Shipyard Fails to Show Nexus Required for Federal Jurisdiction

Plaintiff George K. Mayeaux alleged he suffered exposure to asbestos and asbestos-containing products that were manufactured, sold, installed, distributed, and/or supplied by a number of defendant companies while employed by defendant Avondale Industries, Inc. This matter was removed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand back to the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans in Louisiana.

The plaintiff alleged that he was employed by Avondale from 1963 to 2009. During that time, he claimed he handled asbestos and asbestos-containing products “aboard U.S. Destroyer Escorts, Lykes, and other vessels,” which caused him “to inhale asbestos dust and fibers, which led to his development of malignant mesothelioma and resultant injuries, damages, and losses.” The plaintiff brought Louisiana state law claims for negligence against Avondale and other defendants and strict liability claims against defendants other than Avondale.

Defendants Huntington Ingalls Inc. and OneBeacon America Insurance Company removed the case, alleging that removal is proper because this is action involves claims “for or relating to acts performed under color of federal office within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1),” and “[b]ecause this Court has federal officer jurisdiction over at least one of the claims asserted by the plaintiff, it has supplemental jurisdiction over all of the plaintiff’s claims.” The plaintiff filed a motion to remand.

The plaintiff argued that remand is appropriate because Avondale has failed to satisfy all four requirements of the federal officer removal statute. The Fifth Circuit has adopted a three-part inquiry to determine whether a government contractor qualifies as a “person acting under [a federal] officer” who is sued “in an official or individual capacity for any act under color of such office.” The contractor must prove that: (1) it is a “person” within the meaning of the statute; (2) it acted pursuant to a federal officer’s directions, and a causal nexus exists between its actions under color of federal office and the plaintiff’s claims; and (3) it has a colorable federal defense to the plaintiff’s claims.

The district court’s decision turned on the second factor regarding “nexus.” The plaintiff argued that Avondale cannot show that a federal officer directed or controlled their safety- and warning-related activities, or that there is a causal nexus between Avondale’s actions under color of federal office and the plaintiff’s negligence claims. In opposition, Avondale asserts that, under the current “for or relating to” language of Section 1442(a)(1), it has demonstrated that all of the breaches of duty the plaintiff alleges “relate to” Avondale’s conduct in fulfilling its contracts with the federal government for the construction of the Navy Destroyer Escorts, and therefore, the plaintiff’s negligence claims are “related to” its actions pursuant to the federal government’s directions.

The court found Avondale had not demonstrated that its own discretionary decisions to allegedly fail to warn or protect the plaintiff from the dangers of asbestos while he was employed by Avondale resulted from or is “related to” its actions under color of federal office, to the extent that any such actions exist. As such, Avondale has not shown that the necessary causal nexus exists between Avondale’s actions under color of federal office and the plaintiff’s claims. This matter was remanded to state court.

Read the full decision here.