US appeals court says Colombians cannot sue Chiquita
A US appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit against banana grower Chiquita brought by at least 4,000 Colombians who accused the company of supporting paramilitary forces who killed or tortured their relatives.
The Florida-based court found US courts have no jurisdiction over the case.
Chiquita, which is based in the US, has admitted paying paramilitaries but said it was a victim of extortion.
It said the ruling reinforces that it was not responsible for the violence.
'Outside the US'
In a court case dating back to 2007, the Colombian plaintiffs allege that a pair of US laws, the Torture Victim Protection Act and the Alien Tort Statute, enable it to sue the American company in US courts for damages.
But, in the 2-1 decision on Thursday, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals found a 2013 US Supreme Court ruling limited foreign nationals' ability to seek damages against corporations in US courts.
"The Alien Tort Statute does not apply extraterritorially," wrote Judge David Sentelle for the majority. "The torture, if the allegations are taken as true, occurred outside the territorial jurisdiction of the US."
The court also found the Torture Victim Protection Act applied only to actual people, not to corporations.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Beverly Martin wrote that the plaintiffs alleged that Chiquita's executives "participated in a campaign of torture and murder in Colombia... from their corporate offices in the territory of the US".
Thus, she wrote, the court did have jurisdiction to consider their claims.
Chiquita has admitted paying a Colombian paramilitary group - the United Self-Defence Forces or AUC - $1.7m between 1997-2004, the year it sold its banana holdings in Colombia.
It has maintained it was forced to make the payments in order to protect its employees, not because it supported terrorism.
The US considers the AUC a terrorist organisation, and in 2007 it fined the company $25m (£14.7m).
Soon after, lawsuits on behalf of the Colombians were filed in a number of federal courts.
On Thursday, Chiquita praised the US appeals court decision, writing in a statement it "reinforces what Chiquita has maintained from the beginning... that Chiquita is not responsible for the tragic violence that has plagued Colombia".
But Paul Wolf, a lawyer for a large number of the plaintiffs, told US media the ruling was "another tragedy for the victims of the war, who have already been through so much".
Lawyers for the plaintiffs may appeal to the US Supreme Court to review the case. Otherwise, their only avenue for redress is to seek damages in Colombian courts.