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 took 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 U.S. Supreme Court, however, declined to take the case. This landmark case could have decided whether U.S. courts can hold corporations accountable for human rights abuses they commit abroad under the ATS. By declining to hear the case, the Supreme Court has created yet another obstacle in the path of victims seeking remedies for abusive corporate actions abroad, and allows a U.S. corporation to get away with financing terrorism without accountability to its victims in U.S. courts. Despite the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the ATS claims, parts of the Cardona case continue in a federal district court in Florida.
In November 2016 the victims cleared another hurdle: Florida federal judge Kenneth Marra rejected Chiquita’s argument that the case should be heard in Colombia rather than the United States, clearing the way for the historic case to advance toward trial.
In addition to ERI, counsel for the plaintiffs include Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, Paul Hoffman, Arturo Carrillo, Judith Brown Chomsky, and John DeLeon.