Tyson Waterloo Plant COVID-19 Death Suit Remanded to State Court

Northern District of Iowa Judge Linda R. Reade signed an order on Monday remanding a lawsuit alleging that Tyson Foods and its managers were at fault for the deaths of multiple employees at its Waterloo, Iowa, pork processing plant from the Northern District of Iowa Court to the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County. 

The plaintiffs asked for the case to be remanded in a motion filed in late August accompanied by a brief and affidavits from the plaintiffs. They explained that Tyson moved the case to the District Court based on the President’s s executive order and claims that the petition raised federal law issues; however, the plaintiffs purported that the executive order did not have a relation to the claims, which were based on actions that happened before the Order was issued. The brief said, “because Ms. Buljic, Mr. Garcia, and Mr. Ayala all contracted the virus, stopped working, and were dead or dying weeks before the executive order was issued, Tyson has not and cannot demonstrate any of the decedents were sickened or died as a result of the Executive Order.” 

Judge Reade, in Monday’s order, agreed with the plaintiffs that the primary allegations in the petition predated the executive order. The court order refuted that there was a connection between its actions and federal actions that could keep the lawsuit in the district court. The order stated, “even if Tyson acted under the direction of a federal officer, which it did not, Tyson has failed to demonstrate a causal connection between its actions and the official authority.” 

The court further determined that Tyson “failed to demonstrate it has a colorable federal defense.” The company could not say that it stayed open and required employees to work because of the related executive order due to the timing, and thus, Tyson did not adequately claim that the case contained a question that should be addressed by the federal courts. 

“The court finds that the Petition does not assert federal claims,” the order stated, “but rather asserts common law tort claims for negligence and fraudulent misrepresentation … (which) do not allege a cause of action created by a federal statute.” 

This specific COVID-19 death lawsuit is one of two that alleged that managerial employees placed bets on how many workers at the plant would be infected with the COVID-19 virus. Seven Tyson employees were fired based on these allegations. 

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