UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
April 28, 2010
ROBERT CAPELLI AND CARLA CAPELLI, PLAINTIFFS,
BRINKS INCORPORATED, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge
Through the present Motion, Defendant Brink's Incorporated ("Defendant") requests that the Court join a third party, MedFinManager, LLC ("MedFin") as an additional party plaintiff in this matter on grounds that MedFin qualifies as a real party in interest to these proceedings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(a).*fn1 Alternatively, Defendant requests that MedFin be joined as a necessary party under Rule 19(a).
According to Defendant's Motion, MedFin is a financial services company that has purchased medical liens arising from treatment administered to the Plaintiffs in this personal injury action, which arises from a motor vehicle accident that occurred on January 12, 2008. Defendant alleges that MedFin has paid the medical providers some 40 percent of treatment costs in exchange for a lien representing the entire billed amount of those costs, which currently totals approximately $414,494.24. Defendants argue that because MedFin has a policy of not compromising its liens purchased in this manner, MedFin should be joined as a Plaintiff given the considerable impact its liens may have upon resolution of this case.
Rule 17 requires that "every action shall be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest." Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(a). Since the jurisdiction of this Court is founded upon diversity of citizenship, in determining such status we must look to whether the non-party, here MedFin, has the right, under state law, to bring the action maintained by Plaintiffs. See, e.g., White Hall Bldg. Corp. v. Profexray Div. of Litton Indus., Inc., 387 F. Supp. 2d 1202, 1204 (D.C. Pa. 1974). According to California law, the party possessing the right being sued upon is generally the real party in interest. Igelesia Evangelica Latina, Inc. v. Southern Pacific Dist. of Assemblies of God, 173 Cal. App. 4th 420, 445 (2009). As the California Supreme Court has made clear, "a personal injury tort action is undertaken for the benefit of the injured plaintiff." City and County of San Francisco v. Sweet, 12 Cal. 4th 105, 117 (1995). Significantly for purposes of this case, the Sweet court goes on to explain as follows:
"The plaintiffs do not have an interest in the recovery in common with the plaintiff. That the creditors may benefit from any recovery is an incidental, not an intended, benefit of the litigation."
Id. It follows that MedFin, given its status as a creditor in possession of a lien against Plaintiffs' recovery for medical expenses, cannot qualify as a real party in interest under California law. Therefore Defendant's attempt to join MedFin as a party plaintiff under Rule 17 is misplaced.
Defendant fares no better in its alternative request that MedFin be included in this litigation as a necessary party under Rule 19(a). In determining whether a party may properly be deemed necessary, the courts have identified no precise formula. Rule 19(a) has nonetheless been found to contemplate a two-part analysis. First, the court must consider whether complete relief is possible among those parties already included with the action. Second, the court must assess whether the absent party has a legally protected interest in the outcome of the action such that in its absence the defendant could be at risk of multiple or inconsistent legal obligations. See Confederated Tribes of Chehalis Indian Reservation v. Lujan, 928 F.2d 1496, 1498 (9th Cir. 1991).
There is no reason why complete relief cannot be had in this matter between Plaintiffs, as the injured parties, and Defendant as the alleged tortfeasor. While Defendant may well be correct that MedFin's lien may make it more difficult to settle the case, that does not mean that the lien will prevent Plaintiffs from ultimately collecting any damages ultimately found to be owed by Defendant.
Nor is MedFin's interest in this matter such that Defendant is exposed to the risk of multiple or inconsistent liability. Plaintiffs' obligation to pay MedFin's lien has nothing to do with whether, or to what extent, Defendants are ultimately found liable for Plaintiffs' injuries. Indeed, as Plaintiffs themselves note in their Opposition, they are indebted on the Medfin liens "regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit", since the liens are payable in full "even if Plaintiffs are wholly unsuccessful." Pls.' Opp'n, 8:18-21.
In sum, then, whether analyzed in the context of a real party in interest under Rule 17 or under the standards applicable to determination of a necessary party under Rule 19, Defendant's attempt to join MedFin as an additional party to this case must fail. Defendant's Motion to Join MedFin as a Party Plaintiff (Docket No. 21) is accordingly DENIED.*fn2
While the Court recognizes Defendant's concern that MedFin be obligated to meaningfully participate in any negotiations to resolve the case, it is neither necessary or appropriate that MedFin be joined as a party to accomplish that objective. Should a settlement conference be scheduled, for example, the Court can require MedFin's attendance and participation.
IT IS SO ORDERED.