Acuna v. Brown & Root

Decision Date11 January 2000
Docket NumberCHEM-WASTE,N,MO-VAC,SUSQUEHANNA-WESTERN,No. 98-51073,98-51073
Citation200 F.3d 335
Parties(5th Cir. 2000) CRECENSIO ACUNA; LEONARDO ACUNA, Individually and as next friend of Pedro Acuna, Leonardo Acuna, Jr. & Genaro Acuna, Minors; HELEN LEAL ALANIZ, Individually and as next friend of Abel Alaniz, Jr., Justin Alaniz & Nicole Alaniz, Minors; CONSUELO R. AGUERO, Individually and as next friend of Mark Anthony Aguero & Anna Marie Aguero, Minors; JOSE LUIS AGUERO, JR., Individually and as next friend of Patrick T. Aguero, a Minor; ET AL, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. BROWN & ROOT INC.; ET AL, Defendants; BROWN & ROOT INC.; CHEVRON USA INC., Individually, as parent, and successor in interest to Chevron Resources Company, a division of Chevron Industries, Inc.; CONOCO, INC.; CONTINENTAL OIL COMPANY; EXXON CORPORATION; RIO GRANDE RESOURCES CORPORATION; GENERAL ATOMICS, doing business as General Atomics Corp.; ATLANTIC RICHFIELD COMPANY, as successor in interest to Anaconda Company; INTERCONTINENTAL ENERGY CORPORATION, doing business as IEC Corporation, Defendants-Appellees. REBECCA GARCIA, Individually and as next friend of Stephanie Renee Garcia, a minor; ROGELIO GARCIA; ROMONA GARCIA; SYLVIA M. GARCIA; YOLANDA GARCIA, Individually and as next friend of Roxanne Garcia, Rafael Garcia, Minors, ET AL, Plaintiffs - Appellants v. CONOCO INC; ET AL, Defendants; CONOCO INC; CONQUISTA PROJECT CORPORATION; CONTINENTAL OIL CO; CHEVRON CORPORATION; CHEVRON RESOURCES; EXXON CORPORATION; GENERAL ATOMICS, doing business as General Atomics Corp; TOTALE INC; CHEMICAL WASTE MANAGEMENT INC; CHEMICAL WASTE MANAGEMENT OF TEXAS, INC; TOTALE CORPORATION; TOTAL AMERICAN MINING, INC; MALAPAI RESOURCES COMPANY; EVEREST MINERALS CORPORATION; PIONEER CORPORATION; PIONEER NUCLEAR INC; ATLANTIC RICHFIELD COMPANY;INC; RIO GRANDE RESOURCES CORPORATION; INTERCONTINENTAL ENERGY CORPORATION; URANIUM RESOURCES INC; GILBERT CONSTRUCTION COMPANY OF TEXAS, INC; GILBERT CONSTRUCTION COMPANY II; GILBERT CONSTRUCTION COMPANY; OXY MINERALS CORPORATION;INCORPORATED; E G GONZALES TRUCKING & PAVING; BUDDY SMI
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas.

Before GARWOOD, SMITH and BENAVIDES, Circuit Judges.

BENAVIDES, Circuit Judge:

The above-captioned cases were consolidated on appeal. They present the common issue of whether jurisdiction in the federal courts is appropriate under the Price Anderson Act, 42 U.S.C. 2210(n)(2), where plaintiffs have alleged tortious injury arising from uranium mining activity. Plaintiffs-appellants also appeal the imposition of certain pre-discovery orders and argue, in the alternative, that they satisfied any burdens placed upon them and that their cases should not have been dismissed. As discussed below, we find that jurisdiction was proper under 42 U.S.C. 2210(n)(2) and that dismissal of the cases was proper.

I. Facts and Procedural History

Crecension Acuna and other plaintiffs, in total numbering over one thousand, brought suit in Texas state court against defendant companies for alleged personal injuries and property damage arising from defendants' uranium mining and processing activities. Rebecca Garcia and approximately 600 other plaintiffs brought suit alleging similar claims against a partially overlapping set of defendants, most of whom were also engaged in uranium mining activities in another area of Texas.

In both cases, plaintiffs alleged that they were exposed to and injured by the defendants' mining and processing activities. Some plaintiffs worked in uranium mines or processing plants, while others alleged exposure to radiation or uranium dust or tailings through contact with family members who worked in the mines or through environmental factors such as wind and groundwater. Plaintiffs alleged a range of injuries as well as durations and intensities of exposure.1

Both suits were filed in Texas courts, alleging causes of action under state law. Defendants removed the cases to the federal district court for the Western District of Texas, where they were treated as related cases. Over plaintiffs' objections, that court asserted jurisdiction under the Price Anderson Act, 42 U.S.C. 2210(n)(2). First in Acuna and then in Garcia, the court issued pre-discovery scheduling orders that required plaintiffs to establish certain elements of their claims through expert affidavits. Those affidavits had to specify, for each plaintiff, the injuries or illnesses suffered by the plaintiff that were caused by the alleged uranium exposure, the materials or substances causing the injury and the facility thought to be their source, the dates or circumstances and means of exposure to the injurious materials, and the scientific and medical bases for the expert's opinions.

In response to the order issued in Acuna, plaintiffs submitted just over one thousand form affidavits from a single expert, Dr. Smith. Those affidavits identified a series of illnesses and effects that can occur as a result of uranium exposure and stated that the relevant plaintiff suffered from some or all of them. The affidavits stated that Dr. Smith had reviewed the plaintiff's medical data and had come to the conclusion that exposure to uranium and its by-products had reached clinically significant doses. The affidavits went on to list all of the mining facilities covered in the lawsuit as responsible for each plaintiff's exposure and routes of exposure as including inhalation, ingestion, and direct skin contact. The affidavits also included a list of scientific studies and materials.

The magistrate judge found that the affidavits did not comply with the scheduling order, reiterated some of the requirements of the order, and gave plaintiffs an additional month to comply. Plaintiffs then submitted additional affidavits by Dr. Smith and two other experts. Some individuals were identified in these affidavits as suffering from particular diseases but the other required information was not provided regarding their claims. The supplemental affidavits did not provide any new information regarding the specific claims of the vast majority of plaintiffs. The magistrate judge found that these additional affidavits still failed to meet the specificity requirements of the order and recommended that the case be dismissed. The district court issued a memorandum and order dismissing the case.

An identical pre-discovery order was issued some months later in Garcia. Plaintiffs in that case submitted only one affidavit by Dr. Smith, designed to cover all plaintiffs' claims. Following the magistrate judge's recommendation, the district court dismissed the case for failure to comply with the order. Plaintiffs in both cases appeal.

II. Analysis
A. Federal Jurisdiction

Plaintiffs in both cases contend that removal was improper under the Price Anderson Act. They argue that neither the statutory language nor Congressional intent confers federal jurisdiction over claims arising from uranium mining and related activities. Defendants counter that the Act was meant to create federal jurisdiction over all claims connected to the nuclear power and weapons industries, including the mining and processing of uranium.

The district court's exercise of jurisdiction is reviewed de novo, see Vasquez v. Alto Bonito Gravel Plant Corp., 56 F.3d 689, 692 (5th Cir. 1995), and doubts regarding whether removal jurisdiction is proper should be resolved against federal jurisdiction. See Willy v. Coastal Corp., 855 F.2d 1160, 1164 (5th Cir. 1988). We find that the Price Anderson Act does confer exclusive federal jurisdiction over the claims in this case.

The Price Anderson Act sets up an indemnification and limitation of liability scheme for public liability arising out of the conduct of the nuclear energy and weapons industries. The jurisdictional provision in question here, 42 U.S.C. 2210(n)(2), was amended in 1988 to expand jurisdiction. Previously, only those claims arising out of an "extraordinary nuclear occurrence" were subject to automatic federal jurisdiction. The section now reads, in relevant part:

(2) With respect to any public liability action arising out of or resulting from a nuclear incident, the United States district court in the district where the incident takes place . . . shall have original jurisdiction without regard to the citizenship of any party or the amount in controversy. Upon motion of the defendant . . . any such action pending in any State court . . . shall be removed or transferred to the United States district court having venue under this subsection.

42 U.S.C. 2210(n)(2). 42 U.S.C. 2014 defines "nuclear incident" as encompassing any occurrence causing personal or property damage arising out of the toxic, radioactive, explosive, or other...

To continue reading

Request your trial
1582 cases
  • Warren v. Fed. Nat'l Mortg. Ass'n
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Texas
    • September 15, 2014
    ...). Any doubts regarding whether removal jurisdiction is proper should be resolved against federal jurisdiction. Acuna v. Brown & Root, Inc., 200 F.3d 335, 339 (5th Cir.2000).III.ANALYSISThe Federal National Mortgage Association Charter Act authorizes Fannie Mae to “sue and to be sued, and t......
  • Texas First Nat. Bank v. Wu
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Texas
    • December 9, 2004
    ...also Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108, 61 S.Ct. 868, 85 L.Ed. 1214 (1941) (supporting same); Acuna v. Brown & Root Inc., 200 F.3d 335, 339 (5th Cir.2000) Not every allegation of federal law is proof that federal question jurisdiction exists. Gully v. First Nat'l Bank in......
  • Amburgey v. Barnhart
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Texas
    • August 20, 2003
    ...and legal conclusions, on appeal. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 148, 106 S.Ct. 466, 88 L.Ed.2d 435 (1985); Acuna v. Brown & Root, Inc., 200 F.3d 335, 340 (5th Cir.2000); Douglass v. United Services Automobile Assoc., 79 F.3d 1415, 1428-29 (5th Cir.1996) (en banc); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1.......
  • Brown v. Barnhart
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Texas
    • June 12, 2003
    ...upon grounds of plain error, from attacking the proposed factual findings and legal conclusions, on appeal. See Acuna v. Brown & Root, Inc., 200 F.3d 335, 340 (5th Cir.2000); Douglass v. United Services Automobile Assoc., 79 F.3d 1415, 1424 (5th Cir.1996)(en banc); see also Crawford v. Falc......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 firm's commentaries
  • Colorado Supreme Court Forecloses Lone Pine Case Management Orders Under State Law
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • May 11, 2015
    ...See Lore v. Lone Pine Corp., L-33606-85, 1986 WL 637507 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. Nov. 18, 1986). 2 Acuna v. Brown & Root, Inc., 200 F.3d 335, 340 (5th Cir. 3 Baker v. Chevron USA, Inc., 105-CV-227, 2007WL 315346, at *1 (S.D. Ohio Jan. 20, 2007). 4 Id. at 1168. 5 In re Digitek Product L......
  • Lone Pine Order Forces Plaintiffs To Ante Up
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • December 7, 2012
    ...the substance that allegedly caused harm and providing evidence that a causal link exists. See, e.g., Acuna v. Brown & Root Inc., 200 F.3d 335, 340 (5th Cir. Lone Pine orders were slower to catch on in pharmaceutical product liability cases, where the identity of the allegedly harmful s......
5 books & journal articles

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT