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Cagle v. NHC Healthcare-Maryland Heights

Willis Marion Cagle contracted COVID-19 in May 2020, while living in a Missouri nursing home called NHC Healthcare-Maryland Heights. After his diagnosis, his family discovered that he was not receiving adequate medical care and insisted that he be transported to a nearby hospital. He died of complications of COVID-19 soon thereafter. Mr. Cagle was one of 273 residents of that nursing home to contract COVID-19 in the first six months of the pandemic and one of 48 who died.

Mr. Cagle’s son filed a lawsuit against NHC in August 2021 in Missouri state court, alleging that his father’s death was the result of NHC’s inadequate infection control policies and procedures and its failure to provide necessary and appropriate medical services, in violation of Missouri law.

NHC removed the case from state court to federal court, arguing that despite the lack of complete diversity among the parties, diversity jurisdiction existed under a theory of “snap removal” because it removed the case before the non-diverse defendants had been sued. It also argued that federal-question jurisdiction existed because the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act, a statute enacted in 2005 to encourage the production and distribution of vaccines and other pandemic products, “completely preempted” Mr. Cagle’s claims and thus provided a basis for federal-court jurisdiction. NHC also argued that its intent to raise a PREP Act defense created federal-question jurisdiction. Finally, it argued that federal agency guidance issued during the pandemic federalized the nations’ nursing homes, thus entitling them to invoke the federal-officer removal statute. The district court rejected NHC’s arguments and remanded the case to state court. NHC appealed the remand order to the Eighth Circuit.

Public Citizen represents Mr. Cagle on appeal. The appellate brief explains that the doctrine of “snap removal” is irrelevant to the question of whether complete diversity exists and that the federal court properly held that it lacked diversity jurisdiction. As to complete preemption, the brief explains that the PREP Act has no application to the claims in this case, which do not arise from NHC’s “use or administration” of any “covered countermeasures,” as those terms are used in the PREP Act, but from NHC’s policies of non-use and negligent failure to provide a safe environment for its residents. Moreover, the brief explains, Congress did not confer federal-court jurisdiction over every case that involves the question whether the immunity defense provided by the PREP Act applies to a state-law claim. The brief also explains that NHC’s invocation of the federal-officer removal statute is barred by precedent.

In August 2023, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s remand order. In its opinion, it agreed that snap removal had no bearing on the case, that the PREP Act does not completely preempt negligence actions or otherwise create federal jurisdiction, and that the requirements for federal-officer removal were not satisfied.