Judicial Panel Grants Defense Request for Pretrial Coordination of Class Action Lawsuits Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407, but Rejects Defense Recommendation that Class Actions be Transferred to District of Columbia
Six class action lawsuits were filed against various defendants, including Chiquita Brands International and Chiquita Fresh North America (Chiquita), as well as current and former officers and directors of Chiquita Brands. The lawsuits fell into two categories: two shareholder derivative class action suits, filed in the District of Columbia and Ohio, and four class action suits under the Alien Tort Statute, filed in the District of Columbia, Florida, New Jersey and New York. In re Chiquita Brands Int’l, Inc., Alien Tort Statute & Shareholders Derivative Litig., ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (Jud.Pan.Mult.Lit. February 20, 2008) [Slip Opn., at 1]. Defense attorneys for Chiquita filed a motion with the Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) requesting centralization of the litigation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407 in the District of the District of Columbia; plaintiffs’ lawyers in all other class actions opposed the motion. Id. Plaintiffs also argued that if the Panel granted pretrial coordination, then the cases should be transferred to district in which their action already was pending – viz., Florida, New York or Ohio. Id. Even though the class action complaints sought different relief under different theories, the Judicial Panel granted the motion for centralization: “All of these actions arise from allegations that Chiquita provided financial support to the Autodefensas Unidas de Columbia (AUC), a Colombian right-wing paramilitary organization engaged in an armed struggle against leftist guerilla groups in various parts of Colombia, including those where Chiquita had banana-producing operations.” Id. The Panel therefore concluded that pretrial coordination was warranted as it would “eliminate duplicative discovery, prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings, and conserve the recourses of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary.” Id., at 2. The Judicial Panel rejected plaintiffs’ concerns that the actions contained “non-common issues,” explaining that the transferee court could address those issues. Id. The Panel agreed, however, that the class actions should be transferred to the Southern District of Florida, rather than the District of the District of Columbia, “because the action there appears to be somewhat further than, or as advanced as, the other actions and the district is closer to Colombia, where many of the events that bear on this litigation took place,” id.