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Martin v. Wilks

Citation. 490 U.S. 755 (1989)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Birmingham attempts to use a consent decree from a case with Black firefighters to bind a subsequent case brought by white firefighters.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A judgement is only binding on the parties to a lawsuit and has no impact on the rights of a nonparty who was not joined even if they had the opportunity to do so.


A group of black firefighters sued the City of Birmingham and the Jefferson County Personnel Board for race dsicrimination. To settle the suit, Birmingham entered a consent decree that set requirements for hiring and promoting black firefighters. Subsequently, a group of white firefighters sued Birmingham and the Board alleging that they were being denied promotions because the consent decree allowed less qualified black firefighters to be promoted instead. Birmingham alleged that the consent decree precluded the white firefighters’ lawsuit and therefore moved to dismiss their lawsuit arguing that it was impervious to collateral attack. The district court granted the motion but the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Plaintiffs’ claims would not be precluded because they were not parties to the consent decree action. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari.


Will a nonparty who failed to voluntarily intervene in an earlier action be barred from bringing a related claim in a subsequent lawsuit?


No, a nonparty who failed to voluntarily intervene in an earlier action may not be barred from bringing a related claim in a subsequent lawsuit. Decision of the court of appeals is affirmed.


  1. The American rule is that a person will not be bound by a judgement unless they were named as a party or served.
  2. Chase National Bank v. Norwalk also held that nonparties do not have the burden of intervention which soon became a part of the FRCP.
  3. A party that wants to enforce a judgement against another party must join that party which is governed under FRCP 19.
  4. A party cannot force a nonparty to intervene which is why intervention under FRCP 24 is permissive.
  5. It is not important that the party had knowledge of the lawsuit, only joinder can subject a nonparty to the court’s jurisdiction.
  6. The difficulty in figuring out who should be joined in a case in inherent in discrimination cases and will not be mitigated by mandatory intervention.
  7. Birmingham’s voluntary settlement with the black firefighters

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