Appellate Court Stays Tyson Employees’ COVID-19 Death Cases Pending Appeal

On Monday, the Eighth Circuit granted Tyson Foods’ motion to stay the district court’s remand orders pending appeal. According to Tyson’s Jan. 29 motion to stay, the case presents “a novel and important issue concerning the scope of federal-officer removal,” that it argued needs to be addressed before the case can proceed.

By way of background, employees at Tyson’s meat-processing facility in Waterloo, Iowa, contracted COVID-19 in the nascent days of the pandemic and ultimately died of complications related to the disease in April 2020. The administrators of the employees’ estates sued Tyson and certain Tyson employees in Iowa state court. Their personal injury complaints brought various state-law claims and alleged that Tyson failed to take adequate precautions and abide by federal guidance to prevent workers at the Waterloo plant from contracting COVID-19. 

Tyson removed the case to federal court under the federal-officer removal statute, which provides removal of any civil action against “any officer (or any person acting under that officer) of the United States . . . for or relating to any act under color of such office,” pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1442(a)(1). Tyson explained, among other things, “that it was ‘acting under’ federal supervision in continuing to operate its plants as instructed by the federal government; that Plaintiffs’ claims relate to actions Tyson took under federal direction; and that Tyson has colorable federal defenses.”

The district court disagreed and ordered that the case be remanded to state court. On Dec. 31, 2020, Tyson appealed. The district court mailed the remand order during the pendency of the Tyson appeal’s automatic stay and refused to grant the appellants a discretionary stay. According to Tyson, without the stay it would have faced a series of upcoming deadlines in state court.

The Eighth Circuit’s two-page order also granted Tyson’s unopposed motion to consolidate the cases, denied Tyson’s administrative stay motion as moot, and ordered the parties to file consolidated briefs in accordance with the currently set schedule. Tyson’s brief is due Feb. 16 and the plaintiff-appellees’ 30 days later.

The plaintiff-appellees are represented by Public Citizen Litigation Group, Frerichs Law Office, P.C., Rausch Law Firm, PLLC, and The Spence Law Firm, LLC. On appeal, Tyson is represented by Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and Kirkland & Ellis LLP.