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Tyson Workers Get Covid Safety Case Revived by Fifth Circuit

Oct. 4, 2022, 4:35 PM

A federal appeals court panel reinstated allegations by Tyson Foods Inc. workers that the company negligently exposed them to Covid-19, finding the meatpacking giant never acted under government control to keep its factories open.

The central question at issue was whether former President Donald Trump’s April 2020 executive order requiring meatpacking plants to remain open during the pandemic to prevent food shortages warrants hearing the case in federal court instead of state court.

Tyson invoked Trump’s order and said it preempts the workers’ claims. A district court accepted that argument when it dismissed the case in June 2021 and declined to remand it to state court.

But the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated that ruling in an unpublished, per curiam decision Monday and said federal officer removal jurisdiction is lacking.

The ruling by a three-judge panel also instructed the district court to reconsider its decision denying remand on the workers’ allegation on federal question jurisdiction.

A group of 41 Tyson employees and the estate of a worker who died of Covid-19 initially sued in Texas state court in August 2020.

The lawsuit includes claims of negligence, gross negligence, and wrongful death charges that the company’s management failed to provide adequate personal protective equipment, allowed infected individuals to continue working at the plant, and failed to warn the workers of the conditions in the plant. The case was later removed to federal court.

Judges Edith Brown Clement, Stuart Kyle Duncan, and Cory T. Wilson issued the unpublished decision.

Representatives for the parties didn’t immediately reply to emailed requests for comment.

The case is Wazelle v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 2022 BL 353766, 5th Cir., No. 22-10061, unpublished 10/3/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Khorri Atkinson in Washington at katkinson@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Genevieve Douglas at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com