Court dismisses Navy vets' case over radiation exposure from Japanese power plant

By Charmaine Little | Mar 21, 2019

SAN DIEGO – On March 4, GE and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) convinced the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of California to dismiss U.S. Navy vets' case against them after allegedly being exposed to radiation.

Lindsay R. Cooper, et al. sued General Electric and TEPCO amid the aftermath of an earthquake that hit Japan, leading to a tsunami that crashed into the country’s Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FNPP) on March 11, 2011. The radioactive core in the plant then melted and released radiation. 

Cooper and other crew members who were deployed in Japan for Operation Tomodachi on the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan said FNPP exposed them to hazardous levels of radiation. They sued TEPCO, which owns FNPP, and manufacturers GE, Toshiba, EBASCO and Hitachi. GE and TEPCO filed motions to dismiss, which the court granted March 4.

GE argued that the court doesn’t have subject matter jurisdiction since the plaintiffs didn’t meet the requirements of diversity jurisdiction as detailed in 28 U.S.C. section 1332(a). It also argued the plaintiffs’ attempt to apply jurisdiction via the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) doesn’t prove that the class should be certified to begin with.

“The court concludes that Japan also has a strong interest in resolving the issues surrounding the incident, which occurred in Japan. Having found that both Japan and California have an interest in having their own laws applied, a true conflict exists,” U.S. District Judge Janis L. Sammartino wrote in the ruling.

Sammartino didn’t agree with the plaintiffs’ concerns that trying the case in Japan would cause them to be awarded with little or no damages. Ultimately, the court found that Japanese law is applicable to the case and granted GE’s motion to dismiss.

TEPCO’s motion to dismiss was also granted. TEPCO argued that it never forfeited its personal jurisdiction defense, meaning the court should dismiss the lawsuit against it for lack of personal jurisdiction. While the court pointed out TEPCO failed to raise its personal jurisdiction defense in its motion to dismiss (and said now isn’t the time to raise it), it still agreed with TEPCO that the case should be dismissed.

“Now, however, after considering the Japanese and United States governments’ views, the court finds that the foreign and public policy interests weigh toward dismissal. And having conducted a choice-of-law analysis and having determined that Japanese law applies, this factor also weighs in favor of dismissal,” said Sammartino.

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