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Helicopter Engine Manufacturer’s Removal Based on Federal-Officer Jurisdiction Upheld

Jurisdiction: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Eastern Division

Decedent Gustave Sahm died from lung cancer allegedly caused by asbestos exposure from 1956 to 2020 during his service in the United States Navy, and as a police officer for St. Louis County. His heirs filed suit in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis in January 2023, alleging the Raytheon products he encountered through his work with police helicopters contributed to his disease. Defendant Raytheon removed the case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1) on the grounds of federal-officer jurisdiction.

Title 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1) “grants independent jurisdictional grounds over cases involving federal officers where a district court otherwise would not have jurisdiction.”  Johnson v. Showers, 747 F.2d 1228, 1229 (8th Cir. 1984).  Moreover, “Section 1442 allows removal of any civil or criminal action against the United States, or ‘any agency thereof or any officer (or person acting under that officer) of the United States or any agency thereof’ when sued in an ‘official or individual capacity for any act under color of such office.’”  28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1), Sahm v. Avco Corp., No. 4:23-cv-00200-AGF, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85939 at *4 (E.D. Mo. May 17, 2023).  In a situation where the removing party is not a federal officer or agency, “it may remove a case only if it shows it was ‘acting under’ a federal officer or agency in carrying out the acts that underline the plaintiff’s complaint.” Buljic v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 22 F.4th 730, 738 (8th Cir. 2021) (citing Watson v. Philip Morris Cos., 551 U.S. 142, 147 (2007)).

Federal-officer jurisdiction requires the moving party to meet four elements: (i) the defendant has acted under the direction of a federal officer; (ii) there was a causal connection between the defendant’s actions and the official authority, (iii) the defendant has a colorable federal defense to the plaintiff’s claims, and (iv) the defendant is a “person” within the meaning of the statute.  See Jacks v. Meridian Res. Co., LLC, 701 F.3d 1224, 1230 (8th Cir. 2012). Here, plaintiffs argued Raytheon failed to meet the first, third, and fourth required elements. They contended the decedent’s work with the St. Louis County Police Department’s Helicopter Unit had no connection to the federal government, and Raytheon was not acting under the direction of a federal officer, and, thus, could not raise a colorable defense.

In response, Raytheon argued it manufactured its aircraft engines for the U.S. military and, thus, designed and built its engines “in accordance with reasonably precise specifications provided or approved by the United States government.” This meant the government first inspected and approved of drawings, plans, technical manuals, and other design documentation prior to the production of the engines in question. In addition, Raytheon proved the St. Louis County Police Department obtained the only Raytheon helicopter products decedent encountered via military surplus. Raytheon also contended it sufficiently raised the colorable federal defense of federal contractor immunity because the U.S. government “approved reasonably precise specifications, the equipment conformed to those specifications, and Raytheon warned the United States about those dangers known to it.”  2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85939 at *11

The court was not persuaded by plaintiffs’ arguments. It reasoned, “Government contractors fall within the terms of the federal officer removal statute when the relationship between the contractor and the government ‘is an unusually close one involved detailed regulation monitoring, or supervision.’”  Id., Watson, 551 U.S. at 153. Often this includes when “defendants work[] hand-in-hand with the federal government to achieve a task that furthers an end of the federal government.”  Bailey v Monsanto Company, 175 F. Supp. 3d 853, 869-70 (E.D. Mo. 2016). As such, the court found plaintiffs’ argument there was no connection with the federal government lacked merit because the decedent’s exposure arose from Raytheon products that were in the same condition as when they left the factory and “it is Raytheon’s manufacture of the product for the military that is at issue.”  Sahm, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85939 at *11.

Finally, the court found Raytheon raised a colorable federal defense because it provided specific factual allegations and reasonable extrapolations that the activity involves a “uniquely federal interest” warranting the displacement of state law, and that (i) the United States military approved reasonably precise specifications, (ii) the supplied equipment conformed to these specifications, and (iii) Raytheon warned the military about the dangers of the equipment known to it, but not to the military.”  Id. at *13. The court found these specific factual allegations were sufficient enough to allege a colorable government contractor defense, and, thus, denied plaintiffs’ motion to remand.

Read the full decision here.