A real party in interest is the person or entity whose rights are involved and stands to gain from a lawsuit or petition even though the plaintiff who filed suit is someone else, often called a “nominal” plaintiff. Under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, an action must be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest. The following may sue in their own names without joining the person for whose benefit the action is brought:
- an executor;
- an administrator;
- a guardian;
- a bailee;
- a trustee of an express trust;
- a party with whom or in whose name a contract has been made for another’s benefit; and
- a party authorized by statute.
However, the court may not dismiss an action for failure to prosecute in the name of the real party in interest until, after an objection, a reasonable time has been allowed for the real party in interest to ratify, join, or be substituted into the action. After ratification, joinder, or substitution, the action proceeds as if it had been originally commenced by the real party in interest.
Admiralty favors the principle that the real party in interest is a proper party, and the party entitled to relief. For example, where the libel is brought in the name of the carrier against shippers for freight, but the real party in interest is the agent, both under accepted admiralty and civil practice, the libelant should be the agent. Indeed, a suit in admiralty must be brought by the real party in interest, rather than in the name of one person for the benefit of another. This principle is flexible, however, and under appropriate circumstances a party may sue for the benefit of another. Collision suits for damage to the vessel as well as to the cargo are frequently prosecuted only by the owners of the vessel. In addition, the indorsee of a maritime bill of lading may sue in admiralty for nondelivery of the goods, even though the beneficial interest is in another person.
For instance, in admiralty,
- An agent may sue in his or her own name, for example, where the owners are absent. The agent may also sue in his or her name in class suits and may do so as well as in the name of his or her principal;
- Since a possessory title is sufficient to enable a person to be the party plaintiff, a bailee may sue for damage inflicted on cargo in its possession;
- Suit may be maintained in the name of an assignor for the benefit of the assignee, as well as by the assignee for his or her own benefit
- An insurance company may appear as libellant in its own name in admiralty, to enforce the insured’s right against a third party, if the company is subrogated to the right of the insured or the suit is for reimbursement to the company for the amount it has paid to the insured.
Under certain conditions, a third party may be brought into a pending admiralty and maritime claim. The rule regarding admiralty and maritime claims is not exclusive of, but rather supplemental to, the general rule as to when a defendant may bring in a third party and must be interpreted by reference thereto.