A Florida federal judge ruled Thursday that banana grower Chiquita Brands International Inc. need not face certain claims over its financial support for a defunct Colombian paramilitary group, finding no evidence that the relatives of some plaintiffs were killed by that organization.
The decision, which U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra issued in a 105-page order, terminates seven bellwether suits Chiquita was facing in multidistrict litigation over its support for Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, a right-wing group accused of killing thousands of people.
Judge Marra's ruling also allows 10 other bellwether cases to proceed to trial after he identified enough evidence that the plaintiffs' relatives were killed or disappeared by the AUC during armed conflict in Colombia in the 1990s and early 2000s. Those plaintiffs, the judge said, have at least presented a "triable issue" on the existence of an AUC link to their family members' eventual fates.
The Thursday decision added to a flurry of recent activity in the long-running MDL, which seeks to hold Chiquita liable for hundreds of AUC-linked deaths or disappearances due to the company's financial support for the paramilitary group, which amounted to more than $1.7 million.
Earlier this year, the Eleventh Circuit revived 12 cases Judge Marra dismissed in 2019, out of an initial batch of 50 bellwether lawsuits. In its Sept. 6 ruling, the appeals court found the judge had wrongly rejected some of the plaintiffs' evidence that the AUC was responsible for the deaths of their relatives.
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The plaintiffs are represented separately by Paul Wolf, Jack Scarola of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley PA, James K. Green of James K. Green PA, Richard Herz, Marco Simons, Marissa Vahlsing and Sean Powers of EarthRights International, John de Leon of the Law Offices of Chavez & De Leon PA, Agnieszka M. Fryszman of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, Paul L. Hoffman of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP, Judith Brown Chomsky of the Law Offices of Judith Brown Chomsky, Arturo Carrillo of the Colombian Institute of International Law, Jonathan C. Reiter of the Law Firm of Jonathan C. Reiter, and by Ronald Guralnick of Ronald Guralnick PA.
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