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NATIONAL COAL ASSN. v. CLARK

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA


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

MEMORANDUM ORDER

 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.

 In Naartex Consulting Corp. v. Watt, 232 U.S. App. D.C. 293, 722 F.2d 779 (D.C.Cir.1983), cert. denied, 467 U.S. 1210, 104 S. Ct. 2399, 81 L. Ed. 2d 355 (1984), the relevant jurisdictional facts of which are strikingly similar to those of the "Circle West" cases, the Court of Appeals determined that a foreign corporate defendant, whose only contacts with the District consisted of the maintenance of an office used for monitoring legislative and regulatory matters and of several appearances before the Interior Department, lacked sufficient non-governmental, business contacts to be amenable to suit in this District under subsection 423(a)(1). Id. at 786-87. And with respect to another issue of relevance here, the court further concluded that the protection of the defendants under the government contacts exception was in no way diminished by the circumstance that their contacts concerned the protection of their own proprietary interests.

 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 personal jurisdiction over the private defendants in the "Circle West" exchange cases. These defendants must therefore be dismissed as to those cases.

 II

 Having concluded that it lacks personal jurisdiction over the private defendants in the "Circle West" cases, the Court must consider next whether these defendants are necessary and indispensable parties within the meaning of Rule 19, Fed.R.Civ.P. It is clear that at least one such defendant -- Meridian Land and Mineral Company (Meridian) -- is both a necessary and an indispensable party. *fn8"

 Meridian is clearly a necessary party within the meaning of Rule 19(a). *fn9" Meridian negotiated the challenged land exchange with officials of the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management, and Meridian obviously has a strong interest in the "Circle West" actions, which call into question both the legality of the exchange and Meridian's title to the land it received as a result of the exchange. It follows that the disposition of these actions in favor of the plaintiffs would impede Meridian's ability to defend its fee interest in the land. Such a disposition could also subject the government to conflicting obligations with respect to the exchanged parcels of land as between a court order invalidating the exchange, and Meridian's potential (due process) claim that, title having passed, it cannot now be disturbed by a judgment in a case to which Meridian was not a party. Finally, as is shown by plaintiffs' joinder of Meridian, they recognize that Meridian's absence would prevent the Court from granting them complete relief and returning matters to the status quo ante. All of these considerations compel the conclusion that Meridian is a necessary party under Rule 19(a). See McKenna v. Udall, 135 U.S. App. D.C. 335, 418 F.2d 1171, 1174 (D.C.Cir.1969).

 Similar reasoning compels the conclusion that Meridian is an indispensable party under Rule 19(b). *fn10" As explained above, a full, fair, and adequate judgment that does not prejudice the plaintiffs, the government, or Meridian cannot be reached in Meridian's absence. None of the parties has suggested, nor has the Court itself divined, a satisfactory means by which these problems could be resolved or even mitigated by a careful shaping of any judgment or relief. Finally, the District Court for the District of Montana constitutes an adequate alternative forum *fn11" in which Meridian *fn12" and the other defendants *fn13" may be joined and the "Circle West" suits be heard. *fn14"

  For the reasons stated, the Court will grant the motions of the private defendants in Nos. 83-3320 and 83-3330 to dismiss these cases pursuant to Rule 19, Fed.R.Civ.P. *fn15"

 III

 Accordingly, it is this 28th day of November, 1984

 ORDERED that the motions of private defendants in Nos. 83-3320 and 83-3330 to dismiss be and they are hereby granted, and it is further

 ORDERED that National Coal Association v. Clark, Civil Action No. 83-3320, and Northern Plains Resource Council v. Clark, Civil Action No. 83-3330 be and they are hereby dismissed, and it is further

 ORDERED that oral argument will be heard on the pending motion to dismiss or for summary judgment in National Coal Association v. Clark, Civil Action No. 83-2985, on January 11, 1985, at 10:00 a.m.


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