Court: Tyson Was Not “Acting Under” Federal Orders In Allowing COVID To Run Rampant Through Waterloo Plant

Statement From Attorneys Representing the Families of the Deceased Workers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit today unanimously affirmed an Iowa federal court decision, holding that wrongful death claims brought by the survivors of meatpacking workers that died after being exposed to COVID-19 at Tyson’s Waterloo, Iowa plant belong in state court. Public Citizen and The Spence Law Firm, LLC represented the families of deceased workers.

“Today’s decision recognizes that this was an easy case,” said Adam Pulver, attorney, Public Citizen. “As the court explained, the facts provide no support for Tyson’s arguments that choosing to continue to operate its Waterloo plant without taking appropriate precautions and lying to workers about the safety of the plant was somehow compelled by a federal officer. Tyson’s arguments had the potential to immunize thousands of American employers from negligent and reckless behavior throughout the pandemic—the Eighth Circuit has confirmed that COVID-19 did not alter well-established legal principles of federalism. Tyson was focused on profits, not the safety of the American people, much less its own workers, and its attempts to pin the blame on the federal government while delaying this case are shameful. We hope Tyson allows this case to promptly move forward so that the grieving families of its workers can finally have their day in court.

“The community of Waterloo was ravaged by COVID-19 – because of Tyson’s choices and conduct,” said Mel C. Orchard, III and G. Bryan Ulmer, The Spence Law Firm, LLC. “As the Eighth Circuit recognized, a local Iowa jury should have final say on right and wrong.”

Tyson had argued that various statements by President Trump, communications with USDA inspectors, and requests for government assistance meant that it was “acting under” the direction of federal officers, and thus only a federal court could hear the case. Tyson’s Waterloo facility was the source of one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in America, with over 1000 Tyson workers contracting COVID-19 in spring 2020 alone. The cases decided by the Eighth Circuit today are brought on behalf of the families of four Waterloo workers who died in April and May 2020. The case will now return to Iowa state court, where it will be litigated on the merits. Read more about the cases here and here.