In Case of Claims for Damages by Persons Affected by Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Incident in Japan, Ninth Circuit Reviews Denial of Motion to Dismiss on Grounds of International Comity, Forum Non Conveniens, the Political Question Doctrine, and the Firefighter's Rule

Citation metadata

Date: April-June 2017
From: International Law Update(Vol. 23, Issue 2)
Publisher: American Bar Association
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,649 words
Lexile Measure: 1460L

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

The March 2011 Earthquake and resulting tsunami which struck Japan's Northeastern coast were nothing short of devastating. One of the most alarming consequences of the catastrophe was the damage to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FNPP). The incident has been described as the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. The FNPP consisted of six boiling water reactors of which units one to three were in operation at the time of the earthquake. On the afternoon of March 12, the day following the earthquake, Plaintiffs arrived off the coasts of Fukushima Prefecture aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ronald Reagan and other vessels to provide humanitarian aid as part of Operation Tomodachi. On March 14, two days after their arrival, Plaintiffs alleged that their vessels were repositioned further away from the FNPP after U.S. officials onboard the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan detected nuclear contamination in the air and on an aircraft operating near the FNPP. "Sensitive instruments" aboard the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan discovered measurable levels of radioactivity on seventeen aircrew members returning from relief missions. In the months following the earthquake, Japan commissioned the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (the "Commission") to investigate the incident. Though the earthquake and tsunami were natural disasters, the Commission characterized the FNPP meltdown as a "manmade" disaster. In 2013, Defendant Tokyo Electric Power Company, Inc. (TEPCO) also allegedly admitted that it could have avoided the meltdown. In an effort to compensate victims of the FNPP meltdown, the Japanese government developed a comprehensive scheme to deal with the millions of claims resulting from the FNPP leak, giving claimants the option to submit a claim directly to TEPCO, to the newly established Nuclear Damage Claim Dispute Resolution Center, or to a Japanese court. These avenues for relief are available to all victims, regardless of nationality. Although Plaintiffs could have pursued their claims against TEPCO in Japan, they chose to sue in the United States.

Plaintiffs sued TEPCO, the owner and operator of the FNPP, in the Southern District of California for negligence and other causes of action. Each Plaintiff alleged that he or she was exposed to radiation during Operation Tomodachi. Plaintiffs requested a judgment compelling TEPCO to establish a billion-dollar fund to cover continuing medical monitoring costs. They also requested damages, including lost wages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages. *1198

In Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint (FAC), they alleged that TEPCO and the Japanese government conspired to keep the extent of the radiation leak secret. They further alleged that "the U.S. Navy was lulled into a false sense of security," which led it to deploy Plaintiffs "without doing the kinds of research and testing that would have verified" the extent of the nuclear meltdown. The district court dismissed the FAC under the political question doctrine but granted Plaintiffs leave to amend. Cooper v. Tokyo Elec. Power Co., Inc. (Cooper I), 990 F.Supp. 2d 1035, 1039-42 (S.D. Cal. 2013). *1198

In the Second Amended Complaint (SAC), Plaintiffs relied on allegations that TEPCO was negligent in operating the FNPP and...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A550996287