Knightly v. Gula et al
ORDER denying 27 Motion to Dismiss Defendants' Third-Party Complaint. So Ordered by Magistrate Judge Andrea K. Johnstone.(kad) (Additional attachment(s) added on 6/19/2017: # 1 Order with Corrected Page 1 (opinion number) (kad).
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
Civil No. 16-cv-124-AJ
Opinion No. 2017 DNH 123
Stanley E. Gula et al.
Stanley E. Gula et al.
O R D E R
Stanley E. Gula and Virginia L. Gula bring a third-party
action against Robert Lanctot, seeking contribution from Lanctot
should they be found liable in the underlying action brought
against them by Debbie Knightly.
Lanctot moves to dismiss,
arguing that the third-party action is barred by New Hampshire
Revised Statutes Annotated (“RSA”) § 507:7-g because Debbie
Knightly did not consent to its filing.
Doc. no. 27.
object, arguing that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”)
14(a), not RSA 507:7-g, governs third-party contribution actions
in federal court.
Doc. no. 29.
As relevant here, RSA 507:7-g prohibits the defendant in an
action from bringing a third-party claim for contribution in
that same action without the consent of the plaintiff.
In contrast, Rule 14(a) states that “[a]
defendant party may, as third-party plaintiff, serve a summons
and complaint on a nonparty who is or may be liable to it for
all or part of the claim against it.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 14(a)(1).
The parties do not dispute that the Gulas’ third-party action is
the sort contemplated by RSA 507:7-g and Rule 14(a).
they dispute that the Gulas filed the third-party action without
Debbie Knightly’s consent.
Thus, whether dismissal is
appropriate turns on which of these two provisions applies.
When resolving conflicts between state law and a federal
rule, “[t]he initial step is to determine whether . . . the
scope of [the rule] is sufficiently broad to cause a direct
collision with the state law or, implicitly, to control the
issue before the court, thereby leaving no room for the
operation of that law.”
Burlington N. R.R. Co. v. Woods, 480
U.S. 1, 4–5 (1987) (internal quotation marks omitted).
there is plainly a direct collision between RSA 507:7-g and Rule
14, as one requires plaintiff consent to bring a third-party
contribution action and the other does not.
In the event of a direct collision between state law and a
federal rule, the federal rule governs “unless it exceeds
statutory authorization or Congress’s rulemaking power.”
Grove Orthopedic Assocs., P.A. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 559 U.S.
393, 398 (2010) (citation omitted).
Under the Rules Enabling
Act, federal courts must apply the federal rules unless they
“abridge, enlarge, or modify any substantive right.”
“Rules that are ‘strictly procedural’ can be adopted
through the Rules Enabling Act,” as can “rules that fall ‘within
the uncertain area between substance and procedure, but are
rationally capable of classification as either.’”
v. Walsh, 75 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 1996) (brackets omitted)
(quoting Burlington N. R.R. Co., 480 U.S. at 5).
“The test is
not whether the rule affects a litigant’s substantive rights;
most procedural rules do.”
Shady Grove, 559 U.S. at 408
(citations omitted). “What matters is what the rule itself
regulates: If it governs only the manners and the means by which
the litigants’ rights are enforced, it is valid; if it alters
the rules of decision by which the court will adjudicate those
rights, it is not.”
Id. (brackets and internal quotation marks
Decisions from this district and others are split on
whether Rule 14(a), when applied in the present context,
abridges a substantive right bestowed upon plaintiffs by RSA
See, e.g., Connors v. Suburban Propane Co., 916 F.
Supp. 73, 77–81 (D.N.H. 1996) (concluding that RSA 507:7-g must
be applied over Rule 14(a) because the former bestows a
substantive right upon plaintiffs to exclude third-party
defendants); Gilbert v. CPM Constructors, 96-cv-481-PB (D.N.H.
1998) (slip op. at 3) (holding that “the right to engage in
third-party practice under Rule 14(a) affects only the process
of enforcing litigant’s rights rather than the rights
themselves”); Z.B. v. Ammonoosuc Cmty. Health Servs., 225 F.R.D.
50, at 61 – 62 (D. Me. 2004) (reaching the same conclusion as
In the court’s view, each of these decisions has its
As such, the court is compelled to conclude
that Rule 14(a), when applied in this particular context, “falls
within the uncertain area between substantive and procedure
[that is] rationally capable of classification as either.” See
Walsh, 75 F.3d at 6 (citation omitted).
As discussed above, the
federal rule governs under such circumstances.
also Shady Grove, 559 U.S. at 398.
See id.; see
Thus, Rule 14(a) applies,
and the Gulas may properly bring a third-party claim for
contribution as part of this action without Debbie Knightly’s
Accordingly, Lanctot’s motion to dismiss the Gulas’ thirdparty complaint (doc. no. 27) is denied.
Andrea K. Johnstone
United States Magistrate Judge
June 19, 2017
Jonathan S. Frizzell, Esq.
Nicholas James Deleault, Esq.
John L. Riff, IV, Esq.
Gary M. Burt, Esq.
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