Posted by : Juan Carlos Rodriguez
Law360 (September 20, 2022, 7:17 PM EDT) — The Eleventh Circuit asked the federal government and residents suing over their exposure to contaminated drinking water at the Camp Lejeune military base to explain how a new law authorizing legal claims affects the litigation.
A group of mostly Georgia residents is suing the U.S. government, alleging they and their relatives were exposed to excessive levels of chlorinated solvents and other contaminants in the North Carolina base’s drinking water between about 1957 through 1987. A Georgia federal judge in 2021 dismissed the case and the residents appealed. This summer, Congress passed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, which authorizes such claims and bars the federal government from asserting immunity as a defense.
The Eleventh Circuit, which has already received a briefing on the appeal, filed an order Monday asking the parties to file briefs with their answer to the question: “What is the effect of the newly enacted Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022’s exclusive remedy and exclusive jurisdiction subsections on this court’s subject matter jurisdiction?”
Attorney Robert Jackson, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case, told Law360 Tuesday that the Camp Lejeune Justice Act does not impair the court’s Federal Tort Claims Act jurisdiction, and noted that the act is not the exclusive remedy for Camp Lejeune water contamination cases.
“And as a general matter, the CLJA also does not impair subject matter jurisdiction for any other laws as long as the plaintiff has not previously brought an action under the CLJA,” Jackson said.
The U.S. Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
President Joe Biden signed the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics, or PACT, Act in 2021. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act is part of that legislation.
Under the law, individuals can sue the federal government in the Eastern District of North Carolina and recover damages for harm from exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987, provided they meet some conditions.
The act says that the government may not assert immunity it would otherwise be entitled to under the law, and plaintiffs that file claims under the act are not allowed to bring a separate tort action against the U.S. government based on the same harm.
The plaintiffs in the Eleventh Circuit case say exposure to the chemicals has been linked to a variety of health problems such as cancers, liver and kidney damage, central nervous system issues and disfigurement. Past exposure to the toxic chemicals can also be fatal, the residents said.
The residents alleged that despite learning “a great deal of material new information about the Camp Lejeune toxic exposures, such as the identity and concentrations of the contaminating chemicals, and the risks that the prior exposures might kill them, or cause and or aggravate cancers and other illnesses,” the federal government never passed on the new knowledge to the residents.
The government is represented by Brian M. Boynton, Mark B. Stern and Daniel Tenny of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Division, and by Kurt R. Erskine of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
The plaintiffs are represented by Robert B. Jackson IV of Robert B. Jackson IV LLC and Donald D.J. Stack of Stack & Associates PC.
–Additional reporting by Carolina Bolado. Editing by JoVona Taylor.
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