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Provincial Gov't of Marinduque v. Placer Dome, Inc.

ELR Citation: 39 ELR 20225
Nos. No. 07-16306, (9th Cir., 09/29/2009)

The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded a district court decision dismissing a Philippine island's action claiming that an American company polluted its waters. According to the complaint, Placer Dome severely polluted the lands and waters of Marinduque for some 30 years, caused two cataclysmic environmental disasters, poisoned the islanders by contaminating their food and water sources, and then left the province without cleaning up the contamination—all in violation of Philippine law. Immediately after the island filed suit, the company removed the case to federal district court for the District of Nevada on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. The court then dismissed the action on forum non conveniens grounds. But the court lacked jurisdiction under the act of state doctrine. Under this doctrine, "the acts of foreign sovereigns taken within their own jurisdiction shall be deemed valid." The doctrine also serves as a basis for federal-question jurisdiction when the plaintiff's complaint challenges the validity of a foreign state's conduct. Here, none of the conduct by the Philippine government referenced by the defendant-company was essential to any of the island's causes of actions. The district court, therefore, lacked subject matter jurisdiction and removal from state court was improper. The case was therefore remanded with instructions to remand to the state court.