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Victory for Quapaw Tribe in Environmental Litigation

As lead counsel, Caddell & Chapman secured an $11.5 million settlement on behalf of its client, the sovereign Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma against ASARCO LLC, a mining company and recovered an additional $8.856 million for the Quapaw Tribe against various other mining defendants and the BNSF railroad.

The Quapaw claimed that ASARCO’s mining activities caused natural resource and subsidence damages to the Quapaw’s historic reservation. Caddell & Chapman separately is prosecuting claims on behalf of the Quapaw in the Northern District of Oklahoma against several other mining companies and a railroad. The Quapaw’s land is located on the largest Superfund Site in the nation – the Tar Creek Superfund Site – consisting of 40 square miles of Northeastern Oklahoma. Lead and zinc mining activities over several decades left the Quapaw’s land riddled with over 300 miles of underground tunnels, over 1,320 mine shafts, and thousands of drill holds. Mining tunnels and shafts have collapsed or are at risk of collapsing resulting in a subsidence problem that has damaged the Quapaw’s land, homes, and buildings.

To date, there have been over 119 subsidence events in this area. Over 34 million tons of toxic mining waste called tailings or chat, much of which is piled in large hills, also remain on the Quapaw land. Hazardous mining waste, such as lead, cadmium, zinc, and sulfuric acid have polluted the Quapaw’s soil and surface water and destroyed or damaged much of the Quapaw’s natural resources. The ASARCO settlement was approved by the bankruptcy court in Corpus Christi, Texas on January 29, 2008.

Caddell & Chapman defeated motions for summary judgment brought by the mining and railroad defendants, securing a ruling that the Tribe could proceed with its claims for natural resource damages to the extent the Tribe asserts a quasi‑sovereign interest in recovering damages to natural resources within the Tribe’s authority. See Quapaw Tribe v. Blue Tee Corp., No. 03‑0846, 2009 WL 2901191, at *1 (N.D. Okla. Sept. 2, 2009).

The court also ruled in favor of the tribe on a motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by railroad defendant BNSF. In February 2009, the court denied BNSF’s motion and held that the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma can pursue natural resource damages claims under State common law at a listed CERCLA site, even when the EPA has yet to select a remedy for the cite. See Quapaw Tribe v. Blue Tee Corp.,No. 03‑0846, 2009 WL 455260, at *1 (N.D. Okla. Feb. 23, 2009). In particular, the Court rejected BNSF’s argument that the Tribe’s state law natural resource damage claims were preempted by CERLCA.


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