DynCorp lawsuit (re Colombia & Ecuador)
Snapshot: In September 2001, a group of Ecuadorian farmers filed a class-action lawsuit in the US against DynCorp, a contractor hired by the US and Colombian governments to aerially spray coca and poppy plants with herbicide in an effort to combat the production of illicit drugs. The class-action lawsuit grew to include 2000 farmers and their families and alleges that DynCorp sprayed the herbicide in a reckless manner, causing severe health problems and the destruction of food crops. The case is ongoing.
DynCorp is a contractor under “Plan Colombia” – a programme of the Colombian and US Governments to combat production of illicit drugs – hired to aerially spray coca and poppy plants with herbicide in parts of Colombia. Some Ecuadorian farmers from areas bordering Colombia allege that they were affected by this aerial spraying of the herbicide glyphosate because DynCorp also sprayed sections of Ecuador bordering Colombia.
In September 2001, a group of these farmers filed a class-action lawsuit against DynCorp under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), the Torture Victim Protection Act and state law claims in US federal court in the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs claimed that from January to February 2001 DynCorp sprayed the herbicide almost daily, in a reckless manner, causing severe health problems (high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, dermatological problems) and the destruction of food crops and livestock of approximately 10,000 residents of the border region. In addition, the plaintiffs alleged that the toxicity of the fumigant caused the deaths of four infants in this region. The plaintiffs alleged under ATCA that DynCorp’s intensive aerial spraying of a toxic fumigant amounted to torture, a crime against humanity and cultural genocide.
DynCorp moved to dismiss the case, arguing that it raised nonjusticiable questions of foreign and national security policy. DynCorp also argued that the plaintiffs’ claims of violations of international law were based on actions by DynCorp that were expressly authorised by the US Congress under Plan Colombia. In May 2007, the district court granted DynCorp’s motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims under the Torture Victim Protection Act, but ordered that the balance of the plaintiffs’ claims should stand. The court found that the case did not raise nonjusticiable questions because the action did not call into question US foreign policy in Colombia. The court also found that the claims raised by the plaintiffs were outside the scope of the Congressional authorisation of DynCorp’s contract.
In 2009, the plaintiffs requested that DynCorp is compelled to disclose flight location data of operations conducted next to the Ecuadorean border. They argued the flight data would corroborate eyewitness accounts of “Plan Colombia” spray planes entering Ecuador. On 30 April 2010, the court issued an order compelling production of documents with DynCorp’s non-spray flight line. The company appealed, arguing that the security risks stemming from releasing the information outweighed the data’s relevance to plaintiffs’ case. On 23 April 2012, the court dismissed DynCorp’s request stating the non-spray data was potentially useful to the plaintiffs’ case. In February 2013 the court ruled in favour of DynCorp and dismissed the case finding that the evidence presented was not sufficient to prove the injuries claimed by the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs appealed the dismissal and achieved a partial reversal. An appeals court remanded the case back to the lower court on the claims of battery, nuisance and emotional distress. The court decided to permit the claims of 20 selected test plaintiffs to proceed to trial, but the rulings would not bind the 2000+ plaintiffs alleging exposure to the chemical as the allegations are specific to each individual. After a 19 October 2016 status conference, a federal judge allowed 6 test plaintiffs' battery and emotional distress (IIED) claims to proceed to trial. On 3 April 2017, the case went to jury trial in the US District Court of District of Colombia on behalf of the 2000+ victims. The same month, the jury found DynCorp responsible for subcontractors who carried out chemical spraying in Colombia but rejects damages payout for Ecuadorian farmers.
In December 2006, 1660 citizens of the Ecuadorian provinces of Esmeraldas and Sucumbios who were not part of the class-action lawsuit described above filed a separate lawsuit against DynCorp in US federal court in Florida. The provinces of Carchi, Esmeraldas and Sucumbios also sued DynCorp in Florida federal court over the spraying, in lawsuits filed in December 2006, and March and April 2007. The plaintiffs in these four cases allege that DynCorp’s spraying of fumigants injured the residents of these provinces, for which they are bringing claims under Florida state law, Ecuadorian law and international law.
- [video] "Dyncorp's 'strategic' defense in drug crop spraying suit", Bloomberg Law, 14 May 2013
- "DynCorp dodges Ecuadoreans Chemical-Exposure suit", Gavin Broady, Law360, 6 Mar 2013
- "Discovery Spat Resolved in Alien Tort Case Over 'Plan Colombia'", Ross Todd, Litigation Daily [USA], 26 Apr 2012
- “DynCorp International: Faces Lawsuit in DC Over ‘Plan Colombia’”, Class Action Reporter, 17 Jan 2006
- “Farmers Fight DynCorp's Chemwar on the Amazon”, Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn, Counterpunch, 27 Feb 2002
- “Ecuadorians File U.S. Suit Over Plan Colombia”, Danielle Knight, Inter Press Service, 24 Sep 2001
- DynCorp International Again Wins State Department Contract for Narcotics Eradication and Interdiction, 19 May 2005
International Rights Advocates [co-counsel for plaintiffs]
- Dyncorp - Case Summary
- US Dept of State, Bureau of International Narcotics & Law Enforcement Affairs: Aerial Eradication of Illicit Coca in Colombia [links to annual State Dept reports on this subject]
US District Court for District of Columbia, Arias v. DynCorp
- [PDF] Memorandum Opinion re disclosure of documents, 24 Apr 2012
- [PDF] Memorandum Opinion and Order, 21 May 2007
- [PDF] Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, 7 Jan 2002
- [DOC] Class Action Complaint, 11 Sep 2001
- [PDF] Earthrights International amicus brief, 9 Mar 2002
The aerial spraying of fumigants has also resulted in a diplomatic dispute between the Governments of Ecuador and Colombia.
- [PDF] Aerial spraying knows no borders: Ecuador brings international case over aerial spraying, Transnational Institute, Drug Policy Briefing, Sep 2005
- Organization of American States: At OAS, Ecuador Presents Complaint About Colombia’s Aerial Spraying of Herbicides Along Border, 9 Jan 2007
- Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense: Plan Colombia: Legal Violations and Court Cases, [links to decisions regarding domestic Colombian and Ecuadorian legal challenges to the aerial spraying under Plan Colombia]