WASHINGTON — The US Supreme Court made the decision not to hear an appeal from Tyson Foods Inc. regarding two lawsuits dealing with the liability of meatpacking companies during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the order list on Feb. 21, the high court allowed two earlier cases from lower courts to stand, which did not exempt Tyson from litigation.

Plaintiffs, on behalf of four Tyson employees who died during the start of the pandemic, originally sued the meat processor in Iowa state court in 2020. 

However, the case moved back and forth between state and federal court until the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit sided with the plaintiffs. The appellate court said there was not enough federal direction and supervision during the early part of the pandemic.

The two lawsuits involve the Waterloo, Iowa pork plant run by Tyson Fresh Meats, which suspended operations in April 2020 and reopened in May 2020.

With its filing to the Supreme Court in 2022, Tyson explained its position on the matter.

“In the throes of the greatest national health crisis in a century, ensuring that the nation’s food supply remained secure ranked high among the federal government’s priorities,” the petition said. “In our system of free enterprise and federalism, the federal government could not accomplish that critical task alone; it depended instead on the cooperation of private companies, including food-processing companies like petitioner Tyson but, in the early days of the COVID-19 national emergency, Tyson was receiving contrary directions from competing authorities. While the federal government was directing Tyson to continue to produce food to keep grocery stores nationwide stocked, state and local authorities were demanding that Tyson shutter its facilities. Tyson followed the directives of the federal government and has now been sued for its efforts under state law.”

Previously, Tyson argued that meatpacking facilities were under an executive order of former president Donald Trump and the federal government which forced the company to stay open under the Defense Production Act.