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Judge dismisses soldiers' toxic exposure suit

Jennifer Nelson
February 26, 2010
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A federal judge has dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction a suit brought by soldiers who were exposed while in Iraq to a toxic chemical known to increase the risk of developing cancer.

Members of the Indiana National Guard sued Texas contractors for whom the soldiers provided security at a water treatment facility in Iraq in 2003. The soldiers claimed the contractors knew the site was heavily contaminated with sodium dichromate, a toxic chemical that may increase the risk of cancer or other life-threatening illnesses.

Sixteen members filed the suit against KBR, Inc. and other contractors in December 2008, which grew to 47 plaintiffs.

The soldiers claimed they were repeatedly told by the company there was no danger on the site while they worked there, and that their bloody noses and skin lesions were a result of the dry desert air. The contaminated site was shut down in September 2003.

Using the "effects test," first articulated in Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984), to determine whether the federal court has personal jurisdiction over the suit, Chief Judge Richard Young of the U.S. District Court's Southern District decided to grant the contractors' motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' third amended complaint, Mark McManaway, et al. v. KBR, Inc., et al., No. 3:08-CV-186.

The plaintiffs argued the contractors' tortious actions were aimed at Indiana because they knew that the soldiers would return to Indiana after being exposed to the chemical. But the soldiers didn't establish that KBR and the other contractors knew the soldiers intended to return to Indiana after leaving Iraq, and some of the plaintiffs are now living in other states, wrote the judge. In addition, the injury occurred in Iraq when the soldiers were exposed to the chemical. While the effects of that injury may be felt in Indiana, the tort does not relocate from Iraq to Indiana, Chief Judge Young continued.

The chief judge also found the contractors' contacts with Indiana weren't sufficient to allow the court to exercise general jurisdiction over them. As such, he granted the defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The contractors' two previously filed motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction based on the original and second amended complaints were denied as moot.

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