Fifth Circuit Issues Opinion in Workers’ COVID-19 Negligence Case Against Meat Packing Employer Swift Beef

Last week, a Fifth Circuit opinion addressed the issue of venue in a case between meat packing company Swift Beef and its employees, who claimed gross negligence in Texas state court, alleging that they contracted COVID-19 while working at one of the corporation’s plants.

The defendants removed the case to a federal court “based on federal question jurisdiction, diversity jurisdiction, and federal officer jurisdiction.”  The employees moved to remand the case back to Texas state court, arguing these factors did not give jurisdiction to the district court.

The district court sided with the defendants, finding jurisdiction under the federal officer removal statute.

“In reaching that conclusion, the court reasoned that the defendant-employer acted at the direction of a federal officer because an April 2020 presidential proclamation designated the company ‘critical infrastructure,'” the appellate court recounted.

The Fifth Circuit disagreed with the lower court, instead ruling for the plaintiffs. They stated that “this court concluded in Glenn that a food production company does not act at the direction of a federal officer under Latiolais simply because the government designated its facilities ‘critical infrastructure’ during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Neither did heavy regulation or encouragement to remain open indicate federal direction, given that the federal government did not instruct the company to continue operations,” the court continued.

The case was remanded to state court to proceed.

The plaintiff is represented by Arnold & Itkin. Swift Beef is represented by Bailey Brauer.