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The union in one lawsuit of multiple parties who have the same rights or against whom rights are claimed as coplaintiffs or codefendants. The combination in one lawsuit of two or more causes of action, or grounds for relief. At common law the acceptance by opposing parties that a particular issue is in dispute.
Joinder of Parties
For two or more persons to join together as coplaintiffs or codefendants in a lawsuit, they generally must share similar rights or liabilities. At common law a person could not be added as a plaintiff unless that person, jointly with the other plaintiffs, was entitled to the whole recovery. A person could not be added as a defendant unless that person, jointly with the other defendants, was liable for the entire demand. To be more efficient, reduce costs, and reduce litigation, the modern practice of law does not proceed on the same principles.
Permissive Joinder According to modern law, a person who has no material interest in the subject of the litigation or in the relief demanded is not a proper party and may not be part of the legal action. A proper party is one who may be joined in the action but whose failure to do so does not prevent the court from hearing the case and settling the controversy. A proper party may be added to a lawsuit through a process called permissive joinder.
The statutes that govern permissive joinder generally provide that plaintiffs may unite in one action if they claim a right to relief for injuries arising from the same occurrence or transaction. Likewise, persons may join as defendants in an action if assertions made against them claim a right to relief for damages emerging from the same transaction or occurrence.
Compulsory Joinder If a court is being asked to decide the rights of a person who is not named as a party to the lawsuit, that party must be joined in the lawsuit or else the court may not hear the case. Such persons are deemed indispensable or necessary parties, and they may be added as parties to the lawsuit through a process termed compulsory joinder. For reasons of equity and convenience, it is often best for the court not to proceed if an indispensable party is absent and cannot be joined. In some circumstances, however, a court may still hear a matter if an indispensable party is absent, but its judgment can affect only the interests of the parties before it.
To determine whether a person is an indispensable party, the court must carefully examine the facts of the case, the relief sought, and the nature and extent of the absent person's interest in the controversy raised in the lawsuit. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and many state rules give courts flexible guidelines for this determination. These rules provide that the court should look to various pragmatic factors and determine whether it is better to dismiss the action owing to the absence of a party, or to proceed without that party. Specifically, the court should consider whether complete relief could still be accorded the parties who are present, whether the absence of the particular party impairs that party's ability to protect an interest, or whether the absence will leave a party that is present subject to a substantial risk of incurring multiple obligations. If the court decides, based on principles of equity and good conscience, that it is best to dismiss the action rather than hear it without the absent party joining the lawsuit, then the absent party is an indispensable party and the case is said to be dismissed for nonjoinder. For example, if one party to a contract asks the court to determine his rights under the contract, and the other party to the contract is absent and cannot be joined, then the court will refuse to hear the case because the other party is indispensable to determining rights under the contract.
Joinder of Action
Under certain circumstances a plaintiff may join several causes of action, or claims for relief, in one complaint, declaration, or petition, even though each could have been the basis for a separate lawsuit. This procedure is not the same as the common one in which a plaintiff relies on more than one theory of recovery or mode of redress to correct a single wrong.
To determine if the plaintiff is joining separate causes of action, as opposed to merely pursuing more than one means of redress, some courts look to whether the plaintiff is seeking to enforce more than one distinct primary right or whether the complaint addresses more than one subject of controversy. Other courts look to whether the claims emanate from a single occurrence or transaction. If the court's inquiry shows that a plaintiff is attempting to join several causes of action into one lawsuit, the court must look to the applicable court rules and statutes to determine if such a joining is permissible.
Modern statutes and rules of practice governing joinder of causes of action vary by jurisdiction. In general, however, they are liberal and encourage joinder when it promotes efficiency in the justice system. For example, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide that a plaintiff may join in one suit as many claims as she or he has against an opposing party. Some state rules are similarly broad. Many states provide that the court, on its own motion or on the motion of a party, may consolidate similarly related cases.
Joinder is not always favored by modern rules of court and statutes. Some statutes will not permit the joinder of causes of action that require different places of trial. Also, the various joinder statutes generally provide that inconsistent causes of action—that is, ones that disprove or defeat each other—cannot be joined in the same lawsuit. For example, a plaintiff may not in a single suit rely on a contract as valid and also treat the same contract as rescinded. However, contract and tort actions may be combined in one suit when they arise out of the same occurrence or transaction and are not inconsistent.
Misjoinder Misjoinder is an objection that may be made when a plaintiff joins separate causes of action that cannot be joined according to the applicable law. Some states require the plaintiff to decide which of the misjoined claims he or she wants to pursue. Other states allow the court to sever the misjoined claims into separate actions.
Joinder of Issue
At common law joinder of issue occurs when one party pleads that an allegation is true and the opposing party denies it, such that both parties are accepting that the particular issue is in dispute.
Oakley, John B. 2001. "Joinder and Jurisdiction in the Federal District Courts: The State of the Union of Rules and Statutes." Tennessee Law Review 69 (fall): 35–64.
Zwolinski, Rachel Lynne. 2002. "Joinder and Severance." Georgetown Law Journal 90 (May): 1373–94.