Fernandez v. Tyson Foods, Inc.

Oscar Fernandez was exposed to the coronavirus at the Iowa meatpacking facility where he worked, and he died a few weeks later.  His survivors later filed a suit in Iowa state court against the company that operated the plant, claiming that it violated Iowa tort law. The defendant removed the action to federal court, claiming that the company was acting “at the direction of a federal officer.”

Public Citizen filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiff’s motion to remand the action to state court. The brief explained that neither the Defense Production Act nor an executive order issued by President Trump “directed” the company to do anything, and that neither the Defense Production Act nor the executive order preempted the plaintiff’s state-law claims.

In December 2020, the district court granted the plaintiff’s motion and remanded the case to state court. The court held that Tyson was not acting as a “federal officer” in operating its meatpacking plants. It also held neither the Federal Meat Inspection Act nor the Defense Production Act preempted plaintiffs’ state law claims.

Public Citizen represents Mr. Fernandez’s surviving son in the defendants’ appeal of the remand order. The defendants moved for a stay of that order pending appeal, and the court of appeals granted that motion without providing plaintiff an opportunity to respond. We then filed a motion for reconsideration of the stay order, arguing the court acted prematurely under the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure and opposing the stay motion.