U.S. top court rejects Colombian Chiquita human rights suit

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Chiquita Brands International Inc will not have to face U.S. lawsuits by more than 4,000 Colombians accusing the fruit company of human rights violations after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up the case.

Bananas bearing Chiquita stickers are displayed for sale in a store in central London August 12, 2014. REUTERS/Neil Hall

The court rejected an appeal filed by the plaintiffs, leaving intact a July 2014 ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Miami. The appeals court said U.S. courts did not have the authority to hear the two related cases because all the relevant conduct occurred outside the United States.

Earthrights International, a human rights legal group that represented the plaintiffs, said in a statement the court had “created yet another obstacle in the path of victims seeking remedies for abusive corporate actions abroad.”

Chiquita in March 2007 pleaded guilty to a U.S. criminal charge and paid a $25 million fine for having made payments from 1997 through February 2004 to the right-wing paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known in Spanish as AUC.

The company has long said it was blackmailed into making the payments or risking violence against its workers.

The plaintiffs, people tortured by the paramilitary group or whose family members were killed, said Chiquita bears responsibility for those actions because of the payments it made.

Chiquita, known for its bananas, pineapples and other products, is a subsidiary of Cavendish Global Ltd.

The Chiquita matter was the first human rights case of its type to reach the top court since an April 2013 ruling that made it harder for plaintiffs to sue corporations in U.S. courts for alleged abuses that take place overseas.

To date, U.S. companies facing similar suits have had considerable success in citing the ruling, a December 2014 Reuters analysis showed.

In the 2013 case, the court unanimously threw out a lawsuit by 12 people from Nigeria that accused British and Dutch-based Royal Dutch Shell Plc of aiding state-sponsored torture and murder.

The two related cases in which the court acted on Monday are Cardona v. Chiquita and Doe v. Chiquita, U.S. Supreme Court, Nos. 14-777 and 14-1011.

Editing by Will Dunham