United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Northern Division
W. EARL BRITT, Senior District Judge.
This matter is before the court on the 3 October 2013 motion to dismiss filed by defendants Thomas F. "Rick" Webb ("Webb") and New Lake Holdings, L.L.C. (collectively "defendants"). (DE # 8.) The period to respond and reply to this motion has elapsed, and the matter is now ripe for disposition.
This is an action brought by plaintiff United States of America ("United States") seeking declaratory and injunctive relief for trespass on its property, monetary damages to its property, and to quiet title. (Compl., DE # 1, ¶ 1.) The United States contends that defendants have willfully trespassed and encroached upon the federal lands of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. (Id.) The property of the United States comprises 3, 940 acres of lake waters and submerged lands and 2, 760 acres of forested wetlands. ( Id. ¶ 18.) New Lake Holdings, L.L.C. owns land which borders the federal property at issue. ( Id. ¶¶ 19-36.) At all times relevant to the complaint, Webb was involved in the operation of and directed the actions of New Lake Holdings, L.L.C. ( Id. ¶ 6.)
Specifically, the claims of the United States arise out of defendants' alleged trespasses by excavating canals into a body of water known as New Lake in order to obtain improved water access from the rear of their hunting lodge, mowing cypress tree regrowth and other natural vegetation along the shore of New Lake, and depositing shot onto federal property from their shooting range. ( Id. ¶¶ 1, 37-80.) The United States maintains that "defendants continue their refusal to recognize the common boundary line that is marked by artificial monuments and described by specific courses and distances to the long-established water's edge of New Lake, as established by the deeds of the respective parties and a survey." ( Id. ¶ 1.)
This action was commenced on 2 July 2013. (DE # 1.) On 3 October -, defendants filed their answer, counterclaim, and motion to dismiss. (DE # 5.) On the same date, defendants filed an amendment to the aforementioned document, which included a memorandum of law in support of their motion to dismiss. (DE ## 8, 8-1.) The United States filed a response to the motion on 24 October 2013. (DE # 11.) Defendants did not file a reply.
The court initially notes that although defendants' motion is labeled as a "Motion to Dismiss" (Mot., DE # 8, at 1; Mem., DE # 8-1, at 1) pursuant to Rules 12(b)(7) and 19 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the motion is in fact one to compel the joinder of necessary parties. Defendants maintain that the "primary purpose" of this action is to determine the location of the common boundary between the property of the United States, i.e., New Lake, and the property of New Lake Holdings, L.L.C. (Mot., DE # 8, at 1 ¶ 1.) They emphasize that the survey relied upon by the United States to fix the location of that common boundary also purports to determine the common boundary between New Lake and approximately thirteen other parcels of land which also adjoin New Lake. ( Id. at 1-2 ¶ 2.) Defendants argue that the owners of these other parcels of land ("the adjoining landowners") are required parties who must be joined to this action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19. ( Id. at 3-4; see also Mem., DE # 8-1, at 5.)
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(7) provides that a party may assert by motion the defense of "failure to join a party under Rule 19." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(7). Rule 19 sets forth a two-step inquiry. See Owens-Illinois, Inc. v. Meade , 186 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 1999). First, the court must consider whether a non-party is "required, " i.e., "necessary" to the action, because of its relationship to the matter under consideration. Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(a)(1) ("required"); Owens-Illinois , 186 F.3d at 440 ("necessary"). A party is required under Rule 19(a)(1) 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.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 19(a)(1)(A)-(B). If a person has not been joined as required, the court must order that the person be made a party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(a)(2). If the person is not a required party, however, the inquiry ends. See Mainstream Constr. Grp., Inc. v. Dollar Props., LLC, No. 7:09-CV-00148-BR, 2010 WL 2039671, at *2 (E.D. N.C. May 20, 2010) ("If a party ...