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Thomas v. FAG Bearings Corp.

ELR Citation: 26 ELR 20207
Nos. No. 94-2452, 50 F.3d 502/(8th Cir., 03/13/1995) coercive joinder of state agency rev'd

The court holds that the involuntary joinder of a state environmental agency by a bearings manufacturer sued for remediation costs of groundwater contamination is a suit against a state, which violates the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Local residents sued the manufacturer to recover the cost of a filtered water system. The manufacturer sought to join the agency to resolve multiple or inconsistent obligations. The district court, using a "plain words" interpretation, held that the joinder was not a suit against a state. The joinder only required that the agency assert its claim against the manufacturer. Moreover, although joined as a defendant, the agency could be realigned as a plaintiff. The court, relying on Eleventh Amendment precedent, rejects the district court's plain words interpretation. A suit is against the state if the judgment sought would expend itself on the public treasury or domain, or interfere with the public administration, or if the effect of the judgment would be to restrain the government from acting, or to compel it to act. Involuntary joinder will compel the agency to act by forcing it to prosecute the manufacturer at a time and place dictated by the federal courts. The court next holds that the Eleventh Amendment bars involuntary joinder of the agency. The court notes that involuntary joinder of the agency undermines the two aims of the Eleventh Amendment: Protection for a state's autonomy and its pocketbook. Involuntary joinder diminishes state sovereignty by allowing the manufacturer to unilaterally waive the agency's Eleventh Amendment immunity. The protection of the state treasury, while not currently implicated directly, may be implicated in the future. Premature litigation potentially limits the costs the agency can recover. Finally, the court notes that the Eleventh Amendment may be circumvented by waiver, abrogation, or a suit against state officials, but federal courts cannot simply deem it inapplicable.

[Prior decisions in this litigation are published at 24 ELR 21143 and 25 ELR 20448.]

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Michael A. Gould
Gould & Associates
2900 Rockcreek Pkwy., Ste. 720, Kansas City MO 64117
(816) 421-6468

Counsel for Defendants
David F. Oliver
Smith, Gill, Fisher & Butts
One Kansas City Pl.
1200 Main St., 35th Fl., Kansas City MO 64105
(816) 474-7400

Before Magil and Shanahan,* JJ.