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One Foot on a Banana Peel

Associating with a group with ties to violence anywhere in the world may now lead to liability here in the United States. Chiquita Brands — the banana and other produce grower and distributor — is being sued in a federal court in Florida by individuals who claim the company associated and conspired with a violent military organization in Colombia. The claim is that Chiquita’s association with the Columbian organization led to the murders of plaintiffs’ family members.

Chiquita filed a motion to dismiss arguing that the statute of limitations barred these claims. The court denied the motion and found that, under the crime victims’ exception to the statute of limitations, the claims were timely. In what can only be described as a chilling recitation of the issue before the court, the judge said “[p]laintiffs allege that Chiquita is secondarily liable for the torture, kidnap and killing of their family members at the hands of violent terrorist groups in Colombia, on theory Chiquita conspired with and financially supported those organizations in pursuit of a common goal of suppressing labor union activism in the banana-growing regions of Colombia.” The federal judge went on to say that the plaintiffs’ allegations “that Chiquita knew or could have reasonably foreseen that its financial support” of these groups would escalate their murderous campaigns. The district court concluded that the allegations adequately showed a positive link between the alleged crimes and the injuries alleged to invoke the crime victim exception.

Doing business in areas of conflict continues to get more complicated. For attorneys who advise companies with international operations, it is vital to understand these risks. With this in mind, the International Law Section of the State Bar of Texas will have an international law institute on February 23 and 24, 2017 in Houston at the Houstonian Hotel. Among the issues to be addressed in this institute will be forecasting risk in doing business in countries in crisis, emerging issues in international dispute resolution, and international human rights issues. Attending this institute will be time well spent. It may help avoid that feeling of having one foot on a banana peel when working on international business in dangerous places.

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.