LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles judge has thrown out two class actions against Dole Food Co. after finding that the plaintiffs and their lawyers committed fraud in bringing the claims, which alleged that dozens of banana workers in Nicaragua were rendered sterile after being exposed to a certain pesticide called DBCP, according to a lawyer representing Dole.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Victoria Chaney also said that she would refer the plaintiffs’ lawyers in the case — Juan Dominguez of the Law Offices of Juan J. Dominguez in Los Angeles and a Nicaraguan attorney named Antonio Hernández Ordeñana — to the State Bar of California and “other appropriate authorities,” according to Dole’s lawyer, Andrea Neuman, a partner in the Irvine office of Los Angeles-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.
“She concluded that there was widespread fraud and corruption,” Neuman said. “We’re thrilled we’re starting to get some justice now that this is all coming out.”
Dominguez did not return a call for comment.
The ruling against the attorneys does not apply to a third plaintiff’s firm in the case, Miller, Axline & Sawyer, in Sacramento. That firm has asked to withdraw from the case in recent months.
The two class actions are among dozens of lawsuit that have been filed against Dole and many other defendants on behalf of thousands of workers who claim they became sterile after being exposed to DBCP, or dibromochloropropane, on banana farms roughly 30 years ago in various countries, most in Central America. DBCP is banned in the United States.
The ruling, on Thursday, came after three days of hearings to address an order Chaney issued last month to show why the cases should not be dismissed as a terminating sanction due to fraud. Among the evidence of fraud raised by Dole were falsified work documents and a Nicaraguan radio broadcast in which Dominguez has told listeners not to cooperate in the case, according to court papers.
Chaney also found that the fraud could have tainted similar claims in the first U.S. case to go to trial over alleged sterility due to DBCP on banana farms. In that case, a Los Angeles jury awarded $5.8 million to Nicaraguan banana workers in 2007. Chaney, who oversaw that case, later reduced the verdict by more than half.
On Thursday, Chaney concluded that that case “was based on smoke and mirrors,” Neuman said. “She actually apologized on the record to the …jurors for having sat through the trial, which she now believes is a farce.”
Dole already has raised the fraud issues on appeal in that case, Neuman said.
Amanda Bronstad is a reporter with The National Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate based in New York.