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United States v. Bliss

ELR Citation: 16 ELR 20368
Nos. No. 84-200C(1), 108 F.R.D. 127/23 ERC 1638/(E.D. Mo., 11/01/1985)

The court rules that the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) grants it nationwide service of process in a §106 abatement action, but that personal jurisdiction in a §104 cost recovery action is limited to that conferred by the long-arm statute of the state in which the court sits. Syntex Corporation and two of its subsidiaries, Syntex Laboratories and Syntex (U.S.A.), challenge the court's personal jurisdiction over them in a CERCLA case arising from the disposal of dioxin and other wastes from Hoffman-Taff, a Missouri corporation acquired by another Syntex subsidiary, Syntex Agribusiness.

The court first holds that the Missouri long-arm statute grants it jurisdiction only over Syntex (U.S.A.), which succeeded to the assets and liabilities of Hoffman-Taff, before passing them on to Syntex Agribusiness. Despite the fact that Syntex Agribusiness is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Syntex Corporation and has not contested the court's jurisdiction, jurisdiction over the former does not confer jurisdiction over the parent, because the two maintain the formalities of independent corporations. The same analysis applies to the relationship between Syntex Agribusiness and the other subsidiaries involved in the suit. The court next construes the complex corporate history of the Syntex conglomerate such that only Syntex Agribusiness and Syntex (U.S.A.) succeeded to the liabilities of Hoffman-Taff, thus depriving it of this jurisdictional basis with regard to the other corporate entities. Likewise, the court finds, only these two companies had sufficient contact with the forum state to establish long-arm jurisdiction under Missouri law.

The court holds that the Missouri general service statute does not confer jurisdiction over Syntex Corporation or Syntex laboratories. The latter's sales activities in Missouri, consisting of 14 sales representatives conducting ordinary promotional activities, do not constitute doing business with the state. Jurisdiction does not extend to Syntex Corporation, although Syntex Agribusiness is doing business within Missouri, since the parent corporation is formally independent of Syntex Agribusiness.

The court next holds that CERCLA §106(a) implies authorization of nationwide service of process and that the section confers jurisdiction only on the district court in whose district the hazardous substance releases occurred. The more flexible grant of subject matter jurisdiction in §113(b) is preempted by the specific provision of §106. Without nationwide service, §106 would be stripped of much of its effectiveness. That Congress specifically authorized nationwide service in the Toxic Substances Control Act does not mean that such service cannot be implied in CERCLA, whose statutory scheme for abatement orders demands coast-to-coast service. The court notes that other decisions limiting personal jurisdiction under CERCLA considered only express grants of jurisdiction or §104.

The court goes on to rule that in §104 cost recovery actions, CERCLA does not imply long-arm jurisdiction, because the multiple venue provisions of §113(b) apply. Furthermore, the court rules that its §106 jurisdiction does not allow it to hear plaintiff's §104 claims. Although this result will require splitting some actions, the alternative would enable the government to use §106 to avoid jurisdictional limits Congress clearly intended to impose on §104 actions. The court exercises jurisdiction over Syntex Corporation, Syntex Laboratories, and Syntex (U.S.A.) in the abatement action, but only over Syntex (U.S.A.) in the cost recovery action.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Jill Newman, Joseph Moore, Ass't U.S. Attorneys
Rm. 414, U.S. Court & Custom House, 1114 Market St., St. Louis MO 63101
(314) 425-5280

Steven R. Baer, John R. Barker
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-4149

Cheryle Micinski, Ass't Regional Counsel
U.S. EPA, 726 Minnesota Ave., Kansas City KS 66101
(913) 236-2800

Counsel for Defendants
F. William McCalpin, Richard A. Ahrens
Lewis & Rice
14th Floor, 611 Olive St., St. Louis MO 63101
(314) 444-7600

Joseph M. Spivey III
Hunton & Williams
707 E. Main St., P.O. Box 1535, Richmond VA 23212
(804) 788-8200