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Doe v. Chiquita Brands International
In 2007, EarthRights International (ERI) filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of Colombian families charging Chiquita Brands International, Inc., the multi-national produce company, with funding and arming known terrorist organizations in Colombia in order to maintain its profitable control of Colombia's banana growing regions starting in the mid-1990s. The case, originally filed in New Jersey, was subsequently coordinated with several other similar cases against Chiquita in West Palm Beach, Florida. Chiquita filed a motion to dismiss in 2008, which the plaintiffs opposed. (Because different cases were filed in different places before being coordinated in Florida, different sets of plaintiffs also filed side-briefs on the specific legal issues relevant to their cases.)
In 2010, the plaintiffs filed amended complaints; Chiquita submitted an additional motion to dismiss, and the parties submitted additional briefs on the motion. On June 3, 2011, the district court denied Chiquita's motion to dismiss, finding that claims for extrajudicial killing, torture, crimes against humanity, and war crimes could proceed. Chiquita, however, appealed the decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. After over two years of briefing and argument, a divided three-judge panel issued a decision, dismissing the human rights claims based on a radically restrictive interpretation of the Supreme Court's decisions in Mohamed v. Palestinian Authority and Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. (In these cases, the Supreme Court restricted lawsuits using the Torture Victim Protection Act and the Alien Tort Statute, respectively.) Because of the unprecedented nature of the decision, the plaintiffs have now requested reconsideration of the decision from the full Eleventh Circuit.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July 2014 that, despite the fact that Chiquita is a U.S. company that made decisions in the U.S. to finance the paramilitaries, in violation of U.S. criminal law, the victims’ claims under the federal Alien Tort Statute (ATS) lacked sufficient connection to the U.S. to be heard in U.S. courts. The petition to the U.S. Supreme Court seeks to reverse that decision. So we are taking it all the way to the top.
In December 2014, we filed petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the victims' families, urging the Court to consider the case against the Chiquita for financing paramilitary death squads in Colombia. The plaintiffs are represented before the Supreme Court by veteran human rights lawyer Paul Hoffman, who also argued the 2013 case Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, in which the Supreme Court added a new requirement that ATS cases must have a sufficient connection to the United States.
In addition to ERI, counsel for the plaintiffs include Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, Paul Hoffman, Arturo Carrillo, Judith Brown Chomsky, and John DeLeon.