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Missouri Sues China, Communist Party Over The Coronavirus Pandemic

Updated at 8:30 p.m. ET

The state of Missouri is suing China for that country's handling of the coronavirus outbreak. It's the first such lawsuit brought by a state, and it relies on an unusual interpretation of federal law.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican, blames China for letting the coronavirus spread. So he's suing China, three government ministries, two local governments, two laboratories and the Chinese Communist Party in U.S. District Court. They all "engaged in misrepresentations, concealment, and retaliation to conceal the gravity and seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak from the rest of the world," according to Schmitt.

"There's been untold suffering across the globe, including here in Missouri, and we want to hold them accountable for that," Schmitt says.

China, however, is protected by sovereign immunity.

"A sovereign is not supposed to sue a sovereign, and that's what's going on here," says Lea Brilmayer, professor of international law at Yale Law School.

Brilmayer says that the case is highly unusual and that most judges would find that they don't have jurisdiction over a matter between a U.S. state and a sovereign nation.

"This is a last-ditch effort to do something to respond to the political situation," she says.

While Missouri might have a hard time moving forward with a lawsuit against China, Schmitt says there are workarounds. For instance, Schmitt says there's an exception for commercial activity and alleges that labs and hospitals are commercial ventures. He's also counting the Chinese Communist Party as a nonstate actor, which he says fortifies his legal argument.

Brilmayer says that if the case does move forward or if it works its way up the appeals process, the U.S. State Department would normally be expected to weigh in, perhaps with a letter to the judge explaining its position on the case.

In the meantime, other Republicans also are moving to try to hold China — not U.S. officials — accountable for American coronavirus deaths and economic damage. Last week, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley introduced legislation to strip China of its sovereign immunity.

Copyright 2020 KCUR 89.3