Fifth Circuit Affirms Remand of Shipyard Case U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, March 11, 2019

LOUISIANA — The plaintiff James Latiolas, filed suit in Louisiana State Court alleging asbestos exposure while working at the Avondale shipyard. The plaintiff only asserted a negligence claim against Avondale and Avondale removed the case on the basis of the federal officer defense. The plaintiff filed a motion to remand, which was granted. On appeal, the fifth circuit affirmed.

The evidence previously gathered in other cases demonstrated that Avondale built and refurbished naval vessels based on the Navy’s specifications and under the their supervision. However, a former Navy ship inspector testified that he and his colleagues never monitored or enforced safety regulations at Avondale, and that job safety was the responsibility of Avondale.

Avondale raised three issues on appeal: 1) since 2011, the removal statute only required that a federal directive “relates to” the plaintiff’s injuries, not necessarily has a causal relationship to the injuries; 2) Avondale has satisfied the causal nexus requirement by showing that its relationship with the plaintiff derived solely from its work for the federal government; 3) prior precedent of the fifth circuit should be avoided.

The court agreed with Avondale on the first two points, but found itself inextricably bound by prior decisions of the fifth circuit in the Legendre and Bartel cases. The court disagreed with Avondale that the latter case did not meaningfully consider the 2011 amendment to the federal officer removal statute. However, the court noted that the Bartel decision should be reconsidered en banc “in order to align our precedent with the statute’s evolution.” Because Bartel’s causal nexus standard did not give effect to the words “relating to,” the fifth circuit could not find a causal nexus under the facts regarding the Avondale shipyard, described above. Accordingly, the granting of the plaintiff’s motion to remand was affirmed.

Only the Westlaw citation is currently available at 2019 WL 1107063.

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