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Mendoza Gomez et al. v. Dole Food Company, Inc.

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Summary:

Sixty-five Colombians asserted claims under state tort law because they all had family members murdered (and some were also personally attacked) by the AUC.  Plaintiffs sued Dole based on evidence that Dole provided substantial support to the AUC.

Factual Background:

The extremely violent tactics of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia ("AUC") have been well known in Colombia since its inception in approximately 1997.  In 2001, the United States designated the AUC a terrorist organization.  Until the Justice and Peace process was initiated by the Colombian government in 2007-2008, gathering information about the AUC and its relationships with Dole and other U.S. multinationals was near impossible.  Under the Justice and Peace process, AUC leaders were encouraged to disarm, turn themselves in, and receive minimal jail time if they confessed to their terrorist crimes.  This process has illuminated at least some of the workings of the AUC as well as their collaborations with U.S. multinationals, including Dole.

Plaintiffs rely on evidence that Dole made financial arrangements with the AUC.  Pursuant to these arrangements, Plaintiffs allege Dole agreed to provide major support to the AUC in exchange for “security services.”  According to the complaint, these “security services” actually included violent acts against the local population, including driving small farmers from their land to allow Dole subsidiaries and affiliates to plant bananas, driving leftist guerrillas out of the banana zones, protecting Dole subsidiaries’ and affiliates’ property from theft and vandals, and in the process murdering thousands of innocent people, including Plaintiffs’ relatives.  Plaintiffs claim the “security services” also included anti-union measures, such as keeping unions out of banana plantations associated with Dole by murdering effective union leaders and using terror tactics to discourage workers from joining the unions and from negotiating collective bargaining agreements with Dole subsidiaries and affiliates.

Plaintiffs allege Dole’s payment of the AUC for these “security services” resulted in numerous deaths of innocent civilians in Colombia.  The 65 Plaintiffs in this case are the surviving relatives of some of these decedents.  They have sued Dole for wrongful death and other claims.

Legal Proceedings:

In April 2009, Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Dole for their injuries.  The state law claims included wrongful death, battery, assault, civil conspiracy, negligence, and others.  Dole sought to dismiss the case because, it argued, the Plaintiffs’ claims were untimely, the Plaintiffs had failed to join an indispensable party (Tecbaco, Dole’s subsidiary in Colombia), and the Plaintiffs had not shown how Dole could be held liable for the acts of the AUC.  The superior court granted the demurrer and dismissed the case.  On appeal, the appellate court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings.

After a second dismissal, Plaintiffs appealed again and obtained another reversal.  The parties are now engaged in discovery.