Indispensable Parties Could Be Argued For First Time on Appeal

    In J.K.L.B. Farms, LLC v. Phillips, — So.2d –  [slip opinion], released June 15, the Alabama Supreme Court held that the appellant could advance his indispensable parties argument for the first time on appeal, but that the absence of parties from the trial court did not void the trial court’s judgment.

    In 2000, J.K.L.B. entered into an agreement to sell Robert Petty a parcel of real estate on which Petty’s mobile home was placed. Soon thereafter, the Phillips sued J.K.L.B. seeking to establish the boundary between their property and the property to be sold to Petty and alleging damages for trespass. On July 8, 2003, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of the Phillips, ordering J.K.L.B. to remove the mobile home. In 2006, the Phillips went back to the trial court, alleging that J.K.L.B. failed to comply with the terms of the July 8, 2003 judgment because it failed to remove the Petty’s mobile home. On October 11, 2006, the trial court again ordered J.K.L.B. to remove the mobile home. Petty was never a party to any of the proceedings before the trial court.

    J.K.L.B. argued on appeal that the trial court’s October 11, 2006 order was void because Petty was not added as a party. However, J.K.L.B. did not seek relief in the trial court on this basis and asserted its indispensable parties argument for the first time on appeal. Normally, any argument not raised in the trial court cannot be made on appeal. However, the indispensable parties argument is excepted from the general rules of appellate procedure in that it may be raised for the first time on appeal. In addition, an appellate court may raise that issue on its own motion and the fact that an indispensable party was not joined in the litigation does not necessitate the dismissal of an appeal. 

    Despite the failure to raise it earlier in the proceedings, J.K.L.B. was allowed to press its indispensable parties argument on appeal. However, applying the “equitable principles” set forth in Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 19(b), Petty could not be considered an indispensable party whose absence rendered the judgment void. The court first pointed out that J.K.L.B. waited to assert its indispensable party argument until it filed its appellate brief, which was more than three years after the 2003 judgment and more than six years after the encroachment first occurred. In addition, during the time the parties had been engaged in litigation, Petty, who had knowledge of at least the original proceedings below, did not make any effort to protect any interest of his in the litigation. As the question whether an action may proceed without an indispensable party is “particularly important when a judgment has already been rendered without the nonjoined [person],” Petty could not be considered an indispensable party.