In the recent decision of State Ex rel. Woodco, Inc. v. Phillips, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the long-standing principle that joinder of all tortfeasors in a single suit is not required under Missouri’s compulsory joinder rule. On a writ of prohibition, the Supreme Court considered the application of Missouri’s compulsory joinder rule, Mo. R. Civ. P. 52.04, in a construction defect case arising from the construction of a senior living facility. In the underlying case, the general contractor sued all but one of the subcontractors for breach of contract and negligence. The circuit court allowed the other subcontractors to add the subcontractor that had not been sued by the plaintiff. But the Supreme Court ruled that Rule 52.04 did not require the addition of unnamed subcontractor, and prohibited the circuit court from allowing the defendants to join as a defendant the subcontractor that had not been sued by the plaintiff.
The lawsuit came about as a result of a settlement reached between the project’s general contractor and owner after discovering defects in the construction of the project. Pursuant to the settlement agreement, the project owner assigned its claims against the subcontractors to the general contractor. Subsequently, the general contractor filed suit against the project’s architect, structural engineer, construction company, supplier, and framer, asserting breach of contract and tort claims, but did not include the masonry company. The architect, structural engineer, and construction company moved to join the masonry company as a defendant, arguing that its joinder was required under Rule 52.04, which the trial court allowed.
The general contractor sought a writ of prohibition to direct the trial court to remove the masonry company from the action, which the Court of Appeals denied. The case proceeded to the Supreme Court, where the general contractor argued that Rule 52.04 did not require that the masonry company be added as a party defendant to the lawsuit. This time, the general contractor’s writ was granted, and the Supreme Court directed the trial court to remove the masonry company as a defendant.
Missouri’s compulsory joinder rule, found in Rule 52.04, requires joinder of a party in either of two situations: when complete relief for parties to the action cannot otherwise be obtained, or when either the absent party’s interest would be prejudiced or when the parties before the court would be subject to inconsistent obligations due to the absent party’s claimed interest. The subcontractor defendants argued that the masonry company’s joinder was required under Rule 52.04 because complete relief for the other parties was not possible in its absence, and there would be a risk of inconsistent obligations to the existing parties without the masonry company. The Supreme Court disagreed.
The Supreme Court found that joinder of the masonry company was not required under either scenario set forth in Rule 52.04. First, the masonry company was not a party to any of the contracts upon which the general contractor was suing the other defendants. Thus, although the contractual disputes at issue might concern work performed by the masonry company, the masonry company would not be affected by the outcome and the breach of contract claims could be fully resolved among the existing defendants.
* Hannah Chanin, Summer Law Clerk in the St. Louis office of Baker Sterchi, assisted in the research and drafting of this post. Chanin is a rising 3L student at the Washington University St. Louis School of Law.