Temple v. Synthes Corp., Ltd.
498 U.S. 5 (1990)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Temple v. Synthes Corp., Ltd., 498 U.S. 5 (1990)

Temple v. Synthes Corporation, Ltd.

No. 90-295

Decided Nov. 5, 1990

498 U.S. 5




Petitioner Temple, a Mississippi resident, underwent surgery in October, 1986, in which a "plate and screw device" was implanted in his lower spine. The device was manufactured by respondent Synthes, Ltd. (U.S.A.) (Synthes), a Pennsylvania corporation. Dr. S. Henry LaRocca performed the surgery at St. Charles General Hospital in New Orleans,

Page 498 U. S. 6

Louisiana. Following surgery, the device's screws broke off inside Temple's back.

Temple filed suit against Synthes in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The suit, which rested on diversity jurisdiction, alleged defective design and manufacture of the device. At the same time, Temple filed a state administrative proceeding against Dr. LaRocca and the hospital for malpractice and negligence. At the conclusion of the administrative proceeding, Temple filed suit against the doctor and the hospital in Louisiana state court.

Primary Holding
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19 does not require that joint tortfeasors are necessary parties.
Temple brought a product liability action in federal court against Synthes Corporation, which was the manufacturer of a device that had been implanted in his back and had malfunctioned. He also sued the doctor who had inserted the device and the hospital where the procedure was performed, but these medical malpractice and negligence claims were brought in state court. In a motion to dismiss, Synthes argued that Tempe had failed to join necessary parties to the federal lawsuit under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19. He received 20 days to join the doctor and the hospital, which the court ruled were necessary parties. Temple failed to meet this deadline, and the court dismissed his claim with prejudice.

Ruling that the district court had the power to order joinder of these parties, the appellate court agreed that adding the doctor and the hospital would promote a more complete, consistent, and efficient resolution of the dispute. If the district court had not added these parties, Synthes might have been harmed by the simultaneous continuation of the other lawsuit because it might try to avoid liability by claiming that the doctor and hospital were negligent instead of the device being defective. This could be difficult to prove if the defendants in state court were making the opposite argument.


Per Curiam

The traditional rule that joint tortfeasors do not all need to be brought into the same lawsuit survives the creation of Rule 19. In fact, the Advisory Committee Notes state explicitly that the joinder of these parties is permissive rather than required. Although pursuing multiple lawsuits in relation to the same circumstances is not ideal, the lower court did not have the power to dismiss the claim with prejudice because the threshold requirements for joinder did not support its action.

Case Commentary

Compulsory joinder is not often applied, since parties usually should have the right to decide what claims should be brought and which people or entities should be involved. However, it may be needed if more than one party claims the same property, rights or liabilities are jointly held, or the outcome of the lawsuit will affect the rights of parties that are not included.

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