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Necessary Parties versus Indispensable Parties

Multi-party litigation changes things substantively, strategically and procedurally. As a threshold issue, the question of whether all necessary/indispensable parties have been joined in a given lawsuit is something litigants often raise. This leads to the subtle distinction between necessary parties and indispensable parties under Missouri law.

Under Missouri Supreme Court Rules, a party must be joined in a lawsuit if (1) complete relief cannot be accorded among those already parties, or (2) the person claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and is so situated that the disposition of the action in the person’s absence may: (i) impair or impede the person’s ability to protect that interest or (ii) leave existing parties subject to a substantial risk of incurring double, multiple, or inconsistent obligations by reason of the claimed interest. See Rule 52.04(a). Persons described under Rule 52.04(a) are necessary parties. Edmunds v. Sigma Chapter of Alpha Kappa, 87 S.W.3d 21, 27 (Mo. Ct. App. 2002).

If a party described under 52.04(a) cannot be joined, then the Court needs to determine whether in equity and good conscience the action should proceed among those parties that have been joined or whether it should be dismissed. See Rule 52.04(b). Parties described under Rule 52.04(b) are indispensable partiesEdmunds, 87 S.W.3d at 28.

In short, an indispensable party is a necessary party that cannot be joined to the lawsuit and whose presence is so vital that the lawsuit cannot proceed. If a lawsuit does not name a necessary party, then the proper procedure to attack the lawsuit would be to file a motion requesting that the plaintff(s) amend the lawsuit to include the party(ies). If an indispensable party has not been named in the suit, then the proper procedure would be to file a motion to dismiss for non-joinder and/or failure to name the indispensable parties.

Confusingly,  older court cases occasionally state that failure to join an indispensable is a jurisdictional defect, which can lead to a separate set of issues. However, the Missouri Supreme Court rejected that notion in 2009 and confined “jurisdiction” to subject matter jurisdiction (i.e., the types of cases Courts can hear) and personal jurisdiction (i.e., the power of a Court to render judgment against a particular party). See J.C.W. ex rel. Webb v. Wyciskalla, 275 S.W.3d 249, 254 (Mo. 2009) (rejecting the notion of “jurisdictional competence” and the failure to include proper properties as jurisdictional).

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