Since the inception of the United States, the Alien Tort Claims Act has given a forum in U.S. courts to aliens harmed in violation of U.S. treaties or international law. To that end, more than 4,000 Colombians sued Chiquita (the North Carolina-based banana company) in the United States, alleging that Chiquita acted in concert with paramilitary forces in Colombia, resulting in injury and death.
The cases came to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to decide some concerns over the plaintiffs' pleadings, but the Eleventh Circuit dismissed the lawsuits, finding that U.S. courts were not the place to litigate claims where foreign nationals alleged they were being harmed by other foreign nationals.
This case, the court noted, was quite similar to Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, where the Supreme Court had occasion to decide whether Royal Dutch could be liable for wrongs committed against Nigerians in Nigeria, where Royal Dutch may have acted in cahoots with the terrorists there. The Supreme Court decided there was no jurisdiction where "all the relevant conduct took place outside the United States." Finding Kiobel controlling, the Eleventh Circuit dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.
Judge Beverly Martin dissented, disagreeing with the majority's implication that the United States had nothing to do with this case. Chiquita is an American corporation, and the issue wasn't over what Colombians did to other Colombians. The issue, Martin explained, was what part Chiquita -- an American corporation -- played in the death and destruction by "reviewing, approving, and concealing a scheme of payments and weapons shipments to Colombian terrorist organizations, all from their corporate offices in the territory of the United States."
Judge Martin noted the key differences between this case and Kiobel: (1) In that case, the defendant wasn't an American corporation, as it is here; and (2) the plaintiffs here want redress for the wrongs committed in this country; that is, the decisions Americans made in the United States to fund and assist paramilitary forces in Colombia.
This will likely head to the Supreme Court, which will likely find another opportunity to claw back the scope of the Alien Tort Claims Act, limit plaintiffs' access to the courts, and increase immunity for corporations.
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- Chiquita wins dismissal of U.S. lawsuits over Colombian abuses (Reuters)
- Two New ATS Decisions: Fourth and Eleventh Circuits Split on Whether Claims Against CACI and Chiquita "Touch and Concern" the Territory of the United States (Lawfare)
- No, Sir: You Are Incorrect. SCOTUS Affirms Kiobel (FindLaw's U.S. Seventh Circuit Blog)
- 'Presumption Against Extraterritoriality' Bars Alien Tort Claim (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog)