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NATIONAL COAL ASSN. v. CLARK

November 28, 1984

NATIONAL COAL ASSOCIATION, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
William CLARK, et al., Defendants; NATIONAL COAL ASSOCIATION, et al., Plaintiffs, v. William CLARK, et al., Defendants; NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL, et al., Plaintiffs, v. William CLARK, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREENE

 HAROLD H. GREENE, District Judge.

 These three cases involve challenges to decisions of the Department of the Interior to exchange federal property containing substantial coal reserves for property owned by entities which are subsidiaries of, or otherwise controlled by, major railroads. In No. 83-2985, plaintiffs, which are trade associations representing coal producers, challenge the Department's "Corral Canyon" (Wyoming) exchange with defendant Rocky Mountain Coal Company, a subsidiary of the Union Pacific Railroad. In No. 83-3320 the same plaintiffs challenge the Interior Department's "Circle West" exchange of land in Montana with defendant Meridian Land and Mineral Company, which is owned by defendant Burlington Northern Railroad Company. And in No. 83-3330, the same "Circle West" exchange is challenged by a number of environmental and community organizations.

 The major claim asserted by plaintiffs in all three cases -- and indeed, the only major common legal claim in these cases -- is that the exchanges do not satisfy the "public interest" requirement of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), 43 U.S.C. § 1716(a), in that they violate policies embodied in other federal statutes which prohibit common carrier railroads from holding federal coal leases or transporting coal that they have themselves mined. *fn1" Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, including a declaration that the Interior Department's construction of the relevant statute and its approval of the exchanges were contrary to law and invalid.

 Plaintiffs have moved to consolidate the cases, primarily on the ground that all three turn on the common FLPMA legal issue. The motion is opposed on the ground that the pending motions by the private defendants in both Nos. 83-3320 and 83-3330 to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and for improper venue, *fn2" and by the government in No. 83-3320 to dismiss for lack of standing, place the "Circle West" cases in different procedural postures than the "Corral Canyon" case, so that consolidation would neither be fair nor promote judicial economy and efficiency. *fn3"

 The motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue obviously constitute threshold challenges to this Court's appropriateness as a forum for deciding these cases. Accordingly, the Court will consider these issues before considering the other pending motions. *fn4"

  I

 In determining whether it possesses personal jurisdiction over the private defendants in the "Circle West" cases, the Court must begin by inquiring whether the contacts of these defendants with the District of Columbia are sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction under District of Columbia law, the source of the Court's power of personal jurisdiction over non-resident defendants. Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(d)(3), 4(e); see Lott v. Burning Tree Club, Inc., 516 F. Supp. 913, 915 (D.D.C.1980); 4 C. Wright, A. Miller & E. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure Civil §§ 1112-18. It is undisputed that none of these defendants resides, is incorporated, or maintains its principal place of business in the District. Accordingly, the only conceivable bases for the Court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over them are those enumerated in the District of Columbia "long-arm" statute, 4 D.C.Code Ann. § 13-423 (1981 and Supp. 1984).

 On the various grounds set forth in the statute for asserting "long arm" jurisdiction over a foreign defendant, the only one potentially applicable here is that set out in subsection (a)(1) of section 423. This subsection permits a court in the District of Columbia to exercise personal jurisdiction over a person, who acts directly or through an agent, as to a claim arising from that person's transaction of business in the District. 4 D.C.Code Ann. § 13-423(a)(1), (b). Plaintiffs here claim that the written and oral contacts of the private defendants with Interior Department officials in the District constitute business transactions sufficient to render defendants amenable to jurisdiction under subsection 423(a)(1). *fn5" In the view of this Court, that claim fails adequately to take account of the effect of the long-recognized "government contacts" exception to that provision.

 The government contacts exception exempts from consideration as business transactions upon which section 423(a)(1) "long-arm" jurisdiction may be based contacts of a non-resident defendant in this District which are made solely with the federal government. As the District of Columbia Court of Appeals has explained, two major considerations underlay the development of the "government contacts" exception. First, the court was concerned with protecting the important First Amendment right to petition the national government for the redress of grievances, which arguably would have been impermissibly burdened by a "long-arm" statute that permitted such contacts, standing alone, to subject a non-resident to the jurisdiction of local courts. See Rose v. Silver, 394 A.2d 1368, 1373-74 (D.C.1978). Second, the court explained that without the government contacts exception, subsection 423(a)(1) would effectively transform the District of Columbia into a national judicial forum whose courts would rapidly be inundated with lawsuits -- a result not intended by Congress in enacting the "long-arm" statute. See Environmental Research International, Inc. v. Lockwood Greene Engineers, Inc., 355 A.2d 808, 813 (D.C.1976).

 Although the articulation and application of the government contacts exception by the local Court of Appeals may have been somewhat inconsistent over the years, *fn6" the federal Court of Appeals for this Circuit recently concluded upon a careful analysis of the District of Columbia case law both that the government contacts exception remains the law in the District of Columbia and that this exception applies to contacts with all branches of the federal government, not merely to contacts with the Congress.

 Naartex clearly controls the "Circle West" cases. *fn7" In these cases, as in Naartex, the undisputed affidavits submitted by the private defendants establish that their only contacts with the District of Columbia were the maintenance of a governmental affairs office and limited personal and written communication with Interior Department officials concerning the challenged exchanges. These contacts are insufficient under Naartex to satisfy the jurisdictional prerequisites of subsection 423(a)(1), and the Court therefore lacks ...


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