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Asarco LLC v. NL Industries, Inc.

ELR Citation: 43 ELR 20065
Nos. 11-00138, (W.D. Mo., 03/18/2013) (Phillips, J.)

A district court stayed a bankrupt mining company's contribution claims against various defendants for response costs and natural resource damages incurred in connection with the Tri-States Mining District until the amount of total liabilities are determined. The Tri-States area, where lead and zinc were produced for over 100 years, covers 2,500 square miles in southwest Missouri, southeast Kansas, and northeast Oklahoma. The mining company reached a settlement agreement with the government for approximately $158 million, and it now seeks contribution. The defendants sought a stay pending EPA's further administration and findings regarding Tri-States, and the court granted their motions. Both the doctrine of primary jurisdiction and the court's inherent power to manage its docket warrant a stay in this case. Consistent with the doctrine of primary jurisdiction, enforcement of this claim requires the resolution of issues that, under CERCLA, have been placed within the special competence and expertise of EPA. Staying this case would also best promote consistency and uniformity within CERCLA's area of regulation. In addition, the defendants face a specific hardship or "pressing need" warranting the exercise of its inherent power to manage the docket. Although the amount of the company's payments is known, the amount of total liabilities, a prerequisite to a contribution right, is not. The court, however, will not lift the stay until either EPA has completed its investigation, selected a final remedy for the Tri-States area, and natural resource damages are determined; or until all of the parties in this case have resolved their total liabilities with the government and/or with each other.