On September 6, 2022, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling and reinstated claims against Chiquita Brands International, Inc. in a historic lawsuit over the company’s role in funding paramilitaries in Colombia, allowing the case finally to proceed to a jury trial.
Counsel for the plaintiffs include EarthRights International, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, Paul Hoffman, Arturo Carrillo, Judith Brown Chomsky, and John DeLeon.
Chiquita Brands International pled guilty in 2007 to knowingly proving material support to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), an illegal paramilitary organization. Shortly after that, Doe v. Chiquita Brands International, No. 08-01916 (S.D. Fla.), was filed in New Jersey and subsequently coordinated with other similar cases as In re Chiquita Brands International Inc. Alien Tort Statute and Shareholder Derivative Litigation in West Palm Beach, Florida. The consolidated cases were brought on behalf of victims tortured, murdered, or subjected to enforced disappearance by the AUC.
On September 5, 2019, the trial court dismissed the victims’ case, stating among other reasons that it considered an indictment in the Colombian Justice and Peace process to be inadmissible hearsay and that other circumstantial evidence presented by the victims was not sufficient to support their allegations that AUC paramilitaries had killed their respective loved ones.
In support of the victims’ appeal, on June 5, 2020, PJI joined an amicus brief filed at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit along with the Center for Justice & Accountability, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law, and with several international human rights scholars and practitioners with expertise in human rights litigation in U.S. federal courts and international tribunals, particularly with respect to evidentiary standards and practices used in cases involving widespread violations and atrocities. The brief argued that bedrock evidentiary principles in U.S. law direct courts to consider the totality of evidence, including circumstantial and pattern evidence, in determining whether a case can proceed to trial. The brief further argued that the district court erred in its analysis of the evidence presented when dismissing the case before trial, performing a piecemeal analysis on admissibility rather than looking at the totality of the evidence.
In reversing the district court’s ruling, the Eleventh Circuit found substantial evidence of paramilitary involvement in the killings. Among its rulings, the Eleventh Circuit held that the expert testimony presented was sufficient to admit an indictment from the Colombian Justice and Peace Process either as a business record or as a public record.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of this ruling is that it accepts the admission of circumstantial evidence and expert testimony to show that murders that occurred at times and places where the AUC was in control and in a manner that fits with the AUC’s methods and motives, to show that the murders were committed by the AUC. That conclusion will apply to hundreds if not thousands of the victims in this case.Marco Simons, General Counsel of EarthRights, “Appellate Court revives human rights case against Chiquita,” Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, 6 September 2022.
The PJI Legal Team has intervened multiple times to support victims in U.S. litigation against Chiquita Brands International, Inc., for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Colombia. Find out more.