Chiquita lawsuits (re Colombia, filed in USA by Colombian nationals)
Snapshot: Several lawsuits have been filed as a result of a 2007 admission by Chiquita that it made payments from 1997 to 2004 to a paramilitary organization that the US government had designated as a terrorist group. Chiquita paid a $25 million fine to the US government and many lawsuits by Colombian nationals are still ongoing in the US and Colombia. This case profile looks at proceedings from Colombian nationals in the US.
In March 2007, Chiquita admitted that it made payments from 1997 to 2004 to the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (known by its acronym in Spanish, AUC), a paramilitary organization that the US Government had designated a terrorist group. Chiquita settled a criminal complaint by the US Government at that time and agreed to pay a $25 million fine.
Lawsuits by Colombian nationals
In June 2007, a group of Colombians filed a lawsuit against Chiquita under the Alien Tort Claims Act and Torture Victims Protection Act in US federal court in New Jersey. The plaintiffs are family members of trade unionists, banana workers, political organisers, social activists and others in Colombia who were targeted and killed by paramilitaries during the 1990s through 2004. The plaintiffs contend that the funds that Chiquita paid to Colombian paramilitary organizations during this period made the company complicit in extrajudicial killings, torture, forced disappearances, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Chiquita’s Colombian banana-growing region.
Similar lawsuits against Chiquita alleging company’s complicity in crimes committed by AUC in Colombia were filed in other US federal courts, including in the District of Columbia, and Florida district courts in June 2007 and Manhattan district court in November 2007.
On 20 February 2008, the US Multidistrict Litigation Panel ordered to consolidate and transfer 6 separate lawsuits to the District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
In its annual report filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission in February 2008, Chiquita stated: “The company believes the plaintiffs’ claims are without merit and is defending itself vigorously against the lawsuits.”
In March 2011, two new lawsuits against Chiquita were filed in Washington on behalf of families of 931 people, who were allegedly killed by the AUC and the FARC between 1990 and 2004. In response to the filings, Chiquita commented that the company and its employees were targeted by the groups and therefore it should not be held responsible for their crimes.
In April 2011, National Security Archive (NSA), an independent researcher group, published internal Chiquita documents, obtained from the Justice Department under the Freedom of Information Act. These documents appear to contradict the company’s contention that its payments to the FARC and AUC amounted to "protection" money and that Chiquita never received any actual services in exchange for them. In July 2015 the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ordered the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to release over 9000 pages of documents filed by Chiquita in relation to paramilitary payments. NSA had filed a freedom of information request with the SEC for these documents.
In May 2011, the new lawsuits were consolidated with other suits against the company into one, involving allegations of over 4000 killings of Colombian nationals. On 3 June 2011, district court denied Chiquita’s motion to dismiss all claims brought under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act. District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that the plaintiffs may proceed with their claims against Chiquita alleging torture, extrajudicial killings, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The judge rejected Chiquita’s argument that the case should be dismissed because it could have foreign policy implications. On 27 March 2012, the judge ruled that the court could also consider plaintiffs' legal claims based on Colombian law. Company appealed the decision. On 24 July 2014, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the claim under the Torture Victim Protection Act ruling that these types of claims cannot proceed against corporations and under Alien Tort Statute due to lack of connection with the U.S. On 14 August 2014, the plaintiffs filed a petition with the court of appeals asking it to rehear the case. In April 2015, the US Supreme Court declined to rehear the case.
Claims under Colombian law continued in the Southern District Court of Florida. On 28 November 2016, a US district judge allowed a class action lawsuit against the company to move forward. The court rejected the company's arguments that the case should not be heard in the US, ruling that litigation in Colombia would pose a risk to plaintiffs due to the threat of ongoing paramilitary violence in the area. Next hearing is scheduled for October 2019.
On 11 March 2017, more than 150 plaintiffs joined a new class action lawsuit in Florida alleging funding, arming and supporting terrorist groups in their violence against civilian population in the Urabá region in Colombia. The new case is against Cyrus Freidheim Jr., former CEO of Chiquita and Charles Keiser, the former manager of Chiquita´s operations in Colombia. The lawsuit alleges they knew about the payments to the AUC and personally authorized them. The case is on-going.
In April 2020, EarthRights International, representing more than 200 Colombian plaintiffs whose family members were murdered or who themselves suffered violence by paramilitary death squads, filed a new complaint in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey against Chiquita Brands International. Plaintiffs seek redress from Chiquita because of their years spent funding the paramilitary death squads.
- Human Rights Groups Call for ICC to Investigate Chiquita Executives for Death Squad Payments, teleSur, 19 May 2017
- Claim against Chiquita for funding Colombian death squads to go to trial in U.S., The Wisconsin Gazette, 30 Nov 2016
- US Appeals Court orders SEC to release Chiquita's Colombian paramilitary payment files, Fresh Fruit Portal, 23 Jul 2015
- U.S. top court rejects Colombian Chiquita human rights suit, Lawrence Hurley, Reuters, 20 Apr
- Chiquita wins dismissal of U.S. lawsuits over Colombian abuses, Jonathan Stempel, Reuters, 24 Jul 2014
- [radio] Lawsuit alleges Chiquita responsible for the deaths of thousands of Colombian civilians - Part 1: The plaintiffs, Worldview, 21 Jul 2011
- [radio] Lawsuit alleges Chiquita responsible for the deaths of thousands of Colombian civilians - Part 2: The defense, Worldview, 21 Jul 2011
- [PDF] Federal Court rejects Chiquita's effort to dismiss human rights class-action suit, EarthRights International, Cohen Milstein, 3 Jun 2011
- Court Documents Reveal Chiquita Paid for Security, Jim Lobe, Aprille Muscara, IPS, 7 Apr 2011
- Victims of Colombian Conflict Sue Chiquita Brands, Associated Press, 15 Nov 2007
- The Banana War, Kevin Gray, Portfolio.com, 17 Sep 2007
- Chiquita: $25M fine for terror payments, CNN.com, 11 Sep 2007
- Chiquita sued over paramilitary deaths in Colombia, Reuters, 14 Jun 2007
- Lawsuit accuses U.S. banana company Chiquita of sponsoring Colombian terrorism, Associated Press, 7 Jun 2007
- Chiquita response to NGOs communication to Intl. Criminal Court, Jun 2017
- Chiquita Statement on Agreement with U.S. Department of Justice, 14 Mar 2007
US Department of Justice:
- Chiquita Brands International Pleads Guilty to Making Payments to a Designated Terrorist Organization And Agrees to Pay $25 Million Fine, 19 Mar 2007
International Rights Advocates [plaintiffs’ counsel]:
- Victory in Chiquita Case as Florida Federal Judge Orders Case to Proceed in US Courts (English/Spanish), 2 Dec 2016
- Press Release: Eleventh Circuit decision in Chiquita Alien Tort Status Litigation, 30 Jul 2014
Earthrights International [plaintiffs’ counsel]:
-Jane Doe 8, et al v. Chiquita Brands International, Inc. Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial - Doe v. Chiquita Brands International, Case summary
Earthrights International, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll:
- Victims of Colombian Atrocities Win Right to Sue Chiquita for Complicity Under Colombian Law, 27 Mar 2012
- Class action complaint for damages against Cyrus Friedheim and Charles Keiser, 11 Mar 2017
- Order Denying in Part Defendants' Joint Motion to Dismiss, 29 Nov 2016
- [PDF] In re: Chiquita Brands International, Inc. Alien Tort Statute Litigation - Petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc, 14 Aug 2014
- [PDF] Cardona, Doe, Montes, et al. v. Chiquita Brands International - Opinion, US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, 24 Jul 2014
- [PDF] Doe v. Chiquita Brands International - Class Action Complaint for Damages, 18 Jul 2007 [filed in US District Court for the District of New Jersey]
- United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation: [PDF] In re: Chiquita Brands International, Inc., Alien Tort Statute and Shareholders Derivative Litigation - Transfer Order, 20 Feb 2008
- [PDF] Does 1-976 v Chiquita Brands International, Inc. - Complaint [filed in US District Court for the District of Columbia], 9 Mar 2010
- [PDF] Does 1-254 v Chiquita Brands International, Inc. - Complaint [filed in US District Court for the District of Columbia], 24 Mar 2011
- [PDF] Does 1-677 v Chiquita Brands International, Inc. - Complaint [filed in US District Court for the District of Columbia], 24 Mar 2011
- In re Chiquita Brands International, Inc., Alien Tort Statute and Shareholder Derivative Litigation:
- [PDF] Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Plaintiffs' Motion for Reconsideration, 27 Mar 2012
- [PDF] Defendants' Memorandum in Support of Consolidated Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaints, 9 Apr 2010
- [PDF] Plaintiffs' Supplemental Response in Opposition to Defendant's Consolidated Motion to Dismiss the Complaints, 21 May 2010
- [PDF] Plaintiff Does 1-976' Supplemental Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, 21 May 2010
- [PDF] Valencia Plaintiffs' Separate Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Second Amended Complaint, 21 May 2010
- [PDF] Does 1 through 254 v Chiquita Brands International - Complaint [filed in US District Court for the District of Columbia], 24 Mar 2011
- [PDF] Order of the Court denying Chiquita's motion to dismiss claims under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act, 3 Jun 2011