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Adkisson v. Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

June 2, 2015

GREG ADKISSON et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
JACOBS ENGINEERING GROUP, INC., Defendant-Appellee

Argued April 29, 2015.

Page 642

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Knoxville. Nos. 3:13-cv-00505; 3:13-cv-00666; 3:14-cv-00020--Thomas A. Varlan, Chief District Judge.

ARGUED:

James K. Scott, STOKES, WILLIAMS, SHARP & DAVIES, Knoxville, Tennessee, for Adkisson Appellants.

Joshua J. Bond, HODGES, DOUGHTY & CARSON, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the Thomas and Smith Appellants.

S. Joseph Welborn, SMITH, CASHION & ORR, PLC, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

James K. Scott, STOKES, WILLIAMS, SHARP & DAVIES, Knoxville, Tennessee, Joshua J. Bond, HODGES, DOUGHTY & CARSON, Knoxville, Tennessee, for Appellants.

S. Joseph Welborn, SMITH, CASHION & ORR, PLC, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellee.

Before: GILMAN, ROGERS, and SUTTON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 643

RONALD LEE GILMAN, Circuit Judge.

This case arises out of the cleanup and remediation work that Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc. (Jacobs) performed at the Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant (KIF plant) following a December 2008 coal-ash spill. Jacobs managed the on-site work pursuant to a contract with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which owns and operates the KIF plant.

Individuals who worked on the coal-ash cleanup, along with some of their spouses (collectively, the Plaintiffs), filed three separate lawsuits against Jacobs, claiming that the workers suffered negative health impacts as a result of Jacobs's failure to monitor the fly ash (which is the finer particles of coal ash), to protect the workers from the fly ash, and to disclose the fly ash's toxic nature. The district court dismissed all of the Plaintiffs' claims based on a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, concluding that Jacobs was entitled to government-contractor immunity as a corollary of the discretionary-function exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. § § 2674, 2680. For the reasons set forth below, we REVERSE the judgment of the district court and REMAND the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. BACKGROUND

A. TVA and the coal-ash spill

TVA is a corporate agency and instrumentality of the United States, created by and existing pursuant to the Tennessee Valley Authority Act of 1933. 16 U.S.C. § 831 et seq. ; see also Tenn. Valley Auth. v. Kinzer, 142 F.2d 833, 837 (6th Cir. 1944). The KIF plant is a coal-fired plant generating electricity in Roane County, Tennessee. A byproduct of burning coal for the generation of electricity is coal ash. On December 22, 2008, a coal-ash containment dike at the KIF plant failed, spilling approximately 5.4 million cubic yards of coal-ash sludge over 300 acres of adjacent land. Chesney v. Tenn. Valley Auth., 782 F.Supp.2d 570, 571-73 (E.D. Tenn. 2011).

TVA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) responded to the coal-ash spill as required by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 ...


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