Approximately 2,000 Ecuadorian farmers and their families who alleged they suffered physical and mental injuries and property damage as a result of aerial spraying of toxic herbicides on or near their land have brought ATS and state law claims against DynCorp, a U.S. government contractor.
As part of "Plan Colombia," the U.S. government contracted with DynCorp to spray chemicals on coca plants in Colombia in an effort to eradicate a major source of cocaine. Although not authorized by the U.S. government, the plaintiffs allege DynCorp’s spray activities went beyond the Colombian border, harming people and farms in Ecuador. Thousands of Ecuadorian farmers and their children with no connection to the drug trade claim they were subjected to harmful aerial chemical assaults by DynCorp over the course of many years.
The affected Ecuadorians sued DynCorp in federal court. The litigation against DynCorp consists of two cases in Washington, D.C.: the Arias matter, which was filed in September 2001, and the much larger Quinteros matter, filed in 2006. After years of litigation, Plaintiffs are still pressing several common law claims.
In May 2007, the Court substantially denied DynCorp’s motion to dismiss, allowing the case to proceed to fact and expert discovery. Given the complexities of litigating a case involving thousands of plaintiffs, fact discovery focused on the claims of a small group of test plaintiffs—20 men, women, and children from several border communities. Following depositions of all of the test plaintiffs in Quito, Ecuador, DynCorp asked the Court to dismiss their claims based on purported testimonial inconsistencies. In December 2010, the magistrate judge denied DynCorp’s request, ruling that DynCorp “failed to demonstrate that the test Plaintiffs have failed to obey an order directing that they provide discovery.” On October 9, 2010, DynCorp filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, asserting corporate immunity under the ATS, but withdrew that motion after the D.C. Circuit’s decision in Doe v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 654 F.3d 11 (D.C. Cir. 2011).
While plaintiffs overcame three dispositive motions, DynCorp continued to make every effort to avoid having this case go to trial. In the summer of 2012, DynCorp filed multiple motions for summary judgment, including a Daubert motion seeking to exclude the test plaintiffs’ expert. In February 2013, the Court granted DynCorp’s Daubert motion in part and, at the same time, granted summary judgment for DynCorp as to all plaintiffs’ claims, not just the test plaintiffs’ claims. Plaintiffs promptly appealed, achieved a partial reversal, and are now back before the district court.
Plaintiffs argued their case at a hearing on the summary judgment motions on July 13, 2016, and on July 20, 2016, the judge ordered that the case be referred for mediation. After parties were unable to settle at an October 7, 2016 mediation, the case was set for an April 3, 2017 jury trial.
The bellwether trial on behalf of the first six of 2,000 Ecuadorian clients in Quinteros, et al v. DynCorp, et al, came to a conclusion on Thursday, April 20, 2017.
The ten-person jury unanimously determined that DynCorp was responsible for the spray pilots it had subcontracted with to do the chemical spraying post-April 2003. The verdict marks an important step in holding DynCorp accountable for the immeasurable pain and losses suffered by the over 2,000 Ecuadorians and their families in future trials.