The state of Missouri became the first to sue the Chinese government over the coronavirus pandemic Thursday, followed by Mississippi, alleging the communist country didn't do enough to stop the deadly outbreak. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt alleges China suppressed information, arrested whistleblowers and denied the contagious nature of coronavirus that led to deaths and job losses in Missouri.
The suit was filed in the Eastern District of Missouri Thursday morning. Republicans in particular are aggravated over China's handling of the outbreak, and a recent Pew poll found Americans' views of China have become increasingly negative.
"COVID-19 has done irreparable damage to countries across the globe, causing sickness, death, economic disruption, and human suffering. In Missouri, the impact of the virus is very real - thousands have been infected and many have died, families have been separated from dying loved ones, small businesses are shuttering their doors, and those living paycheck to paycheck are struggling to put food on their table," said Schmitt. "The Chinese government lied to the world about the danger and contagious nature of COVID-19, silenced whistleblowers, and did little to stop the spread of the disease. They must be held accountable for their actions."
Estimating that the damages to Missouri and its residents could cost perhaps tens of billions, the state is seeking reimbursement from China for its costs to address the pandemic and compensatory damages for China's "abnormally dangerous activities."
The 47-page lawsuit from Missouri also alleges China destroyed medical research and hoarded personal protective equipment, and claims China allowed people to leave Wuhan despite knowing about the virus.
China has described the Missouri lawsuit as "very absurd." In any case, the suit faces an uphill battle in the courts. Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, foreign states are immune from U.S. prosecution. Missouri is trying to avoid this obstacle to its case by suing the Communist Party of China, rather than the People's Republic of China.
But CBS News legal analyst Kim Wehle doubts the states will prevail in this argument and says that courts "tend to see through these kinds of end-run attempts."
"Missouri will have a tough time arguing that China and the CCP are not synonymous, both as a practical matter and for purposes of the FSIA," Wehle said. "In Republic of Philippines v. Pimentel
, 533 U.S. 851 (2008), the Supreme Court rejected a similar effort to keep the Republic of Philippines out of a class action brought by human rights victims of Ferdinand Marcos. The court is aware that what's good for the goose could be good for the gander and would not want to set a precedent justifying other countries' disrespect of the United States' reciprocal sovereign immunity."
So far, Missouri reports just under 6,000 confirmed cases of the virus, and 189 deaths so far. Its residents are under a stay-at-home order through May 3. Mississippi has 4,894 cases and 193 deaths.