HOUSTON – Some 2,267 miles from where the cows graze in Richmond, is Seattle, Washington, the first city in the U.S. to really absorb the wrath of the coronavirus.
Ray Bodine grew up in the Seattle area as a teenager but now lives not too far where those cows graze in Fort Bend County. His family originally moved to the Pacific Northwest to be close to his twin aunts, Lauretta and Lenora. The two were Catholic nuns and never too far from one another, until the very end.
“When I first heard, I was very concerned just knowing their age... you know that this could affect them,” Bodine said.
On March 10, Lauretta tested positive for COVID-19. According to Bodine, she recovered. But, Lenora had underlying conditions and did not want to be tested. She died on March 23, a day before their eighty-seventh birthday. Her death ultimately attributed to coronavirus.
"I want to know the truth," said Bodine.
Bodine and others are seeking the truth through a court of law. A 20-page federal lawsuit was filed last month in the U.S. Southern District of Florida.
“Well it is a challenging case... anytime you sue a world superpower it’s going to be a challenge,” said attorney Matthew Moore.
Moore is a lead attorney representing Bodine and dozens of others who have joined the suit.
"We have over a thousand people signed up," Moore said.
The class-action lawsuit is fueled by allegations that “The People’s Republic of China and other Defendants knew that COVID-19 was dangerous and capable of causing a pandemic, yet slowly acted, proverbially put their head in the sand, and/or covered it up for their own economic self-interest.”
"They knew it was happening and they allowed it to keep going," said Moore.
But what if the coronavirus started elsewhere?
“If it was France, if it was Chile, if it was Australia -- same measures taken on your end?” asked KPRC 2 Investigative Reporter Mario Diaz.
Bodine answered, "Yes."
“We try to make it clear whenever we talk about the case, that this is not about the Chinese people, certainly, and this is not just about China. This is about a government that has done wrong,” said Moore.
History of suing foreign governments
Suing a foreign government is nothing new for New York city terrorism attorney Andrew Maloney.
“With Saudi Arabia, we are in discovery,” Maloney said.
Since 2017, Maloney has been battling Saudi Arabia in federal court on behalf of the victims of 9-11 over that government's alleged involvement in the 2001 attacks. Maloney tells Channel 2 Investigates the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 makes it challenging for cases like this to see the light of day in a U.S. courtroom.
“You have to be able to get jurisdiction over a country in the U.S. to bring in a lawsuit,” said Maloney. He added, “I assume that China will hire lawyers and move to dismiss that complaint because there is no jurisdiction over in China for the allegations.”
Maloney does point to limited exceptions like intentional terrorism or commercial negligence. But, the discretion of a government is not one of them.
Making the case
Nonetheless, Moore is confident there is a clear path for the suit. He cites the alleged conduct of the Chinese government in the early stages of the pandemic.
"If they had done, if they acted responsibly in the beginning, they could have controlled this," said Moore.
For Bodine, the end result, as challenging as it may be to potentially get there, is about identifying one key thing.
"I really want to find the truth. It's not about money, it's not about that. It's about all of our health," Bodine said.
Channel 2 Investigates contacted the Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association as well as some of its members and no one was available for comment. We also reached out to the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. Those messages were not returned.