Government contractors should take note of the Fifth Circuit’s June 30, 2021 decision in Taylor Energy Co. v. Luttrell, which reaffirmed that contractors can enjoy a broad immunity from third-party liabilities—known as “derivative sovereign immunity,” or “Yearsley immunity.” Yearsley immunity emanates from Yearsley v. W.A. Ross Const. Co., an 80-year-old Supreme Court decision, which established that a contractor is immune when (i) it performed acts pursuant to a valid authorization of Congress and (ii) the contractor did not exceed the scope of that authority.

In Taylor Energy, the court dismissed claims arising out of an oil spill containment project in the Gulf of Mexico. The basic claim in the suit was that the contractor failed to effectively remediate and contain the oil. The Fifth Circuit found that the government: (i) provided direction to the contractor through the statement of work, in the form of “goals” and specific contract deliverables and deadlines; and (ii) periodically met with the contractor and reviewed and approved the work during performance. Based on these core facts, the court held the contractor was immune. The court held that it was irrelevant that the statement of work was “barebones,” and that the contractor—rather than the government—designed certain elements of the remediation effort. Following the Fourth Circuit’s 2018 decision in Cunningham v. GDIT, the Taylor Energy decision is another appellate court victory for contractors in the wake of the Supreme Court reaffirming Yearsley’s core principles in Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez.


Continue Reading Fifth Circuit Reaffirms Breadth of Yearsley Immunity For Government Contractors

We’ve covered several topics already this week on the U.S. Government’s varied responses to the COVID-19 outbreak and how these responses will affect contractors that do business with the government, including BARDA’s EZ-BAA for COVID-19 diagnostics, mission-essential services during the outbreak, and how excusable delay provisions may help federal contractors affected by the outbreak.  But one area that has yet to receive in-depth discussion is the federal government’s mechanisms for addressing liability concerns raised by the use and distribution of countermeasures to the virus.  After all, while contractors are no doubt responding with appropriate speed and diligence in developing and deploying various COVID-19 countermeasures, no contractor wants to be the subject of a product liability, warranty, or negligence lawsuit later down the road.

Thankfully, Congress anticipated this concern and addressed it in 2005 by passing the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (“PREP Act”), codified at 42 U.S.C. § 247d-6d.  Since enactment, the PREP Act has been used to issue declarations covering various countermeasures, including therapeutics, diagnostics, devices, vaccines, and constituent materials for pandemic influenza, acute radiation syndrome, smallpox, Botulism, anthrax, Zika, nerve agents, certain insecticides, and Ebola.  And earlier this week, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (the “Secretary”) issued a declaration pursuant to the PREP Act specifically for COVID-19 countermeasures.

This post will cover the PREP Act generally before discussing the implications of the COVID-19 declaration.
Continue Reading A Coronavirus Contractor’s Guide to the PREP Act

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently published a decision that expanded on its prior Trimble ruling that a foreign government customer cannot sue a U.S. contractor in the Foreign Military Sales (“FMS”) context (at least in U.S. courts).  In BAE Sys. Tech. Solution & Servs., Inc. v. Republic of Korea’s Def. Acq. Program Admin., 884 F.3d 463 (4th Cir. 2018), the Korean government claimed that BAE Systems Technology Solutions & Services, Inc. (“BAE”) breached a side agreement that BAE executed with Korea (the “BAE-Korea Agreement”).  The BAE-Korea Agreement, which was separate from the FMS agreement between the U.S. and Korea (the “U.S.-Korea Agreement”), required BAE to use its best efforts to negotiate favorable pricing terms in the FMS transaction between the U.S. Government and Korea, and permitted the courts in Korea to hear disputes arising under the agreement.

BAE secured a favorable declaratory judgment from a U.S. district court to the effect that it had complied with the best efforts undertaking, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed on the broader ground that enforcing the BAE-Korea agreement would be contrary to the policy of the Arms Export Control Act (“AECA”) and the principles laid down by the Fourth Circuit in the 2007 Trimble decision, which held that foreign customers in an FMS transaction cannot sue U.S. contractors under a third-party beneficiary theory.  However, both courts declined to enjoin Korea’s lawsuit in the Korean courts.

The Fourth Circuit’s decision suggests some guidance for U.S. contractors about entering into similar FMS side agreements in light of both U.S. and foreign litigation risks.
Continue Reading Fourth Circuit Further Defines Scope of Contractor Risks in the FMS Sales Context

Last week the Savannah River Site (“SRS”) in South Carolina, a large nuclear facility owned by the U.S. Department of Energy (“DOE”), went into a lock down after electronic and canine scans of a commercial delivery truck attempting to enter the facility indicated possible explosive residue on the vehicle.  Fortunately, the lock down was lifted a few hours later after law enforcement determined that there were no explosives on the truck.  The incident nonetheless attracted significant media attention presumably in view of the activities conducted at the facility, which is operated by private companies under contract with the DOE.  SRS processes and stores nuclear materials in support of U.S. national defense.  It also develops and deploys technologies to treat nuclear and hazardous waste left from the Cold War.

Based on publicly-available information about last week’s incident, SRS contractors did everything right:  they screened the vehicle as it approached the facility, prohibited entry and locked the facility down when a potential threat was detected, and called in law enforcement to secure the area and investigate.  There is, however, one more thing SRS contractors could have done — and still can do — obtain protection under the SAFETY Act, a post-9/11 risk mitigation program administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) to incentivize the development and deployment of anti-terror technology.


Continue Reading Lock Down of Nuclear Site:  False Alarm, with a Lesson Learned

During markup of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA FY 2016”) on April 27, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) proposed an amendment that would provide liability protection to certain Department of Defense (“DoD”) contractors for properly reporting cyber incidents on their networks and information systems.

This amendment relates back to two Legislative efforts to impose data breach notification requirements on DoD contractors:

  • NDAA FY 2013 Section 941, which requires “cleared contractors” private entities granted clearance by DoD to “access, receive, or store classified information” for contractual purposes to report “successful penetrations” of their networks or information systems.
  • NDAA FY 2015 Section 1632 (10 U.S.C. § 391), which requires DoD-designated “operationally critical contractors” those contractors determined to be critical sources of supply or support essential to the mobilization, deployment, or sustainment of the Armed Forces in a contingency operation to “rapidly” report each cyber incident on any of its networks or information systems.


Continue Reading Potential Relief for Contractors Subject to Rapid Reporting Requirements