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Nature Conservancy v. Browder

February 12, 2008

THE NATURE CONSERVANCY
v.
DON BROWDER, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Ronnie Greer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On May 30, 2007, the plaintiff, The Nature Conservancy ("TNC"), filed a complaint, [Doc. 1], with this Court against the Shady Valley Watershed District ("District"), Unformed Watershed District ("Unformed District"), Don Browder, Vance Gentry, Earl B. Howard, Jr., Gerald Buckles, Wayne Duncan, Garry Dunn, Earl B. Howard, Sr., and Randy McQueen, seeking first a declaratory judgment that District has been dissolved by operation of law, that TNC's property in Johnson County, Tennessee, is free from any and all easements held by the defendants, and that the Unformed District does not hold any property rights once held by the dissolved District. Second, TNC seeks to quiet the title to its property and for the Johnson County Register of Deeds to reform all deeds and remove any and all easements once held by the District. Third, TNC alleges that the defendants violated the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act ("TCPA"), see T.C.A. § 47-18-104(27) (2008), and fourth, TNC asserts a negligence per se claim against the individual defendants. The basis for subject matter jurisdiction is diversity, see 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) (2008).

On June 7, 2007, the parties agreed to a preliminary injunction, [Doc. 27], enjoining the defendants and their agents from coming onto TNC's land and from causing damage to TNC's property. Before filing an answer, the defendants filed two motions to dismiss, [Docs. 32 and 35]. In this Court's February 5, 2008 order, the Court decided the defendants' first motion to dismiss, [Doc. 32], and this Court found that it had subject matter jurisdiction over the case based on diversity of citizenship and because the amount in controversy was met. This Court further found that TNC had standing to sue, and the Court dismissed Count 3, the violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act claim and Count 4, the negligence per se claim. The remaining counts of the complaint include:

1) declaratory judgment that the District has been dissolved by operation of law, that the District's easements are, thus, extinguished, and that the Unformed District does not hold any property rights in the easements, and 2) quiet title action declaring TNC's property free and clear of any clouds and for the Johnson County Register of Deeds to reform the deeds.

In the second motion, [Doc. 35], the subject of this opinion, the defendants moved for dismissal pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and (b)(7), failure to join a party under Fed. R. Civ. P. 19 or alternatively moved to require joinder of certain parties. The defendants argue that Fed. R. Civ. P. 19(a) requires the joinder of all property owners in the Shady Valley Watershed District, Johnson County, Tennessee, the County of Johnson County, Tennessee, the Johnson County Register of Deeds, and the State of Tennessee. In addition, the defendants argue that the Complaint should be dismissed because the State of Tennessee is indispensable according to Fed. R. Civ. P. 19(b) and cannot be joined without destroying the Court's subject matter jurisdiction due to lack of complete diversity of citizenship.

Rule 19 a provides in pertinent part:

(a) Persons Required to Be Joined if Feasible.

(1) Required Party. A person who is subject to service of process and whose joinder will not deprive the court of subject-matter jurisdiction must be joined as a party if:

(A) in that person's absence, the court cannot accord complete relief among existing parties; or

(B) that person claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and is so situated that disposing of the action in the person's absence may:

(i) as a practical matter impair or impede the person's ability to protect the interest; or

(ii) leave an existing party subject to a substantial risk of incurring double, multiple, or otherwise inconsistent obligations because of the interest. . . . .

(b) When Joinder Is Not Feasible. If a person who is required to be joined if feasible cannot be joined, the court must determine whether, in equity and good conscience, the action should proceed among the existing parties or should be dismissed. The factors for the court to consider include:

(1) the extent to which a judgment rendered in the person's absence might prejudice that ...


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