Yearsley immunity

Federal government contractors face many uncertainties as they implement President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. This includes the distinct possibility of civil lawsuits arising out of their implementation of the mandate, including potential allegations of invasion of privacy, wrongful termination, lost wages, discrimination, personal injury or other common law claims or statutory violations. At least one such lawsuit already has been filed. In that suit, dozens of aggrieved employees allege that the contractor’s vaccine mandate violates state law, and they seek an injunction and other relief. Other lawsuits are sure to follow.

But there is good news for contractors: Established legal doctrines should provide contractors some degree of protection—and perhaps complete immunity—against such lawsuits. In addition to the statutory protections afforded to contractors under the PREP Act, contractors may be protected from civil liability based on federal-law-based defenses that have been recognized and applied in analogous government contracting settings. In the coming weeks, as contractors navigate the many challenges associated with the vaccine mandate, they should carefully consider the risk of civil litigation, and, in order to minimize potential exposure in such lawsuits, proactively implement practices that maximize the likelihood that these doctrines and defenses will be applicable, as discussed below.Continue Reading Are Federal Contractors Immunized From Vaccination Litigation? Mitigating The Risk Of Civil Liabilities Arising Out Of The COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

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