A federal judge in West Palm Beach, Fla., has granted Chiquita Brands International's request for an interlocutory appeal challenging his refusal to dismiss all claims by Colombian families that the company was complicit in the murder of their relatives by paramilitary troops.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra is overseeing the multidistrict litigation involving 13 lawsuits brought by families on behalf of thousands of victims -- many just plantation workers, others union leaders -- who were kidnapped, tortured and killed by the guerillas.
Most of the lawsuits are brought under Alien Tort Statute, Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act, alleging a consistent pattern of gross human rights violations.
Marra dismissed several claims brought in the 2010 lawsuits but let stand claims of torture, war crimes and extrajudicial killings. On Tuesday, he granted Chiquita's request to appeal his ruling.
Cincinnati-based Chiquita wants the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to determine whether the "state action" element of the plaintiffs' claims requires an establishment of government involvement and whether specific facts must be shown linking paramilitary forces to the alleged torture and killings.
Another issue for Chiquita is whether the plaintiffs have adequately pled a claim for crimes against humanity. Marra's ruling said the elements of crimes against humanity have not been defined by any circuit courts.
Chiquita has admitted paying paramilitary groups $1.7 million. It agreed to pay a $25 million criminal fine in 2007, making it the first major U.S. corporation ever convicted of financial dealings with terrorists.