ST. LOUIS – Hundreds of Peruvian children claiming they suffered injuries caused by the release of toxic substances from a lead smelting plant in their country can sue in federal court in Missouri.
Defendants - the Renco Group, two subsidiaries and Renco owner Ira Rennert - had asked the court to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction.
But Judge Rodney W. Sippel of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri found on March 25 that the companies wholly own and operate Doe Run Resources Corp., whose principal place of business is Missouri.
"In their answers to the multiple complaints consolidated in this matter, Rennert and Renco admitted that subject-matter jurisdiction and venue were proper in this court, and never raised the issue of personal jurisdiction," Sippel wrote. "They participated in motion practice and numerous hearings. As a result, they waived any personal jurisdiction grounds to dismiss the claims against them."
The judge stated that Rennert used Renco to buy and finance the lead smelting and refining operation at La Oroya around which the more than 1,600 plaintiffs claiming personal injury live. Further, Rennert attended numerous meetings in Missouri where the operation of La Oroya was discussed.
It is alleged that decisions made in New York and Missouri led to an operation that “negligently, carelessly, and recklessly generated, handled, stored, released, disposed of, and failed to control and contain … the release of toxic metals, gases and other toxic substances” into the environment, the ruling states.
The case was originally filed in state court but was removed to federal court in late 2015.
Renco and the other defendants cited the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Bristol-Myers Squibb ruling as they argued for dismissal.
The BMS case centered on whether a court in California has jurisdiction over non-state residents when the defendant does not have a principal place of business in the state.
Sippel concluded, "Rennert’s and Renco’s alleged conduct constitutes transacting business in Missouri within the meaning of Missouri’s long-arm statute.
"I find that plaintiffs have made a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction by alleging facts sufficient to support a reasonable inference that Defendants Renco and Rennert can be subjected to jurisdiction within the state of Missouri."