, then the court proceeds to the second step of the analysis to determine "whether in equity and good conscience the action should proceed among the parties before it, or should be dismissed without prejudice, the absent person being thus regarded as indispensable." ( 389, subd. (b).) In assessing whether a party is indispensable, the court weighs four equitable factors listed in subdivision (b) of section 389. The factors include: "(1) to what extent a judgment rendered in the person's absence might be prejudicial to him or those already parties; (2) the extent to which, by protective provisions in the judgment, by the shaping of relief, or other measures, the prejudice can be lessened or avoided; (3) whether a judgment rendered in the person's absence will be adequate; (4) whether the plaintiff or cross-complainant will have an adequate remedy if the action is dismissed for nonjoinder." (Ibid.) None of these factors is determinative or necessarily more important than another. (County of Imperial v. Superior Court (2007) 152 Cal.App.4th 13, 35.) "A determination that the persons are necessary parties is the predicate for the determination whether they are indispensable parties" under subdivision (b) of section 389. (Deltakeeper v. Oakdale Irrigation Dist., supra, 94 Cal.App.4th at p. 1100.) In other words, a court may proceed to assess whether a party that cannot be joined is indispensable only after it has first determined that the party is necessary under subdivision (a) of section 389. Section 389 "tracks the language of its federal counterpart, rule 19 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure . . . . " (Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. v. Superior Court (1999) 69 Cal.App.4th 785, 791-792 (Countrywide).) " 'It is therefore appropriate to use federal precedents as a guide to application of the statute.' " (Id. at p. 792.)