State AGs Ask Eighth Circuit to Keep Tyson Foods COVID-19 Death Lawsuit in the State Court

State attorneys general argued in a brief on Monday in the Eighth Circuit that a lawsuit alleging that Tyson Foods Inc. is at fault for its employees deaths related to the COVID-19 pandemic should be heard in the state courts. The governments agreed with the petitioners and the district court that the case should be heard in the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County. 

The lawsuit was remanded to the state court by Judge Linda R. Reade of the Northern District of Iowa in late December, following Tyson’s efforts to move the case to the district court and the plaintiffs motion to remand, which was filed in late August.  Tyson quickly appealed the district court’s decision, claiming that because of President Trump’s executive order relating to meatpacking companies the lawsuit addressed federal questions. The district court, however, had ruled that this was not correct because the petition in the matter was filed before the executive order was given. 

This matter was filed by the family members of four former Tyson employees who allegedly contracted COVID-19 while working at the Tyson Waterloo plant.  At least one other lawsuit was filed regarding another death at this plant, and multiple lawsuits against Tyson related to deaths at other meatpacking plants the company owns. 

The present brief was filed by attorneys general from 18 states and the District of Columbia, although the attorney general of Iowa was not involved.  Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said in a press release that he led the amicus brief, citing that over one-third of meatpacking workers have contracted COVID-19, including hundreds of workers in Maryland. He alleged that allowing the case to be heard in federal courts would have repercussions in similar lawsuits, and that if the case is not remanded to state courts it could lead to other businesses seeking to skirt state workplace safety laws. 

“Throughout the pandemic, frontline workers have put their lives on the line to keep the rest of us healthy, safe, and fed,” said Attorney General Frosh. “Those workers deserve protection from the virus while they are at work. When their employers put them at risk and violate state law, the workers are entitled to access state courts to seek safe conditions and accountability.

In addition to the amicus brief filed by the attorneys general, other briefs were filed on Monday by the United States, Public Justice P.C., and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. [note: none of these are public at this point] 

Tyson and the other individual defendants are represented by Finley Law Firm, P.C., and Perkins Coie LLP. The plaintiffs are represented by Frerichs Law Office, P.C., Rausch Law Firm, PLLC, and The Spence Law Firm, LLC