Eleventh Circuit revives Colombia wrongful death suit against Alabama company

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] on Thursday revived [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit against Drummond Company [corporate website] alleging that the company hired Colombian paramilitaries to assassinate plaintiffs' fathers. The plaintiffs brought suit against Drummond under the Alien Torts Statute (ATS) [28 USC § 1350], the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (TVPA) [materials], which allows US citizens to sue for terrorist acts committed by US firms abroad, and the wrongful death laws of Colombia. The US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama [official website] had dismissed [opinion, PDF] the suit, finding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the suit in federal court and that some of the claims were barred by res judicata [Cornell LII backgrounder]. In reversing the ruling, the Eleventh Circuit found that the plaintiffs had met the requirements of standing under the US Constitution [text], holding that, due to the deaths of their fathers, the plaintiffs' legal rights had been violated, the violation was traceable to the challenged action of the defendant, and monetary damages would be appropriate if liability was established. The court then held that the plaintiffs could bring suit as wrongful death claimants under the ATS and TVPA and that their claims were not subject to res judicata. The court explained in regard to the ATS claim:

[T]he complaint alleges an intricate and vindictive plot, orchestrated by the defendants, that ultimately led to the assassinations of the [plaintiffs'] fathers. If true, such conduct establishes a violation of international law sufficient for purposes of triggering ATS liability. It is thus no surprise that the Northern District of Alabama concluded in prior litigation against these defendants that this misconduct would constitute a violation of the law of nations sufficient to fit within the ATS.
The plaintiffs alleged that after Drummond employees in Colombia successfully unionized, the company paid the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) [CFR backgrounder] to break up the union and murder its leaders, plaintiffs' fathers.

In April, victims of paramilitary violence in Colombia filed suit against Chiquita Brand International [JURIST report], which has admitted to funding the AUC. In the complaint filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida [official website], 242 Colombians alleged that they had been seriously injured or had family members killed by the group. The AUC has been accused of mass killings during the Colombia guerrilla warfare movement before disarmament in 2003. The plaintiffs, who are seeking over $1 billion in damages, brought suit under the TVPA. Last February, a federal judge allowed a lawsuit to go forward [JURIST report] accusing Chiquita of assisting Marxist rebels who killed Colombian missionaries. Chiquita admitted it had paid AUC for protection of its workers but it argued that it did not condone the killings. In 2007, Chiquita was fined $25 million [JURIST report] after it admitted to making payments of around $1.7 million from 1997 to 2004 to AUC. Following that admission, hundreds of family members of Colombians killed by FARC filed lawsuits in the US against Chiquita under the ATS.

 

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