Schlichter Bogard & Denton Obtains Court Ruling Keeping Case in St. Louis Court for 137 Peruvian Children Harmed by Toxic Pollutants
On March 18, 2008, the federal district court for the Saint Louis area ordered that the lawsuit filed on behalf of 137 Peruvian children poisoned by lead from Doe Run of St. Louis' smelter in La Oroya, Peru, be sent back to and heard in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, where the case originated. The decision is the first victory for these children, who have suffered profound injuries caused by exposure to toxic substances emitted from the lead smelter. The case centers on the conduct of Doe Run of St. Louis and the other named defendants in operating the smelter in disregard of the health and safety for the children living nearby. Doe Run maintains its headquarters in Maryland Heights, Missouri. Doe Run is owned by the Renco Group, a New York company, and billionaire Ira Rennert, who are among the defendants in the case.
Despite the defendants' efforts to assert that the allegations raised a federal question because they implicated the economic and sovereign interests of Peru, the federal judge disagreed and entered an order in favor of the children just five days after hearing the arguments. The presiding judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri concluded that the children alleged only state law claims and did not allege that Peru participated in the activities that led to their lead poisoning and other injuries. The judge stated that the defendants' contentions that Peru was involved in or shares liability for the children's injuries constitute defenses and cannot provide the basis for federal question jurisdiction. The judge quoted a Ninth Circuit case that states that federal judges cannot dismiss a case nor shape their rulings simply because a foreign government finds the case irksome, and that Congress has not extended federal question jurisdiction to suits simply because federal common law of foreign relations might arise as an issue. (See PDF of opinion below).
St. Louis area residents Sister Kathleen Reid, a Catholic nun, and Megan Heeney, a social justice advocate, filed the case on behalf of these children in hopes of protecting the children's health and rights. Sister Kate and Megan showed their continued support of these children by attending the hearing on March 13. Members of the Schlichter Bogard & Denton team who represent the children and who will continue to aggressively pursue justice on their behalf in the state court include Roger Denton, Kristine Kraft, and Beth Wilkins.