Tyson Appeals Texas Court’s Decision to Remand COVID-19 Employee Lawsuit

A personal injury lawsuit relating to Tyson’s alleged negligence in protecting its employees during the COVID-19 pandemic was appealed by the defendants, Tyson and some individuals working as supervisors and safety coordinators, to the Fifth Circuit and docketed in that court on Wednesday. The issue being appealed is where the lawsuit should be decided. 

The notice of appeal said that specifically the plaintiffs are contesting an order entered by the Texas Eastern District Court to remand the case to state court, specifically the 273rd Judicial District Court of Shelby County, Texas. Tyson has argued in this lawsuit and multiple others that the matter should be heard in federal court because its actions were responses to federal directions on how meatpacking plants should continue working through the pandemic. 

Plaintiffs in this specific lawsuit include 11 current and past employees who contracted COVID-19 and alleged that they were exposed while working at a Tyson poultry-processing plant. One plaintiff is also a representative of another employee who reportedly died after contracting COVID-19. They alleged that the defendants did not enforce safety measures which could have prevented COVID-19 from spreading through the workplace. 

In the order, the Texas Eastern District explained that the defendants had not “carried their burden to establish federal officer or federal question jurisdiction.” It noted when federal courts have jurisdiction, including when the dispute regards the Constitution or laws of the United States. The court also explained that if there is an ambiguity regarding removal that the statute should be read in a way that favors remand. 

It determined that federal regulations cited by Tyson were not preemptive of the plaintiffs’ claims, including the Poultry Products Inspection Act, which the court determined was designed to protect consumers and products, not workers. In addressing the Defense Production Act and an executive order asking meatpacking plants to remain open, the court cited the plaintiffs’ allegations that the executive order was issued after they contracted COVID-19. 

The plaintiffs are represented by Arnold & Itkin and the Law Office of Don Wheeler. Tyson and the other defendants are represented by Mayer LLP and Perkins Coie