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Updated: Nixon vetoes bill protecting Doe Run from damages

Associated Industries of Missouri supported vetoed bill

Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday vetoed legislation that would protect Doe Run Resources from large punitive damage awards.

In his veto letter, Nixon said the bill, because it applies to just one entity, would result in a special law in violation of the state constitution. The bill “would not benefit all defendants, or all defendants engaged in mining, or even a particular type of mining, but rather only those defendants that dealt in underground hard rock mining or hard rock milling sites that ceased operations prior to January 1, 1975,” he wrote.

Nixon also said the bill violated the state constitution’s ban on retrospective laws. It would apply even after a judgment for damages had been ordered, he wrote.

The measure passed the House 94-63 after clearing the Senate 22-10. A two-thirds vote is required to override a governor’s veto.

Maurice B. Graham, of Gray, Ritter & Graham, represents 23 St. Francois County children and several hundred property owners affected by the lead from chat dumps and tailings.

He welcomed Nixon’s decision.

“We’re pleased to see that the governor vetoed what was an ill-advised piece of special legislation that was obviously unconstitutional,” he said.

Matthew Wohl, vice president of law for The Doe Run Co., cited “overwhelming support” by the Legislature and said in a statement that the company will continue to work with the Legislature “to ensure this provision becomes law.”

He said Nixon’s veto letter mischaracterizes the legislation.

“Signing HB 650 would continue to provide [plaintiffs] access to compensatory damages and access to punitive damages, when appropriate,” he said. “It does not impact past legal judgments or decisions.”

The veto creates “uncertainty” for the future of Doe Run’s operations and for the remediation work that’s in progress, he said.

The law would have barred the award of punitive damages if the defendant company made, or is making, good-faith efforts to remediate the sites. It would have further capped punitive damages at $2.5 million per lawsuit. The Tort Victims Compensation Fund would not have been entitled to a portion of a punitive damage award; instead, one-half of any such damages would have been paid into the state’s lead abatement loan fund.

Missouri law already caps punitive damages at $500,000 or five times the amount of actual damages, whichever is higher. But many of the lawsuits against Doe Run were filed before 2005, when the caps were put into place.

Associated Industries of Missouri supported the Doe Run legislation. It explained in a statement on its website that punitive damages are meant to stop a company from continuing a particular activity. However, the activity at issue in the legislation stopped decades ago.

“By vetoing this bill, the Governor Nixon has protected this excessive flow of money to plaintiff’s attorneys who will profit at the expense of a well-respected employer in Missouri and threaten their ability to maintain and create jobs in the state,” AIM President Ray McCarty said in the statement.

The bill is HB650.