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Rural Cmty. Workers Alliance v. Smithfield Foods

United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, St. Joseph Division

May 5, 2020, Decided; May 5, 2020, Filed

No. 5:20-CV-06063-DGK



This lawsuit arises from Plaintiffs' allegations that Defendant Smithfield Foods, Inc. and its wholly owned subsidiary, Defendant Smithfield Fresh Meats Corporation (collectively, "Smithfield") have failed to adequately protect workers at its meat processing plant in Milan, Missouri, ("the Plant" [*2]  or "the Milan Plant") from the virus that causes COVID-19. Now before the Court are Plaintiffs' Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order ("TRO") and Preliminary Injunction (Doc. 3), and Smithfield's motion to dismiss and/or stay pursuant to the primary-jurisdiction doctrine (Doc. 28).

After carefully reviewing the motions and the existing record, the Court holds that it should decline to hear this matter pursuant to the primary-jurisdiction doctrine to allow the Occupational Health and Safety Administration ("OSHA") to consider the issues raised by this case. But even if the Court did not apply the primary-jurisdiction doctrine, the Court would not issue a preliminary injunction because Plaintiffs have not met their burden of proving that the extraordinary remedy of an affirmative injunction is justified. Smithfield's motion is GRANTED, and the case is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.


The Background section of this order is arranged in chronological order. Although regrettably lengthy, it details how the regulatory environment in which meat-processing plants operate is constantly changing during this unique national emergency.

In late 2019, a new coronavirus emerged named severe [*3]  acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).2 This virus causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a respiratory illness that can cause serious health problems, including death.3 SARS-CoV-2 is highly contagious; it appears to spread from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infectious person coughs, sneezes, or talks, and the virus can be spread by presymptomatic, or even asymptomatic, individuals.4

A global pandemic ensued, and the virus and COVID-19 reached the United States in early 2020. On March 13, 2020, the President declared a national emergency concerning COVID-19. That same day, Missouri's governor also declared a state emergency, and on April 3, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services issued a stay-at-home order that mandated all individuals abide by social-distancing requirements and closed all nonessential businesses in Missouri through May 4.5 The stay-at-home order defines essential businesses in accordance with guidance from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency ("Homeland Security"), which identified livestock-slaughter facilities, including the Plant and its operations, [*4]  as "critical infrastructure."6 On April 9, the Centers for Disease Control ("CDC") published Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), which outlined several policies and procedures employers should implement to help prevent workplace exposure and community spread of the virus.

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2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78793 *



Plant, employees, declaration, meat-processing, preliminary injunction, virus, Plaintiffs', injunction, spread, policies, breaks, implemented, measures, steps, primary-jurisdiction, symptoms, parties, tissues, policies and procedures, distancing, pandemic, speed, working conditions, production line, practices, workplace, mask, health and safety, public nuisance, communications