After an inquiry by the U.S. Justice Department, Chiquita pled guilty to funding terrorists in Colombia, but it has not compensated families whose loved ones were murdered by the terrorists it bankrolled. In 2007, we filed a class-action lawsuit accusing Chiquita of financing torture, war crimes, and other human rights abuses. Chiquita made regular monthly payments, totaling more than $1.7 million, to security forces controlled by the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia, or AUC, a brutal paramilitary organization known for mass killing and designated by the United States Government as a terrorist organization. That designation made supporting the AUC a federal crime.
Among other accusations, it was were accused of financing the demobilized paramilitary group of the AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia), one of the main actors of the armed conflict in Colombia (1997-2006), a paramilitary group that was cataloged as an international terrorist organization in the United States (2001).
Whether U.S. state law or foreign law applies to such claims.
Chiquita has admitted to paying the AUC during this time period and pled guilty to federal criminal charges for providing material support to the terrorist group.
We filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of affected Colombian families charging Chiquita with funding and arming the AUC in order to maintain its profitable control of Colombia’s banana growing regions. 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, which the plaintiffs opposed.
The plaintiffs filed amended complaints; Chiquita submitted an additional motion to dismiss, and the parties submitted additional briefs on the motion.
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 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
The plaintiffs sued several individual Chiquita executives involved in the illegal funding scheme, including former CEOs, General Counsels and General Managers.
After over two years of briefing and argument, a divided three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit dismissed the federal human rights claims. It dismissed claims under the Torture Victim Protection Act based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Mohamed v. Palestinian Authority that TVPA claims cannot proceed against corporations.
Additionally, and 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 Court found, based on a radically restrictive interpretation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, that the victims’ claims under the federal Alien Tort Statute (ATS) lacked sufficient connection to the U.S. to be heard in U.S. courts.
In turn, We and the plaintiffs requested that this decision be reconsidered in front of the full Eleventh Circuit. After that request was denied, we petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the victims’ families, urging the Court to consider the case. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, declined to take the case.
Claims under Colombia law continue in the federal district court in Florida.
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, allowing this historic case to advance.
The case moved forward with the Court scheduling discovery for 2017 and 2018, and trials set to begin in October of 2019.
The court issued a protective order to keep plaintiffs’ identifying information confidential.
Chiquita produced over 2 million pages of documents in connection with the case, and the court rejected Chiquita’s attempt at concealing some of the documents’ contents. Chiquita argued that the documents were protected by attorney-client privilege; however, the court ruled that because the same documents were produced to the Department of Justice during the criminal investigation, privilege no longer applied.
We filed cases on behalf of additional plaintiffs against individual former Chiquita executives in Ohio and Florida.
A group of plaintiffs, referred to as “bellwether” plaintiffs, was selected to proceed to discovery and possible trials. Discovery opened with respect to these plaintiffs.
Chiquita settled claims in related cases brought by US citizens under the Anti-Terrorism Act. These involved three murders by another armed group in Colombia, the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), which Chiquita also paid; the cases settled shortly before trial.
Also in related cases, the court declined to dismiss some of the claims against the individual defendants and Chiquita.
Discovery closed for the first group of bellwether plaintiffs in October of 2018.
We moved to certify the case as a class action, but the court denied our motion in May of 2019.
The parties litigated three motions for summary judgment; one by the plaintiffs on the defendants’ asserted defense of duress, another by Chiquita on the Colombian law claims, and a third by the individual defendants on claims under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA).
The court granted summary judgment to Chiquita and the individual defendants, ruling there was insufficient evidence to show the murders were committed by the AUC. We appealed this decision.
The court rejected Chiquita’s efforts to dismiss the claims of bellwether plaintiffs who could not travel to the U.S. for discovery, because they were denied visas to enter the United States. The court ruled Chiquita could depose the plaintiffs in Colombia.
Following the denial of class certification, we filed a new complaint in New Jersey against Chiquita on behalf of individual plaintiffs who would have been members of the class action.
As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, much of the discovery in the case was put on hold.
The court issued another scheduling order and ruled that while the summary judgment appeal continued, other bellwether plaintiffs’ cases would proceed to summary judgment.
The court granted Chiquita’s motion to dismiss the 2020 complaint, ruling that the filing of the original class action did not suspend the statute of limitations on the plaintiffs’ claims. We appealed this decision.
In December 2020, an additional set of plaintiffs that would have formed part of the class action filed cases against individual defendants in Florida and Ohio.
We amended the Florida and Ohio complaints filed against the individual defendants in 2017 to include Chiquita as a defendant in the Ohio case, and made other amendments to the Florida and Ohio complaints from 2020.
Discovery for the next set of bellwether plaintiffs remained postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Eleventh Circuit heard oral argument on the summary judgment appeal in October of 2021. Arguments can be heard here.
Chiquita moved to dismiss the four amended complaints filed in 2021. The district court ultimately granted the motion to dismiss in August 2022, but allowed the plaintiffs to amend their complaints. Plaintiffs submitted another set of amended complaints in November 2022.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals denied our appeal from the decision dismissing the 2020 case filed in New Jersey, ruling that the filing of the original class action did not suspend the statute of limitations.
The Eleventh Circuit decided the summary judgment appeal, reversing the district court’s 2019 decision dismissing our plaintiffs’ claims, remanding for the district court’s consideration of additional outstanding issues. This cleared the path for the first set of bellwether plaintiffs to go to trial.
In December 2022, the district court issued two summary judgment decisions. It denied summary judgment for the second set of bellwether plaintiffs. It also denied summary judgment for the first set of bellwether plaintiffs after the remand from the Eleventh Circuit, further clearing the path to trial.
The parties began entering discovery again for another set of bellwether plaintiffs. However, since the first sets of bellwether cases were ready for trial, the court agreed to suspend discovery in other cases so the parties could focus on trial, originally set for January 2024.
We filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the question of whether the filing of the original class action suspended the statute of limitations for the original proposed class members. The Supreme Court declined to hear the petition.
The parties began preparing pretrial materials such as witness lists, and exhibit lists, and pretrial motions.
The court dismissed the Torture Victim Protection Act claims against the individual defendants again, ruling that plaintiffs had not shown a direct link between the Colombian government and the AUC murders, which the court ruled was necessary to meet the TVPA’s “state action” requirement. We filed another appeal to the Eleventh Circuit.
In December, the court reset the trial date from January 2024 to April 22, 2024.
We are currently preparing for trial set for April 2024.
Chiquita Motion to Dismiss – July 2008
Plaintiffs’ Response in Opposition to Defendants’ Consolidated Motion to Dismiss the Complaints – August 2008
New Jersey Plaintiffs’ Separate Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss State Law Claims – August 2008
Reply in Support of Defendants’ Consolidated Motion to Dismiss Complaints – September 2008
First Amended Class Action Complaint for Damages – February 2010
Plaintiffs’ Supplemental Response in Opposition to Defendants’ Consolidated Motion to Dismiss the Complaints – May 2010
Defendants’ Memorandum in Support of Consolidated Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaints – April 2010
Chiquita Motion to Dismiss Order – June 2011
Chiquita Merits Brief on Interlocutory Appeal – May 2013
Plaintiffs’ Appellees Cross-Appellants’ Response Brief and Cross-Appeal Opening Brief – July 2013
Chiquita 11th Circuit Opinion – July 2014
Petition for Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc – August 2014
Chiquita Supreme Court Petition
Summary Judgment Decision-September 2019
Jane Doe 8 v. Chiquita Complaint (New Claims) – March 2020
(11th Circuit Court of Appeals) Plaintiffs-Appellants’ Opening Brief- May 2020
(11th Circuit Court of Appeals) Defendants-Appellees’/Cross-Appellants’ Response Brief and Cross-Appeal Opening Brief – July 2020
(11th Circuit Court of Appeals) Plaintiffs-Appellants’ Reply Brief and Cross-Appellees’ Response to Cross-Appeal – September 2020
(11th Circuit Court of Appeals) Brief of Amici Curiae Human Rights Practitioners and Scholars in Support of Plaintiffs-Appellants and Supporting Reversal – June 2020