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In re KBR, Inc., Burn Pit Litigation

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 19, 2017

In re KBR, Inc., Burn Pit Litigation This Document Relates to: All Member Cases



         In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States was drawn into not one, but two wars. Those wars spawned a decade of involvement by the United States military that exacted a very heavy toll. In Iraq, 4, 484 servicemen were killed and an additional 32, 251 wounded. United States Dep't of Def., (updated July 12, 2017). In Afghanistan, 2, 216 United States soldiers were killed, and another 20, 048 wounded. Id. Both war zones were extremely dangerous, and the use of improvised explosive devices made them especially so for military and non-military personnel alike.

         In order to fight these wars, the military established a number of bases, referred to in military jargon as “Forward Operating Bases, ” (“FOBs”) where soldiers were stationed. Because of the size and scope of the military operations, it became necessary to engage the services of contractors to assist in the fulfillment of the military mission in these two theaters of war.

         As explained below, one of the first decisions made by the military was that, due to the extremely dangerous conditions in these two war zones, the management of waste would have to be accomplished through the use of open burn pits, some operated by the military, and others operated by contractors. The decision to use burn pits was not made by the contractors, but rather by the military. The military recognized that there were certain health risks associated with the use of burn pits, but balanced those risks against the greater risk of harm to military and other personnel should other methods of waste management be utilized.

         As noted above, the toll on military and other personnel from fighting these two wars was considerable. Some never came home from the war, and others came home maimed or wounded. Others returned suffering from illnesses that they attributed to their exposure to smoke coming from open burn pits and/or their drinking of allegedly impure water. This has resulted in a myriad of state law tort and contract claims against Defendants KBR, Inc., Kellogg, Brown & Root Services, Inc., Kellogg, Brown & Root, LLC, and Halliburton Company (collectively, “Defendants, ” “KBR, ” or “KBR Defendants”). Sixty-three separate complaints have been filed, and at least forty-four of these actions purport to be nationwide class actions. The claims asserted in these complaints do not relate to a specific, discrete event, but rather to the conduct of the Defendants alleged to have taken place in both theaters of war over extended periods of time as long as a decade. The central common fact in all of the complaints is the use of open burn pits.

         Faced with this avalanche of litigation in the federal courts asserting the common question of harm caused by the use of open burn pits, the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation, acting pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407, directed that all such cases be transferred to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland for consolidated pretrial proceedings. ECF No. 1.[1] Indeed, because of the centrality of the common issue of the use of open burn pits, the consolidated litigation was renamed “In Re: KBR, Inc., Burn Pit Litigation.” Id.

         Following the transfer of the cases to this Court, a series of Case Management Orders was entered [ECF Nos. 104, 273, 292, 340, 374, 399, 410], and a Consolidated Amended Complaint was filed [ECF No. 377]. In it, the Plaintiffs alleged that the Defendants wrongfully (1) used open-air burn pits to dispose of waste, (2) failed to locate them in a manner that reduced the harmful effects on human health, (3) failed to bring incinerators online, (4) failed to provide recycling services, and (5) burned plastics and other items which are known to cause cancer. Id. ¶¶ 33-34, 37-39 and 51.

         On January 29, 2010, the Defendants filed their first motion to dismiss all of the complaints on the basis that the actions were nonjusticiable under the political question doctrine, precluded by derivative sovereign immunity, and preempted by the “combatant activities” exception in the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2680(j).

         I. Earlier Decisions of This Court

         Following a hearing, this Court denied Defendants' first Motion to Dismiss on September 8, 2010. In re KBR, Inc., Burn Pit Litig., 736 F.Supp.2d 954 (D. Md. 2010) (“Burn Pit I”). The Court concluded then that while it would be without jurisdiction to decide a claim arising out of an alleged breach of a LOGCAP III contract if such review would involve second-guessing a military decision, there was insufficient information at that early stage of the litigation to determine whether Defendants operated burn pits and treated water in ways prohibited or unauthorized by the military. Id. at 960. This Court was careful to note that if actions had been taken by Defendants in violation of LOGCAP III, but such actions had been specifically condoned or directed by military commanders, any resulting claims would be barred by the political question doctrine. Id. On the limited record then before the Court, it concluded that it did not necessarily lack manageable standards to adjudicate the case, and, assuming that the Defendants' actions involved decisions separate from and contrary to military decisions, the case would not require formulating any military policies clearly committed to the executive branch. Id. at 961-62. This Court also held that, at that early stage and subject to limitations, it could adjudicate the claims without disrespecting or embarrassing the executive branch. Id. at 962. With regard to the Defendants' preemption argument, the Court concluded that it was “premature, ” because Defendants had “not produced sufficient factual support” at that early stage to justify its application. Id. at 976. While this Court denied the motion to dismiss, it declined to unleash the “full fury of unlimited discovery, ” and instead required the parties to confer and create a plan for “carefully limited discovery.” Id. at 979.

         Before authorizing any limited discovery, this Court on December 10, 2010 stayed all proceedings in order to give it an opportunity to consider the effect of decisions expected to be issued by the Fourth Circuit in three then pending cases.[2] See Stay Order, ECF No. 112. After decision of the pending appellate cases, this Court entered an order establishing a briefing schedule for the filing by the Defendants of any renewed motion to dismiss. See ECF No. 209. Following a hearing, this Court granted Defendants' Renewed Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction [ECF No. 217] on February 27, 2013, and dismissed all cases in the multi-district litigation. In re KBR, Inc., Burn Pit Litig., 925 F.Supp.2d 752 (D. Md. 2013) (“Burn Pit II”). In its Memorandum Opinion, this Court concluded that there was “more than sufficient information” in the record such that full discovery or an evidentiary hearing was not necessary. Id. at 759. The Court concluded that the extensive discovery sought by the Plaintiffs would “result in precisely the kind of unnecessary intrusion and entanglement with the military that the political question doctrine was designed to avoid.” Id. at 760.

         a. Political Question Doctrine

         In deciding that the cases were nonjusticiable under the political question doctrine, this Court noted that the Fourth Circuit in Taylor v. Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc., 658 F.3d. 402 (4th Cir. 2011), had adopted a two-part test for use in the government contractor context. Burn Pit II, 925 F.Supp.2d at 761. The two-part inquiry considered “(1) the extent to which a contractor was under the military's control; and (2) whether national defense interests were closely intertwined with the military's decisions governing the contractor's conduct.” Id.

         This Court considered the “military control” factor and concluded that KBR's evidence “establishe[d] direct and fundamental military management and control of KBR employees in both theatres of war.” Id. Specifically, the Court concluded that the military made the most important decision-the decision to use open burn pits-and that any analysis of the Plaintiffs' burn pit claims would require the Court to question sensitive military judgments made after considering the exigencies associated with a war zone. Id. at 762. The Court concluded that the same held true for KBR's provision of water services in Iraq and Afghanistan. Id. Unlike in Taylor, in which the Fourth Circuit held that the language of the contract did not demonstrate military control over contractor employees, this Court found that the LOGCAP III contract and its appended task orders “demonstrate[d] pervasive and plenary military control.” Id. at 764. While nothing in the Statements of Work in this case gave the military direct control over the Defendants' employees, the “essential decision (in sharp contrast to Taylor) to use open burn pits as a method of battlefield waste disposal was made by the military alone.” Id. The Court emphasized that the issue did “not involve a discrete event on a specific date, but rather the resolution of damage claims resulting from essential military decisions. . .in fields of battle in two countries over an extended period of time, ” and held that the “military control” factor weighed heavily in favor of dismissal under the political question doctrine. Id.

         This Court likewise held that the “national defense interest” factor weighed in favor of dismissal. Id. The Court found that the “actions complained of [were] not ones taken by the Defendants alone, and KBR's defenses (e.g., contributory negligence and causation) would necessarily require review of the reasonableness of military decisions, a role that is simply not appropriate for, or within the competence of, the judiciary.” Id. at 765-66.

         b. Preemption Under the “Combatant Activities” Exception in the Federal Tort Claims Act

         This Court also concluded that dismissal was appropriate due to federal preemption under the “combatant activities” exception in the Federal Tort Claims Act. Id. at 767.[3] This Court relied on the D.C. Circuit's decision in Saleh v. Titan Corp., 580 F.3d 1 (D.C. Cir. 2009), and the amicus briefs filed by the Solicitor General in Saleh v. Titan Corp., No. 09-1313 (U.S. May 27, 2011), and in Al Shimari v. CACI Int'l, Inc., Nos. 09-1335, 10-1891, 10-1921 (4th Cir. Jan. 13, 2012), to reach the conclusion that, for purposes of preemption, the “focus should not be on the activity of the contractor, but rather that of the military and whether the claims asserted arise out of combatant activities of the military.” Burn Pit II, 925 F.Supp.2d at 768-70 (emphasis in original). At all times pertinent to Plaintiffs' claims, this Court held that the military was “clearly engaged in combat activities” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Id. at 770.

         As a final observation, this Court noted that although it may have been “tempt[ing]. . .to allow these cases to go forward and not now decide the essential questions addressed above, ” allowing the cases to proceed when the Court lacks authority to do so “would not be fair to either side nor would it be in the national interest.” Id. at 772. While the Court was sympathetic to the claims of the Plaintiffs, it noted that the “remedy is through the military and the legislative process, not through the judiciary, ” and that “national interests in this case dictate the result that has been reached.” Id. at 773.

         II. The Plaintiffs Appeal to the Fourth Circuit

         Following this Court's February 27, 2013 Memorandum Opinion and Order, Plaintiffs appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. ECF No. 238. In their appeal, Plaintiffs argued that this Court failed to address “any of the contradictory evidence establishing that Halliburton/KBR did not always obtain the requisite authorizations to use burn pits, ” and even when it had authorization, it “failed to comply with the terms of those authorizations.” Brief of Appellants at 7, In re KBR, Inc., Burn Pit Litig., No. 13-1430 (4th Cir. May 29, 2013) (“Appellant Br.”). Plaintiffs also argued that this Court failed to “discuss the evidence showing that Halliburton/KBR chose the location of burn pits in certain camps, ” and that this Court “created categorical rules that would allow for immunity regardless of whether Halliburton/KBR acted directly contrary to military dictates.” Id. at 7-8. Specifically, Plaintiffs averred that KBR submitted evidence that it obtained authorization to use a burn pit at only one location, Camp Taji, and that it violated military directives while operating that burn pit. Id. at 10-11. Plaintiffs also claimed that KBR operated burn pits without military authorization and in ways that breached LOGCAP III-for example, by burning prohibited materials. Id. at 11-12. Similarly, Plaintiffs argued that KBR “failed to sanitize and control water in accordance with TB MED 577.” Id. at 13.

         With regard to the political question doctrine, Plaintiffs argued that this Court erred in construing Taylor as “landscape changing, ” and in making only one factual finding that the military made the key decisions as to use, location, and supervision of burn pits, without making factual findings as to whether KBR acted within the bounds of its authority. Id. at 8. Plaintiffs claimed that this Court erred in relying upon a “sparse and undeveloped record untested by jurisdictional discovery” in concluding that the cases presented a political question, while ignoring the essential premise of Plaintiffs' complaints: that KBR violated military directives. Id. at 14-15. Plaintiffs then went through each of the six Baker[4] factors to argue that the claims were justiciable. Id. at 26-37.

         Regarding the “combatant activities” exception preemption issue, Plaintiffs argued that this Court's formulation of the “combatant activities” test “ignores the plain language of the FTCA” and would “insulate all defense contractors operating in war zones from liability for anything and everything done abroad and at home in connection with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Id. at 16. Plaintiffs argued that this Court erred by finding their claims preempted when the FTCA excludes contractors from the scope of the statute. Id. at 49. They also argued that, in finding the claims preempted, this Court ignored Supreme Court preemption jurisprudence and erred by failing to make factual findings that KBR was acting within the scope of its contract and was integrated with military personnel in the performance of the combatant activities. Id. at 50-54. In short, they claimed that the Court “created a preemption doctrine that contradicts Supreme Court and Fourth Circuit jurisprudence and lacks any limiting principle, ” and erred by resolving the lawsuits without discovery. Id. at 57.

         III. The Fourth Circuit Remands for Discovery

         In its decision, the Fourth Circuit ultimately concluded that the factual record was not sufficiently developed to support this Court's determination that Plaintiffs' claims were nonjusticiable political questions or preempted under the FTCA's “combatant activities” exception. In re KBR, Inc. Burn Pit Litigation, 744 F.3d 326 (4th Cir. 2014) (“Burn Pit III”).

         a. Political Question

         The Fourth Circuit first applied the test set forth in its decision in Taylor, in which the court had previously concluded that the fact that “KBR was acting under orders of the military does not, in and of itself, insulate the claim from judicial review.” Taylor, 658 F.3d. at 411. Rather, the court was required to assess “first, the extent to which KBR was under the military's control, and, second, whether national defense interests were closely intertwined with the military's decisions governing KBR's conduct.” Id. (emphasis added). Under the second factor, a claim is a nonjusticiable political question “if deciding the issue would require the judiciary to question actual, sensitive judgments made by the military, which can occur even if the government contractor is nearly insulated from direct military control.” Burn Pit III, 744 F.3d at 335 (citations and quotation marks omitted). In order to evaluate the Taylor factors, the Fourth Circuit explained, the court must look “beyond the complaint, and consider[] how the Servicemembers might prove their claims and how KBR would defend.” Id. (citations and quotation marks omitted). The court explained that it would proceed with its analysis using only the Taylor test, rather than conducting a Baker-style analysis. Id.

         i. Military Control Factor

         With regard to the first factor, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the evidence presented in these cases “indicate[d] that the military allowed the use of burn pits and decided whether, when, and how to utilize them.” Burn Pit III, 744 F.3d at 337. However, it also noted that “[a]lthough some evidence demonstrate[d] that the military exercised control over KBR's burn pit activities, the Servicemembers presented evidence-which the district court did not discuss-contradicting this picture.” Id. With regard to water treatment functions, the court concluded that “the evidence suggest[ed] that, although the military delegated many water treatment functions to KBR, the military oversaw water treatment in Iraq and Afghanistan to some degree.” Id. at 338.

         In evaluating the level of control that the military exercised over KBR's burn pit and water treatment activities, the Fourth Circuit concluded that, at that point in the litigation and based on the then current record, the situation as presented more closely resembled the situation in Harris v. Kellogg Brown & Root Servs., Inc., 724 F.3d 458, 467 (3d Cir. 2013), in which the Third Circuit explained that “where the military does not exercise control but merely provides the contractor with general guidelines that can be satisfied at the contractor's discretion, contractor actions taken within that discretion do not necessarily implicate unreviewable military decisions.” Burn Pit III, 744 F.3d at 338-39. The Fourth Circuit concluded that, on the limited record developed at that time, it “d[id] not appear that the military's control over KBR's burn pit and water treatment tasks rose to the level of the military's control over the convoy in Carmichael [v. Kellogg Brown & Root Servs., Inc., 572 F.3d 1271 (11th Cir. 2009)].” Burn Pit III, 744 F.3d at 338.

         “In short, ” the Fourth Circuit explained, “although the evidence shows that the military exercised some level of oversight over KBR's burn pit and water treatment activities, we simply need more evidence to determine whether KBR or the military chose how to carry out these tasks.” Id. at 339.

         ii. “National Defense Interests” Factor

         In evaluating this factor, the Fourth Circuit held that this Court must “consider whether the Servicemembers' claims or KBR's defenses require [the court] to consider the military's judgments.” Burn Pit III, 744 F.3d at 339. The Fourth Circuit held that this factor did not compel the conclusion that the case was nonjusticiable despite the fact that KBR raised an argument that the military, and not KBR, caused the alleged injuries. Id. at 340-41. Because it concluded that KBR had raised only a simple causation defense, the district court would only need to “decide if the military made decisions regarding (1) whether to use, how to use, and where to locate burn pits and (2) how to conduct water treatment, ” without necessarily evaluating the propriety of these judgments. Id. at 340. Applying Harris, the court concluded that “KBR's causation defense does not require evaluation of the military's decision making unless (1) the military caused the Servicemembers' injuries, at least in part, and (2) the Servicemembers invoke a proportional-liability system that allocates liability based on fault.” Id. at 340-41. Therefore, the second Taylor factor did not necessarily compel the conclusion that the claims were nonjusticiable.

         b. Preemption Under the FTCA's “Combatant Activities” Exception[5]

         In addressing this Court's analysis of KBR's preemption argument, the Fourth Circuit explained that the Supreme Court's decision in Boyle v. United Technologies Corp., 487 U.S. 500 (1988), governed the question. Burn Pit III, 744 F.3d at 346-47. In Boyle, the Supreme Court developed a three-step process to determine whether federal law preempted state law. Id. at 347. “First, it identified the ‘uniquely federal interests' at issue in that case. Second, it determined whether there was a ‘significant conflict' between those interests and state law. . . . Third, the Court formulated a test that ensured preemption of state laws that clashed with the federal interests at play.” Id. (citing Boyle, 487 U.S. at 504-13).

         Turning to the first step in the process, the Fourth Circuit adopted the test set forth by the Third Circuit in Harris. The Third Circuit concluded that the combatant activities exception's purpose is to “foreclose state regulation of the military's battlefield conduct and decisions.” Harris, 724 F.3d at 480. With regard to the second step, the Fourth Circuit concluded that

when state tort law touches the military's battlefield conduct and decisions, it inevitably conflicts with the combatant activity exception's goal of eliminating such regulation of the military during wartime. In other words, “the federal government occupies the field when it comes to warfare, and its interest in combat is always ‘precisely contrary' to the imposition of a non-federal tort duty.”

Burn Pit III, 744 F.3d at 349 (quoting Saleh v. Titan Corp., 580 F.3d 1, 7 (D.C. Cir. 2009)).

         Finally, the Fourth Circuit adopted the test set forth in Saleh to determine whether state law was preempted under the third Boyle step. Id. In Saleh, the D.C. Circuit articulated the test as follows: “During wartime, where a private service contractor is integrated into combatant activities over which the military retains command authority, a tort claim arising out of the contractor's engagement in such activities shall be preempted.” Saleh, 580 F.3d at 9. This test “ensures that the FTCA will preempt only state tort laws that touch the military's wartime decision making.” Burn Pit III, 744 F.3d at 350. The Fourth Circuit explained that it is irrelevant that government contractors cannot qualify as “combatants” because “the Saleh test does not require private actors to be combatants; it simply requires them to be integrated into combatant activities.” Id. (emphasis added) (citations and quotation marks omitted). The court held that KBR's waste management and water treatment services constituted “combatant activities, ” but concluded that “the extent to which KBR was integrated into the military chain of command [was] unclear.” Id. at 351.

         Because the Fourth Circuit concluded that neither the political question doctrine nor preemption under the FTCA's “combatant activities” exception required dismissal at that stage of the litigation, it remanded the cases back to this Court for further jurisdictional discovery. Id. at 351-52.

         IV. The Case Returns to the District Court

         This Court long ago invited the United States to participate in the formulation of a discovery plan as an amicus curiae, so as to ensure that the discovery did not “overly burden[] the military and its personnel with onerous and intrusive discovery requests. . . .” Burn Pit I, 736 F.Supp.2d at 979. After the Fourth Circuit's remand to this Court, this Court again noted that it was “essential” for the United States to participate in the formulation of a discovery plan, “not only because it is in possession of significant information that may be dispositive of the conflicting claims made by the parties in this case, but also due to the significant potential for a burden on military operations of the United States.” ECF No. 253 at 3.

         To aid in the discovery process, the Court, after extensive consultation with the parties, entered several case management orders, culminating in the Second Amended Case Management Order [ECF No. 399], approved by all parties and entered on April 26, 2016. This Order provided that, because Plaintiffs bear the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction, and because “KBR has challenged the factual validity of Plaintiffs' jurisdictional assertions, Plaintiffs must prove those facts by a preponderance of the evidence.” ECF No. 399 at 1 (citing U.S. ex rel. Vuyyuru v. Jadhav, 555 F.3d 337, 347-48 (4th Cir. 2009)). The Court also stated that “any factual assertions that are intertwined with the merits of the case are more properly reserved for decision until after the purely jurisdictional issues have been addressed.” ECF No. 399 at 1-2 (citing Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192-93 (4th Cir. 2009)). Therefore, the “mixed” questions of whether KBR breached the LOGCAP III contract, as well as the derivative immunity defense, were excluded from the scope of jurisdictional discovery, which was to be focused on “pure” jurisdictional facts. ECF No. 399 at 2.

         This Court determined that the proper scope of “purely jurisdictional discovery” included only: “(1) The degree to which the military controlled KBR's performance of the contracts; and (2) The degree to which KBR was integrated into military command.” Id. The Court recognized that “some information may potentially be relevant to control and integration, as well as breach of contract and the military's approval of deviations from the contract.” Id. at 2 n.1. While this information “would fall into the scope of jurisdictional discovery, ” argument would only be “permitted as to its relevance to control and integration, ” and “not as to breach of contract or the military's approval of deviations from the contract.” Id.

         V. The Discovery on Remand

         Pursuant to this Court's Case Management Order, the parties began the enormous task of conducting even limited discovery in this case. The scope of discovery was massive despite the limitations on the issues placed by the Court in its Case Management Order. KBR produced over 5.8 million pages of documents, including more than 3 million pages of emails and other electronic data, 102, 000 pages of award fee evaluation documents, and 640, 000 pages of contract directives, including Administrative Change Letters (“ACLs”), Letters of Technical Direction (“LOTDs”), and Notices to Proceed (“NTPs”). Def. Ex. 1, ECF No. 451-4. The parties took thirty-four depositions of various witnesses on the jurisdictional questions, including military personnel in both the operational and contracting commands, current and former KBR employees, and some of the plaintiffs in the cases. Tr. Mot. Hr'g, March 9, 2017, 9:00 A.M. (“March 9 A.M. Tr.”) 10:3-12, ECF No. 481.

         VI. KBR's Renewed Motion to Dismiss

         After the conclusion of the voluminous jurisdictional discovery, KBR filed a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and for Summary Judgment Pursuant to Rule 56 [ECF No. 451] on the grounds that Plaintiffs' claims present nonjusticiable political questions and that they are preempted by the FTCA's “combatant activities” exception.

         a. KBR's Key Contentions

         KBR first argued that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over these cases as Plaintiffs' claims amount to nonjusticiable political questions. ECF No. 451-1 at 8-9. With regard to the first Taylor factor, KBR argued that the military made all of the key decisions relating to waste management and water services and exerted a “level of ‘control' analogous to the level of the military's control over the convoy in Carmichael.” ECF No. 451-1 at 10-11. KBR claimed that the military decided to use burn pits “after balancing sensitive Military needs and priorities in theater, ” and argued that there is “zero evidence supporting Plaintiffs' incredible assertion that KBR operated burn pits on secure military bases throughout two war theaters ‘without military authorization.'” Id. at 12-13.

         KBR also argued that, after discovery, it could not be disputed that the military determined where to locate burn pits, and that “under the LOGCAP III contracting process established by the Military, the Military gave KBR specific contractual direction regarding the location of the burn pit[s].” ECF No. 451-1 at 15. And at the “relatively small number of bases where KBR operated a burn pit, ” the Military issued directives that controlled how the pits were operated. Id. KBR also averred that the Military, not KBR, made the decision to burn a number of items about which Plaintiffs complain, including plastics. Id. at 15.

         In addition to controlling the location and operation of the burn pits, KBR argued, the Military continually assessed the known risks associated with burn pits and continued to direct KBR to operate them, showing that “KBR was operating pursuant to sensitive military judgments. . .that would be scrutinized by the Judiciary should these suits proceed.” Id. at 16-17. Moreover, contrary to Plaintiffs' claim that KBR failed to timely bring incinerators online, KBR asserted that the “record on remand establishes that the Military decided whether, where, and when to install and use incinerators-thereby exerting further control over KBR.” Id. at 19. KBR further alleged that “discovery demonstrated the Military controlled KBR's provision of non-drinking water by making all key decisions including, notably, choosing the water-quality standards and the method for treating raw water to meet those standards.” Id. at 21.

         Apart from making these key military policy decisions in the first instance, KBR argued that the military also “used contractual mechanisms to exert control over KBR's performance, including waste and water services, and to ensure the military's needs were being met.” Id. at 22. The military established an “oversight regime to monitor and inspect-and thereby exert further control over-how KBR performed.” Id. at 23. They conducted inspections and other oversight activities over KBR's performance, and conducted formal evaluations to ensure that KBR was complying with its contractual obligations. Id. at 25-26.

         Regarding the “national defense interests factor” of the Taylor analysis, KBR argued that it can assert a contributory negligence defense, and a jury would have to decide whether it was reasonable for Plaintiffs to voluntarily expose themselves to known risks related to burn pits. ECF No. 451-1 at 27.

         KBR additionally claimed that adjudication of these suits would offend fundamental separation-of-powers principles because it would require the courts to “invade matters committed to the Executive Branch, including how to regulate the conduct of a warzone-support contractor performing essential support services.” ECF No. 451-1 at 28. Moreover, if the cases were to proceed on the merits, the burden on the Military would be “enormous.” Id. at 28-29. Finally, KBR argued that the Fourth Circuit's decision in Al Shimari v. CACI Premier Technology Inc., 840 F.3d 147, 159 (4th Cir. 2016) confirmed that “negligence suits against battlefield contractors should be dismissed when the contract was either under the actual control of the Military or the conduct ‘involved' sensitive military judgments, ” standards that these suits easily meet. Id. at 29.

         KBR also moved for summary judgment on the ground that Plaintiffs' claims are preempted by the FTCA's “combatant activities” exception. KBR argued again that its performance of services “indisputably stemmed from numerous sensitive military judgments, including the Military's decision to use burn pits, locate burn pits, burn items that Plaintiffs assert caused harm, and knowingly accept risks attendant to burn pit emissions.” ECF No. 451-1 at 31. It argued that “KBR's integration into the Military mission was an operational necessity.” Id. at 32. And because KBR was integrated into the military mission, allowing the suits to proceed would result in challenges to sensitive military judgments. Id. at 33. KBR also pointed to Plaintiffs' claim that it had a duty to warn them about the safety risks of the burn pits, arguing that it was actually the military that conducted the health assessments and decided not to issue warnings to the base camp residents. Id. at 34. The fact that KBR had some discretion in carrying out certain tasks, it argued, is of no consequence, as it was the military that made the policy judgments in the first instance. Id. at 35. Finally, KBR argued that the military was the appropriate entity to regulate KBR's conduct and did hold it accountable when necessary. Id. at 36.

         b. The Plaintiffs' Response

         The Plaintiffs' response focused on the assertion that KBR allegedly operated under “what, not how” contracts with the military. Plaintiffs argued that the military provided only the ends to be achieved under each contract, but KBR retained discretion as to how to achieve the goals. Because the crux of Plaintiffs' case is based on alleged violations of KBR's contracts with the military, they assert that they are questioning only KBR's decisions-not the military's. See ECF No. 455 at 2-3 (“Plaintiffs are challenging the conduct of KBR as measured against the military decisions set forth in the contract”).

         Plaintiffs contrasted this situation with that in Carmichael, arguing that while the military may have “exercised some level of oversight” with regard to KBR's operation of the burn pits, KBR allegedly retained wide discretion as to how to carry out its tasks. ECF No. 455 at 46-47. In Carmichael, by contrast, they point out that the Eleventh Circuit found that the claim presented a political question because “[t]here is not the slightest hint in the record suggesting that KBR played even the most minor role in making any of the[] essential decisions [regarding how the mission was to be executed].” ECF No. 455 at 47 (quoting Carmichael, 572 F.3d at 1282). Plaintiffs instead cite to Harris, Taylor, and McMahon v. Presidential Airways, Inc., 502 F.3d 1331 (11th Cir. 2007), in which the Third, Fourth, and Eleventh Circuits concluded that there was no political question when the contractors retained discretion as to how to carry out the assigned tasks. ECF No. 455 at 48-49.

         Plaintiffs also argued that “[c]laims based upon whether a contractor has complied with its contractual duties do not implicate political questions, ” and that they are only challenging KBR's decisions. ECF No. 455 at 49-50. Plaintiffs claimed that the factual record allegedly demonstrates that KBR often operated burn pits without military authorization, and even if they did receive authorization, they operated the burn pits in violation of performance standards. Id. at 51. Therefore, they argued, it “defies logic that the military was exercising plenary and direct control over KBR at the same time that KBR was violating the very contractual directives the military had given it.” Id. at 52.

         Moreover, Plaintiffs contended, the LOGCAP contracts were performance-based contracts under which KBR retained authority to determine how to carry out each contracted task and maintained supervisory control over all of its employees. ECF No. 455 at 52-53. And, they argued, KBR's “assertion that the performance standards applicable to use of a burn pits [sic] equate to control is also unfounded, ” as performance standards simply establish the level of performance that the Government requires to meet the contract requirements. Id. at 54-55. Plaintiffs also pointed to testimony and other evidence indicating that KBR allegedly retained operational control over its performance, thus allegedly belying any notion that they acted under the “direct” or “plenary” control of the Military. Id. at 56-58. Rather, Plaintiffs argued, the LOGCAP contracts were managed “consistent with well-established federal rules and regulations, ” under which all contractual direction was required to go through established contracting channels. Id. at 58-59. Finally, on the first Taylor factor, Plaintiffs argued that one of the purposes of hiring KBR-force multiplication, or relieving the military from performing the services itself-is inconsistent with any notion that KBR retained operational control, as the contractors were expected to be self-sufficient. Id. at 60-61.

         On the second Taylor factor, Plaintiffs argued that KBR's contributory negligence affirmative defense is outside the scope of jurisdictional discovery. ECF No. 455 at 61. Even if it were properly considered at this stage, Plaintiffs reiterated that they are not challenging any decisions made by the military, a fact that they claim distinguishes the present case from Taylor. Id. at 62. Moreover, because the justiciability of an affirmative defense of contributory negligence depends on whether the applicable state law permits the assignment of fault to nonparties, Plaintiffs contended that it is inappropriate for resolution at this stage of the litigation as the choice of law question is not before the Court. Id. at 62-63.

         Plaintiffs asserted that resolution of their claims would not require any second-guessing of military decisions, as the contractual documents supply the standard of care. ECF No. 455 at 64. They also disputed KBR's assertion that the burden on the military would be “enormous, ” as discovery on the merits would focus on KBR's performance under the contract-information that should reside with KBR. Id. Plaintiffs argued that Al Shimari is “consistent with the proposition that claims based upon whether a contractor satisfied its contractual duties do not implicate political questions.” Id. at 65.

         With regard to KBR's preemption argument, Plaintiffs countered that the facts of this case are far more analogous to those in Harris, in which the court found that the suit was not preempted because the contracts gave KBR “considerable discretion” in deciding how to carry out its contractual responsibilities, and unlike the facts in Saleh, in which the contractor employees were “functioning as soldiers in all but name.” ECF No. 455 at 67-69. Indeed, Plaintiffs claimed that LOGCAP contracts are “precisely the kind of performance-based services contracts that both the D.C. and Third Circuits have said would not by definition be preempted under Saleh.” Id. at 68. Plaintiffs argued that the facts demonstrate that the military could not, and did not, supervise or give orders to KBR employees, so KBR employees were not integrated into the chain of military command. Id. at 68-69. Finally, Plaintiffs argued that their claims are “not premised on and do not challenge ‘activities stemming from military commands, '” and thus cannot be preempted as a matter of law. Id. at 69.

         VII. The Evidentiary Record on Remand

         On March 9-10 and 13, 2017, this Court held an extensive evidentiary hearing during which KBR and the Plaintiffs presented arguments and evidence in the form of live witnesses, deposition testimony, and documents. Due to the fact-intensive nature of the questions presently before this Court, a summary of the key evidence and testimony presented is essential. However, the sheer volume of the documents and testimony renders impossible a comprehensive accounting of all the evidence presented. Instead, the Court will address below some of the critical evidence presented on remand.

         a. The Evidentiary Hearing

         i. KBR&# ...

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