Essay Question 5.
Recently, a driver in a three-car accident in Tennessee was found not negligent in a suit brought in Tennessee state court by a driver of one of the other cars, and then found negligent in a suit brought in Tennessee state court by the driver of the other car. In response to what it saw as fundamental unfairness to defendants, the Tennessee state legislature passed a statute demanding that all those involved in a car accident be joined as a party (provided that jurisdiction over the party can be obtained) in order to state a claim for negligence under Tennessee law. The statute specified that the joinder requirement is an element of a negligence action under Tennessee law – it does not apply to actions brought in Tennessee state court under the negligence law of other states.
P (a citizen of New York) got into a three-car accident with D (a citizen of Tennessee) and X (a citizen of Kentucky) in Tennessee. P sued D for $100,000 under Tennessee negligence law in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. Although personal jurisdiction over X could have been obtained, and joinder of X would not have stripped the court of subject matter jurisdiction or deprived it of venue, P did not join X. D made a motion to dismiss the action for failure to state a claim. How should the court decide D's motion?
The following (in italics) would have been an adequate answer.
There appears to be a direct conflict between the Tennessee statute and two FRCPs – 19 and 20. Under R 20, the joinder of X would be permissive not compulsory. Furthermore, R 19 spells out when joinder of a party is compulsory and would not include X. In particular, R 19 would not require X to be joined because the failure to join X would not impair X’s ability to protect his interests (he would not be bound by the outcome of P v. D) or subject P or D to double, multiple or inconsistent obligations. There is an argument however that Tennessee law makes X a necessary party under R 19, because now in X’s absence P cannot obtain complete relief (since P will fail to state a claim under Tennessee law without X’s joinder). [Here it would be good to assume that there is a direct conflict and to proceed from there.]
Assuming that there is a direct conflict, the question is solely whether Rs 19 and 20 are within the scope of the Rules Enabling Act. They are clearly arguably procedural, but do they abridge, enlarge, or modify substantive rights? Possibly yes, because the joinder requirement has been made a substantive right under Tennessee law (because it is an element of the Tennessee cause of action). This is similar to the way a time bar is folded into a statutory cause of action. If Rs 19 and 20 are used, the substantive Tennessee right would be overridden, so it appears that Rs 19 and 20 abridge a substantive right.
[Note: This answer would be substantially more detailed had the class read either Shady Grove or Sibbach. The interpretation of the "abridge, enlarge, or modify" limitation offered in Sibbach was apparently very narrow. A FRCP does not violate the limitation if it "really regulates procedure." This reading of the limitation was adopted by Scalia in Shady Grove, but it appears that five Justices in Shady Grove (Stevens and the four that signed on to Ginsburg's opinion) had a stronger reading of the limitation. For the purposes of my class all I demanded was some attempt to offer a reading of what the limitation meant, without discussing interpretations provided by the Supreme Court. In the answer here the reading is closer to that adopted by Ginsburg & Stevens.]
But is it really permissible for a state to fold a procedural rule into its substantive law, thereby rendering FRCPs invalid when the state law is entertained by a federal court? Should a state really have the power to dictate what is in fact procedural law for federal courts entertaining the state’s actions? What if it folded its whole procedural law into its causes of action? Would that means all FRCPs were displaced?
[This is a puzzle with the Stevens/Ginsburg interpretation of the limitation in the Rules Enabling Act. Is a procedural rule part of a state's substantive right if the state says so?]
[Here one should take a stand on the validity of the Rs 19 & 20. If you thought that they were invalid, it was also important to note whether you thought they were invalid completely (that is even in cases not involving the Tennessee statute – including federal question cases) or whether you thought they were invalid only when the federal court was entertaining actions under the Tennessee statute.]
Some of you missed that this was an Erie question entirely. Some claimed the Tennessee statute was unconstitutional because it violated due process to require joinder (it was not clear to me why that was true, especially since the requirement applied only when jurisdiction could be obtained over the other participants in the accident). On the other hand some of claimed that because the Tennessee joinder rule was substantive (because it was folded into the Tennessee cause of action) it clearly applied in federal court – without noting that there are FRCPs with which the Tennessee statute appears to directly conflict.
Some failed to put it in the right Erie track. The proper track is the FRCP track, not the federal procedural common law track.
Some of you ignored Rs 19 and 20, which are the ones that most plausibly directly conflict with the Tennessee rule, pointing instead to FRCP 12(b)(6) – which does not conflict with the Tennessee rule, since it merely speaks of dismissal for failure to state a claim, without saying that joinder can't be part of what it takes to state a claim. Others appealed to R 8(a) which was also not in direct conflict with the Tennessee rule.
By the way, this question was an attempt to create a very simple analogue of the Shady Grove case (or at least the Shady Grove case as some on the Court understood it). Because we did not read Shady Grove in class, I had no expectation that you discuss it, however. In Shady Grove the question was the applicability in federal court of a New York rule that prohibited class actions for certain causes of action. Some on the court saw the New York rule as substantive, in the sense that it was folded into the New York cause of action the federal court was entertaining. The New York rule conflicted (or appeared to conflict) with R 23, which allowed class actions. As a result some thought R 23 abridged, enlarged, or modified substantive rights.Shady Grove is like our case except in our case it is a compulsory joinder rule (rather than a prohibition on class actions) that is at issue. I also made it clear in my example that the joinder rule was indeed folded into the state law cause of action – the matter was much less clear in Shady Grove itself.