Chiquita wins dismissal of U.S. lawsuits over Colombian abuses

jueves 24 de julio de 2014 15:28 GYT

By Jonathan Stempel

July 24 (Reuters) - Chiquita Brands International Inc has won the dismissal of U.S. lawsuits by more than 4,000 Colombians who sought to hold the produce company liable for the deaths of relatives killed in their country's bloody civil war.

By a 2-1 vote, a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Miami said on Thursday that U.S. courts lack power to review the claims because all relevant conduct took place outside the country and Chiquita's mere presence in the United States did not confer jurisdiction.

Chiquita in March 2007 pleaded guilty to a U.S. criminal charge and paid a $25 million fine for having made payments from 1997 through February 2004 to the right-wing paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known in Spanish as AUC.

The company has long said it was blackmailed into making the payments or else risk violence against its workers.

Relatives of banana plantation workers, political organizers and others whose deaths were linked to the AUC sought to hold Chiquita liable under laws such as the Alien Tort Statute, which lets non-U.S. citizens bring some claims in U.S. courts.

But in April 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co said the 1789 law is presumed to cover only violations in the United States, unless violations elsewhere "touch and concern" U.S. territory "with sufficient force."

Writing for the 11th Circuit majority, Circuit Judge David Sentelle, who normally sits in Washington, D.C., said that limit barred the Chiquita lawsuits, even if it made it harder to fight human rights abuses.

"Noble goals cannot expand the jurisdiction of the court granted by statute," he wrote.   Continuación...