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Latiolais v. Huntington Ingalls Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

March 11, 2019

JAMES A. LATIOLAIS, Plaintiff - Appellee
HUNTINGTON INGALLS, INCORPORATED, formerly known as Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Incorporated, formerly known as Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, Incorporated, formerly known as Avondale Industries, Incorporated, Defendant-Appellant

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

          Before JONES, HAYNES, and OLDHAM, Circuit Judges.

          EDITH H. JONES, Circuit Judge.

         Like several actions before it, this case involves a Plaintiff who was exposed to asbestos at the Avondale shipyard and eventually contracted mesothelioma. The Defendant removed the case to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1), the "federal officer removal statute," but the district court remanded to state court. Constrained by a welter of conflicting precedent, we must affirm.


         During the 1960s and 1970s, the United States Navy contracted with the Defendant Avondale[1] to build and refurbish naval vessels. Most of the contracts in the 1960s required asbestos for thermal insulation. According to Avondale's expert, a marine engineer and naval historian, the contracts obligated Avondale "to comply with government plans and specifications, and the federal government had the right to and did exercise supervision over the process to ensure such compliance." Importantly, however, a Navy ship inspector who worked at Avondale during the 1960s testified that he and his colleagues "neither monitored nor enforced safety regulations" and "on the job safety during the construction of vessels for the United States government was the responsibility of Avondale Shipyards' safety department."

         The Plaintiff, James Latiolais, formerly a machinist aboard the USS TAPPAHANNOCK, was exposed to asbestos while his ship underwent refurbishing at Avondale for several months. During the refurbishing process, Latiolais spent most of each day on the ship. In 2017, Latiolais was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He died in October, 2017.[2]

         Latiolais sued Avondale in Louisiana state court for causing him to contract mesothelioma. He asserts, inter alia, that Avondale negligently failed to warn him about asbestos hazards and failed to provide adequate safety equipment. He did not allege strict liability claims against Avondale.

         Avondale removed the case to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1). Latiolais sought remand, however, and the district court granted the motion. It ruled in relevant part that because Avondale had not met the "causal nexus" requirement for officer removal, i.e. had not shown that the United States or any of its officials exercised any control over Avondale's safety practices, removal under this statute was improper. Avondale timely appealed.


         Although an order remanding a case to state court is not generally reviewable, "an order remanding a case to the State court from which it was removed pursuant to section 1442 or 1443 of this title shall be reviewable by appeal or otherwise." 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d). "We review the district court's remand order de novo without a thumb on the remand side of the scale." Legendre v. Huntington Ingalls, Inc., 885 F.3d 398, 400 (5th Cir. 2018) (quotation marks omitted).


         On appeal, Avondale makes three arguments as to why officer removal is proper. First, as amended in 2011, the removal statute now requires only that a federal directive "relates to"-but not necessarily has a causal relationship to-the Plaintiffs' injuries. Second, Avondale asserts that it has satisfied the causal nexus requirement by showing "that its relationship with Mr. Latiolais derived solely from its work for the federal government." Third, Avondale seeks to avoid precedents of this court contrary to the foregoing propositions. Unfortunately, the failure of the third argument dooms the others.

         I. The "relating to" language

         The federal officer removal statute was amended in 2011 to broaden the basis for removal to federal court of claims brought against officers or agents of the federal government and those working under its direction. Thus, the statute states that an action filed in state court may be removed to federal court by: "[t]he United States or any agency thereof or any officer (or any person acting under that officer) of the United States or of any agency thereof, in an official or individual capacity, for or relating to any act under color of such office." 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1) (emphasis added).

         The Supreme Court has observed more than once that when the term "relating to" appears in a statute, it implies broad and comprehensive coverage. See, e.g., Morales v. Grans World Airlines, Inc.,504 U.S. 374, 383, 112 S.Ct. 2031, 2037 (1992) ("The ordinary meaning of these words is a broad one-'to stand in some relation; to have bearing or concern; to pertain; refer; to bring into association with or connection with.'") (quoting BLACK's LAW DICT. 1158 (5th ed. 1979)); see also Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc.,463 U.S. 85, 96-98, 103 S.Ct. 2890, 2899-2900 (1983). From the text alone, enhanced by the Supreme Court's understanding of its language, Avondale's argument has considerable appeal. Avondale's work, ...

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