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MSOF Corp. v. Exxon Corp.

Citation: 32 ELR 20757
No. No. 01-30122, 295 F.3d 485/(5th Cir., 06/20/2002)

The court holds that a district court lacked jurisdiction under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the All Writs Act to hear landowners' land contamination claim against various corporations that owned and operated hazardous waste sites. After being sued by the federal government under CERCLA, the corporations entered a consent decree that involved the cleanup and remediation of the sites. The landowners subsequently brought suit in state court against the corporations alleging negligence and strict liability under state tort law. The case was removed to federal district court, which found in favor of the corporations, and the landowners appealed. The court first holds, however, that the district court erred in holding that it had jurisdiction pursuant to CERCLA. Although the landowners alleged that one of the corporations was in violation of both state and federal law, this is not sufficient to render the action as one arising under federal law. Here, state law provides a cause of action under which the landowners can attempt to prove that the corporations tortiously caused damage to their land and can demand the relief they seek. Additionally, various courts have held that the CERCLA saving clauses preserve parties' rights arising under state law. Thus, CERCLA does not completely preempt the landowners' claims under state law. The court next holds that the circumstances of the case are not so extraordinary that they demand the removal under the All Writs Act to protect the integrity of the consent decree. The landowners seek compensatory damages under state tort law for alleged injuries to their land. They do not claim violations of the consent decree or allege that the actions complained of are in conformity with the consent decree; nor do they seek any changes to the consent decree. The district court's decision is therefore vacated and remanded with directions that the case be returned to state court.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Charles S. Lambert Jr.
LeBlanc, Maples & Waddell
5353 Essen La., Ste. 420, Baton Rouge LA 70809
(225) 768-7222

Counsel for Defendants
William R. D'Armond
Kean, Miller, Hawthorne, D'Armond, McGowan & Jarman
One American Pl., 22d Fl., Baton Rouge LA 70825
(225) 387-0999

Garwood, J. Before Davis and Magill,1 JJ.

1. Circuit Judge of the Eighth Circuit, sitting by designation.