Salt River Project v. Lee

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: 03-15-2012
  • Case #: 10-17895
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Silverman for the Court; Circuit Judge Tashima and Senior District Judge Garbis
  • Full Text Opinion

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19, an Indian Tribe protected by sovereign immunity is not considered a necessary or indispensable party, when a tribal official adequately represents the group’s interest in the action and complete relief could be accorded “among the existing parties without the tribe.”

Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District, and Headwaters Resources, Inc. ("Salt River Project") filed an action for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Director of Office of Navajo Labor Relations, the members of the Navajo Nation Labor Commission, and the justices of the Navajo Nation Supreme Court ("Navajo Officials") after the Navajo Nation Supreme Court held the Navajo Preference in Employment Act (Act) applied to Salt River Project. Salt River Project appeals the district court’s decision to dismiss for not joining Navajo Nation pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (Rule) 12(b)(7) “failure to join a party required by Rule 19.” The district court held under Rule (19)(a)(1)(A) without Navajo Nation, complete relief could not be accorded, and 19(a)(1)(B)(i), Navajo Nation’s general interests would be impaired. The Ninth Circuit found that the district court erred on both accounts. First, the Court determined complete relief could be awarded because an injunction will prevent against future violations, applying to successors in office under Rule 65(d); also, because Salt River Project can bring future actions against non-named officials in violation of federal law. Second, the Court addressed three factors to determine if the interests of an absent party were adequately represented. “(1) Whether the interests of a present party to the suit are such that it will undoubtedly make all of the absent party’s arguments; (2) whether the party is capable of and willing to make such arguments; and (3) whether the absent party would offer any necessary element to the proceedings that the present parties would neglect.” The Ninth Circuit held that the tribe’s interests were adequately represented and Navajo Nation was not a necessary party under Rule 19. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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