A federal district court in the Southern District of Florida has denied Chiquita’s motion for summary judgment, removing the last hurdle before trial in a historic lawsuit over the company’s role in funding paramilitary groups in Colombia.
December 15, 2022, Palm Beach, Fla.–Today, a federal district court in Florida denied the last bid by Chiquita Brands International and its executives to dismiss claims brought by EarthRights International’s Colombian clients, setting the stage for trials in these cases, which were first filed in 2007.
EarthRights represents families of hundreds of victims murdered, tortured, and injured by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), an outlawed paramilitary organization that Chiquita admitted to illegally funding. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit had previously ruled the Plaintiffs submitted evidence showing that their family members were murdered by the paramilitaries. Now, the district court has rejected Chiquita’s summary judgment argument that it cannot be held responsible for the killings as a matter of law. Its responsibility will be determined by a jury. In his ruling, the judge rejected Chiquita’s argument that it had only paid the AUC to protect itself and noted that “there is evidence that the decision to pay the AUC was driven by profit, not self-preservation.”
EarthRights General Counsel Marco Simons issued the following statement:
“Today’s order was a milestone in this historic lawsuit. The families have been waiting years to have their day in court despite strenuous efforts by Chiquita to have the case dismissed. Now the families are looking forward to a jury trial.
“Chiquita has long admitted that it illegally funded the AUC. This ruling finally gives our clients a chance to show to the court, and the world, what everyone in Colombia knows: That the AUC used Chiquita’s support to engage in brutal atrocities against civilians in the banana-growing regions of Colombia.”
For nearly a decade, in the 1990s and early 2000s, Chiquita Brands International made regular payments to the AUC, totaling more than $1.7 million. In turn, the AUC engaged in a campaign of violence against communities in Colombia’s banana-growing regions. Its victims include trade unions, political opponents, and Indigenous advocates. In 2001, the U.S. government classified the AUC as a terrorist organization. Chiquita pled guilty to a federal crime for funding the AUC and paid a $25 million fine to the U.S. government but has not yet compensated the families of the AUC’s victims.
Thousands of victims, represented by several groups of lawyers, have filed suit against Chiquita in federal courts across the country; those suits were consolidated and are being heard in federal district court for the Southern District of Florida, in West Palm Beach. The cases for a dozen killings were selected as “bellwether” cases to proceed as examples.
These bellwether cases include two of EarthRights’ clients, known by the pseudonyms John Doe 7 and Jane Doe 7. John Doe 7’s son was murdered by AUC paramilitaries, and the local paramilitary commander admitted this to John Doe 7 himself. Jane Doe 7’s husband, a labor activist, was also murdered by the AUC; his murder fits a pattern of the AUC targeting union leaders. The district court found that both plaintiffs had submitted sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.
EarthRights’ co-counsel includes Paul L. Hoffman of Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes LLPl; Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC; and attorneys Judith Brown Chomsky, Anthony DiCaprio, and Arturo Carrillo.
Kate Fried, EarthRights International
(202) 257. 0057