DynCorp lawsuits (re Colombia & Ecuador)

pesticide spray

Para la versión en español de este perfil de caso, haga clic acá.

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 
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]

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31 May 2012

[PDF] Legal avenues for EJOs to claim environmental liability - EJOLT Report No. 4

Author: Antoni Pigrau, Susana Borràs, Jordi Jaria i Manzano, Antonio Cardesa-Salzmann, Environmental Justice Organisations, Liabilities and Trade (EJOLT)

Questions of global justice raise within transnational relations in the light of an ever increasing number of instances of massive environmental damage and human rights violations, resulting from the operation of multinational corporations (MNCs). This paper appraises the different national and international (judicial and non-judicial) fora that are available to hold MNCs accountable. On the basis of recent judicial developments concerning civil liability claims by victims of the operations of MNCs in various countries, it explores the circumstances under which national, transnational and international litigation, either by itself or in interaction with each other, have proven most effective in providing redress. It concludes that transnational cluster-litigation is the most efficient strategy to tighten the meshes of judicial action upon MNCs, hence promoting the international rule of law and contributing, albeit modestly, to foster (corrective) global justice. [refers to AES, Chevron, DynCorp, Minera Yanacocha, PetroEcuador, Rio Tinto, Shell, Sterlite Industries (part of Vedanta), Texaco (part of Chevron), Trafigura, Vedanta]

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26 April 2012

Discovery Spat Resolved in Alien Tort Case Over 'Plan Colombia'

Author: Ross Todd, Litigation Daily [USA]

In a decade-old Alien Tort Claims Act case, defense lawyers for DynCorp cited concerns that handing over discovery material might reveal the flight paths of U.S. State Department contractors to narco-terrorists in the Andean jungle...The underlying case was filed on Sept. 11, 2001, on behalf of Ecuadorian citizens and residents targeting DynCorp over its role in the State Department's "Plan Colombia" anti-narcotics effort. The plaintiffs claim that fumigation flights combating cocaine and heroin farms damaged them, their livestock, vegetation, and water...Both Collingsworth [plaintiffs’ counsel] and DynCorp counsel Rosemary Stewart of Hollingsworth LLP said...that the meat of the judge's decision is a bit of a moot point now, because the parties have entered into a consent agreement about how to handle sensitive material so it doesn't fall into the wrong hands. But Collingsworth said he was pleased that the judge had agreed with plaintiffs that the non-spray data was potentially useful to their case.

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28 June 2010

[PDF] Regulating and Monitoring Private Military and Security Companies

Author: José L. Gómez del Prado, UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries

PMSCs do have an impact on the enjoyment of human rights…“Private soldiers”….[are] individuals who can violate human rights as much as be victims of human rights violations…Summary executions, disappearances, torture…bad working conditions…lack of attention to their basic needs such as health and hygiene…a common pattern in all regions of the world…diffused responsibility and lack of accountability…a possible draft convention on PMSCs…[r]eaffirms the relevant principles and rules of international human rights and international humanitarian law…[and w]ill be submitted to UN Human Rights Council in September 2010…[refers to Blackwater, L-3 Titan, CACI, DynCorp, Triple Canopy, Your Solutions, Grupo Tactico Chile, ArmorGroup (part of G4S)]

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31 May 2010

[PDF] Launch of online portal on “Business, Conflict & Peace”

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Today at the United Nations in Geneva, the non-profit Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is launching the first global information hub on “Business, Conflict & Peace”...Chris Avery, Director of the Resource Centre, said: “We are giving this subject priority because it is in conflict zones where abuses are most severe, where the risk of complicity is greatest, and where victims are the most vulnerable. We created this portal to bring together in one place all the best information about how companies are impacting human rights (positively or negatively) in conflict and post-conflict zones – and to provide guidance on how to avoid abuses”...The portal explains key initiatives in this field.

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1 October 2009

[PDF] Accountability for Private Military Contractors Under the Alien Tort Statute

Author: Jenny S. Lam, California Law Review

Despite heightened attention in recent years to PMC [private military contractor] accountability, commentators have largely ignored PMCs’ potential tort liability under the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS,”…)…Ibrahim v. Titan Corp.28 and Saleh v. Titan Corp. provided the first opportunity for a U.S. court to hold PMC interrogators and translators accountable under the ATS for abusing individuals detained by the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi prisons…With the increase of ATS litigation against PMCs, this Comment takes a close look at Ibrahim and Saleh, as well as case law suggesting that plaintiffs may indeed be able to hold PMCs accountable under the Alien Tort Statute in certain cases.

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28 October 2008

[PDF] Business & Human Rights Resource Centre launches world’s first online portal profiling human rights lawsuits against companies

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Today the non-profit Business & Human Rights Resource Centre launches a free online portal – the first to bring together and demystify lawsuits from across the world alleging human rights abuses by companies. The portal summarises in non-legal language over 35 cases and the positions of each side, with more cases to be added soon. It also presents special commentaries by experts...Companies in profiled lawsuits include: AngloGold Ashanti, Barclays, BHP Billiton, Biwater, Blackwater, BP, Cambior, Cape PLC, Chevron/Texaco, Chiquita, Coca-Cola, Daimler, Deutsche Bank, Dow/Union Carbide, Drummond, DynCorp, ExxonMobil, Firestone, Ford, Freeport-McMoRan, IBM, Mitsubishi, Nike, Occidental, Rio Tinto, Severstal, Shell, Standard Chartered, Talisman, Trafigura, Total, UBS, Wal-Mart, Yahoo!

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Author: Sandra Morán Castillo, Cre Satelital [Ecuador]

Las provincias de Esmeraldas, Carchi y Sucumbíos demandaron a la empresa estadounidense DynCorp por las efectos de la fumigaciones en la frontera norte. La querella fue interpuesta en la Corte de Washington y, según la prefecta de Esmeraldas, Lucía Sosa, cuenta con el respaldo del régimen. “El señor Vicepresidente (de la República) está conciente de todos los daños que han sufrido las provincias fronterizas...”, indicó Sosa.

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Author: Gwénaël le Morzellec, Novethic [France]

Le 22 mai dernier, un premier round juridique a été remporté quand la Cour du district de Floride a reconnu trois plaintes équatoriennes contre la société aérienne américaine Dyncorp, qui asperge l’herbicide sur les champs illicites de coca colombiens... La Cour a d’ailleurs jugé que ces trois plaintes des gouvernements des provinces frontalières de Sucumbios, Esmeralda et Carchi pour obtenir des « indemnités pour les dommages économiques, à la santé et à l’environnement » seront jugées à la Cour du district de Colombia... Le rapporteur spécial de l’Organisation des Nations Unies dépêché en mai pour enquêter sur la situation des paysans frontaliers avait déclaré à son retour qu’il fallait « stopper ces fumigations ».

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Author: El Comercio [Ecuador]

Ecuador ganó un ‘round’ en su lucha contra las fumigaciones en la frontera norte. La tarde del lunes, el juez Richard W. Roberts dio luz verde a un juicio estancado desde el 2001 en contra Dyncorp, la empresa...que hace las aspersiones en la frontera...Dyncorp deberá defenderse ante el juzgado de Roberts en Washington. La empresa norteamericana afronta otras tres demandas ecuatorianas en...Florida...En diciembre del 2000, según la demanda, cuatro niños ecuatorianos murieron y muchas personas resultaron afectadas en su salud como consecuencia del glifosato...[S]i [el juicio] le da la razón a los 10 000 ecuatorianos puede obligara a Dyncorp a pagar por los daños...Dyncorp ha asegurado que el herbicida usado es totalmente inofensivo para la salud de los campesinos y que difícilmente pudo afectar a los ecuatorianos.

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Author: Gerónimo Altamirano Hernández, Radio Sucre [Ecuador]

La empresa estadounidense Dyncorp [parte de Computer Sciences], que fue contratada por Colombia para realizar las fumigaciones aéreas de cultivos de coca, enfrenta tres demandas ecuatorianas en Estados Unidos por los daños causados en la frontera. Entre el pasado diciembre y enero, Ecuador presento las demandas ante la Corte Federal de Florida por 1 600 pobladores de la provincia de Sucumbíos, del gobierno local y habitantes de Esmeraldas, según explicó Rafael Jaque, de la Asociación Latinoamericana para los Derechos Humanos (Aldhu)...los demandantes...exigen indemnizaciones por los daños económicos, a la salud y el medio ambiente que han causado las aspersiones con el herbicida.

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