By Karen Savage
At first glance, fossil fuel companies facing climate change-related lawsuits have little in common with an Iowa meatpacking plant hoping to duck a lawsuit for allegedly not protecting its workers from Covid-19.
But Tyson Foods is emulating Exxon, Shell, Chevron, BP and other fossil fuel companies being sued for their role in climate change by arguing the pandemic-related case raises issues of federal law. The meatpacking giant contends it was acting under federal instructions, including an executive order issued by President Trump.
The fossil fuel companies argue that cases against them should be heard in federal court in part because they were issued leases by the federal government, which they say qualifies them as “federal officers.” Tyson claims that President Trump’s designation of meatpacking plants as “essential,” qualifies it as a federal officer.
Both Tyson and the fossil fuel companies are relying on the Federal Officer Removal Statute, which says that cases filed against those acting under the direction of the federal government should be heard in federal court.
Thus far, fossil fuel companies haven’t had much luck. The First, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits have ruled that the climate cases belong in state courts and have swept aside the arguments that those federal leases make them answerable only to federal laws.
Whether Tyson will succeed remains to be seen. The lawsuit against it was filed by the family of 52-year-old Isidro Fernandez, a Tyson employee who died of Covid-19 in April. Fernandez was one of thousands of workers at the plant who tested positive for the virus.[Read more…]