[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] on Monday reinstated [opinion, PDF] a water pollution lawsuit brought by survivors of the Bhopal disaster [BBC backgrounder] against US chemical producer Union Carbide [corporate website]. The litigation in the case, Sahu v. Union Carbide, concerns water pollution and groundwater contamination resulting from the 1984 disaster in Bhopal, India, in which nearly 3,800 people were killed when toxic gas was accidentally released in the middle of the night by a chemical plant owned by a Union Carbide subsidiary company. Upwards of 15,000 others later died from exposure to the gas, and 50,000 were left permanently disabled. Monday's order remanded the case to the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website], which the Second Circuit ruled had erred in converting Union Carbide's motion to dismiss the case into a motion for summary judgment. In remanding the case, Judge Robert Sack [official profile] wrote:
We think that the title of the defendants' memorandum in support of its motion as a motion to dismiss or [emphasis in original] for summary judgment similarly failed to provide the plaintiffs with adequate notice. A motion called a motion for summary judgment, whether or not stated as alternatively for dismissal, ordinarily will place a plaintiff on notice that the district court is being asked to look beyond the pleadings to the evidence in order to decide the motion. In this case, however, where the plaintiffs had filed a multi-count complaint and the supporting memoranda and can fairly be read to seek only dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) on some counts and summary judgment on others, the motion papers provided insufficient notice….We conclude that further notice was required and that consequently it is appropriate to remand for what would appear to be relatively limited further proceedings in connection with consideration of summary judgment.
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The 1984 Bhopal disaster caused an international outcry over the activities of Western chemical manufacturing in India and the developing world. As a result of the disaster, the state government of Madhya Pradesh, where Bhopal is located, established the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department (BGTRHD) [official website]. The BGTRHD is charged with addressing the environmental, social, and health care needs of the survivors of the disaster and other affected Bhopal residents. A number of environmental groups, including Greenpeace [advocacy website] have called for Union Carbide and its parent company, Dow Chemicals [corporate website], to be brought to justice [Greenpeace backgrounder] for the after-effects of the disaster. In 2004, groups representing Bhopal victims appealed a $330 million award [JURIST report] issued by the Indian Supreme Court, arguing that the award should be quadrupled to provide enough compensation for each of the 572,173 people that the court ruled were eligible.