Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Kerr-McGee Corp. v. Farley

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 21522
Nos. 95-2121, -2127, 115 F.3d 1498/(10th Cir., 06/25/1997)

The court holds that a uranium mining company must exhaust its jurisdiction-based appeals in the Navajo tribal court system before challenging in federal court the Navajo court's jurisdiction over nuclear torts. The court first holds that the Price-Anderson Act's jurisdictional provisions do not create exclusive federal court jurisdiction over nuclear incidents. Exclusive jurisdiction is not conferred unless conferred explicitly. The Price-Anderson Act does not include removal from tribal courts in its jurisdictional grant. The court cannot conclude that the 1988 Amendments to the Price-Anderson Act created an exclusive enclave of federal adjudicatory control such that tribal courts lack jurisdiction to decide Price-Anderson Act claims, even those arising out of torts against tribal members on the reservation. The court next holds that while the precise scope of retained tribal jurisdiction in this case is subject to reasonable debate, tribal adjudicatory authority over this nuclear incident is not patently violative of an express jurisdictional prohibition. Congress intended to control where and how nuclear incident litigation is to take place, but did not take the next step of specifically divesting tribal courts of jurisdiction. The court then holds that after reviewing the comity factors of the tribal exhaustion rule, abstention is appropriate. It does not serve Congress' interest in promoting development of tribal courts to second-guess the jurisdictional determinations of the Navajo district court before the tribal appellate process has run its course.

[A prior decision in this litigation is published at 26 ELR 21099.]

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Michael R. Comeau
Carpenter, Comeau, Maldegen, Nixon & Templeman
Coronado Bldg.
141 E. Palace Ave., Santa Fe NM 87504
(505) 982-4611

Counsel for Defendants
Suzelle M. Smith
Howarth & Smith
700 S. Flower St., Ste. 2900, Los Angeles CA 90017
(213) 955-9400

Before Seymour and Logan, JJ.