On Monday, March 11, the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals concluded that a former Navy mechanic's asbestos lawsuit against shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls must be sent back to state court after finding that the case was not qualified to be transferred to federal court.
The lawsuit was filed by plaintiff James Latiolais in Louisiana State Court over allegations that he was exposed to asbestos while working for Huntington Ingalls Inc. at the Avondale shipyard. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2017 and died later that year.
The plaintiff asserted a negligence claim against Avondale; however, the case was removed by Avondale on the basis of the federal officer defense. The plaintiff filed a motion to remand the case and was granted the same. The fifth circuit allowed the case to be heard in state court as there was no evidence that the U.S. or any of its officials exercised any control over safety practices at Huntington Ingalls Inc. According to the Fifth Circuit, the lawsuit did not meet the causal nexus requirement for transferring it from state to federal court, which meant a demonstrable link did not exist between the defendant's actions and the plaintiff's claims, under a federal officer's directions. One of the former Huntington Ingalls' Navy ship inspector testified that he and his colleagues did not monitor safety regulations and the company was responsible for the safety of the officers during ship construction for the government. Latiolais sued Huntington Ingalls in Louisiana state court for his mesothelioma and alleged that the contractor failed to warn him about asbestos exposure hazards and failed to supply adequate safety gears. In a differing opinion, Judge Catharina Haynes concluded, “Latiolais’s status as a Navy man and Avondale’s status as a contractor for the Navy satisfies the causal nexus test.”