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Nevada court blocks Philippine province's Barrick Gold suit

LAS VEGAS — A Philippine island province that experienced mining waste disasters in the 1990s lost a final appeal Thursday to have a Nevada state court hear its claim for damages against Barrick Gold Corp.

"This case lacks any bona fide connection to this state," the Nevada Supreme Court said.

A lawyer for the Province of Marinduque said losing the decision on a jurisdictional question only means that he can move to the next step and argue the merits the case in another venue.

"We think it belongs here and that Barrick is every bit the Nevada corporation that most people believe them to be," attorney James McCarthy said. "But whether it's the Philippines or Canada, we're now on the merits."

McCarthy, in Dallas, noted the procedural question took nearly 10 years to decide. He said he didn't immediately know which venue he would seek. He has already taken the case to U.S. federal district and appeals courts, which routed the jurisdiction question back to Nevada. The case was originally filed in Nevada in October 2005.

McCarthy also noted that the Nevada court imposed conditions of dismissal, including the waiver of a time-limit on the claim to ensure that another forum could be found to hear the case.

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A Barrick spokesman and Steve Morris, the lawyer who argued the Supreme Court appeal for the company, didn't immediately respond to messages. Morris' wife, Nevada Supreme Court Justice Kristina Pickering, was not involved in the appeal.

The unanimous decision by the six Nevada justices who heard oral arguments in January upheld a Clark County district judge's finding in the case, which originally was filed against Placer Dome Inc., a company Barrick acquired in 2006.

Judge Valerie Adair in Las Vegas decided in 2010 that because Barrick is based in Canada, the case would be better handled in Toronto or in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Placer Dome ceased operations in Marinduque in 1997 after more than 30 years as a minority partner with a Philippine government company, Marcopper Mining Co., and a year after a mine waste pool dam failed.

The lawsuit alleges that a river leading to Marinduque's capital city, Boac, was polluted and millions of tons of waste laden with dangerous arsenic, cadmium, lead, manganese, nickel and sulfate smothered forests, river basins and coral reefs.

Barrick, which bills itself as the world's largest gold producer, operates on five continents. It owns five mines in Nevada and has a stake in a sixth. Its Nevada operations produce more than 2 million ounces of gold per year.

Gold was selling at $1,181.50 per ounce Thursday.

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