Chaverri v. Dole Food Co., No. 519, 2019

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Delaware
Citation245 A.3d 927
Decision Date12 January 2021
Parties Eduardo Alvarado CHAVERRI, et al., Plaintiffs Below, Appellants, v. DOLE FOOD COMPANY, INC., et al., Defendants Below, Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 519, 2019

245 A.3d 927

Eduardo Alvarado CHAVERRI, et al., Plaintiffs Below, Appellants,
v.
DOLE FOOD COMPANY, INC., et al., Defendants Below, Appellees.

No. 519, 2019

Supreme Court of Delaware.

Submitted: October 14, 2020
Decided: January 12, 2021


245 A.3d 929

I. INTRODUCTION

The Plaintiffs-Appellants worked on banana plantations in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama. They filed their complaint in this case in 2012, claiming that while working on the plantations they suffered personal injuries from a pesticide known as 1, 2, Dibromo 3, Chloropropane ("DBCP"). The Defendants-Appellees are numerous companies alleged to have caused the Plaintiffs’ exposure to DBCP and their resulting injuries. In 2013 the Superior Court dismissed the Plaintiffs’ complaint under what has sometimes been referred to as Delaware's McWane doctrine (the "Dismissal Order"). On December 31, 2018 the Plaintiffs filed a motion to vacate the Dismissal Order under Superior Court Civil Rule 60(b)(6). The Superior Court denied the Plaintiffs’ motion, finding that the motion was untimely and the Plaintiffs failed to show extraordinary circumstances for vacating the judgment. The Plaintiffs have appealed from that order. For the reasons that follow, we have concluded that the Superior Court's order denying the motion should be affirmed.

II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

A.

We set forth the facts and the extensive procedural history of this case to the extent necessary to decide the appeal.

As just mentioned, the Plaintiffs’ claims arise from injuries allegedly caused by exposure to DBCP while working on banana plantations in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama.1 The Defendants are U.S. corporations that were involved in the manufacture and distribution of DBCP or who owned and operated the banana farms where the Plaintiffs worked.2

Litigation initially began in Texas state court in 1993 with the filing of a class action on behalf of all persons allegedly exposed to DBCP between 1965 and 1990 (Carcamo v. Shell Oil Co. ).3 The Plaintiffs were members of the class. The case was removed to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, where it was consolidated with another DBCP case, Delgado v. Shell Oil Co. (together, the "Texas Federal Action").4 In 1995 the Texas Federal Action was dismissed on grounds of forum non conveniens . The dismissal order included a "return jurisdiction" clause, however, which provided that the actions could be reinstated if the courts in the plaintiffs’ home countries refused to hear their claims. Such turned out to be the case, and several of the original plaintiffs in the Texas Federal Action moved to reinstate the action in the Texas district court pursuant to the return jurisdiction clause.5 For procedural reasons not relevant here, the Texas district court remanded Carcamo to the Texas state court without ruling on the reinstatement motion.6 The Texas state court granted the plaintiffs’ motion to reinstate

245 A.3d 930

the action. A subset of the original plaintiffs then again moved for class certification in the Texas state court. On June 3, 2010 the Carcamo case ended when the Texas state court denied class certification.7

A little over a month later, on July 21, 2011, Jose Rufino Canales Blanco, a member of the failed Carcamo class, filed suit on behalf only of himself in the Superior Court. Other members of the failed class, including the Plaintiffs in this action, filed suits in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Those cases were consolidated into a single action (the "Louisiana Action").8

In the Blanco case, the defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings, asserting that Blanco's case was barred by the statute of limitations.9 On May 31, 2012, the Superior Court judge assigned to the case indicated by letter to the parties that he intended to deny the motion on the grounds that the proceedings in Texas tolled the statute of limitations. The Superior Court followed up with an opinion issued on August 8, 2012 that recognized cross-jurisdictional tolling and found that Blanco's complaint was filed within the statute of limitations. An interlocutory appeal was then taken to this Court which presented a narrow certified question: "Does Delaware recognize the concept of cross-jurisdictional tolling?"10 This Court answered the question in the affirmative. This Court's opinion confined itself to the certified question and did not make any factual determination as to when the statute of limitations was tolled.11

Within 24 hours after the Superior Court judge assigned to Blanco indicated that he would deny the defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings, Plaintiffs’ counsel filed three actions in Delaware. One was this case, filed on June 1, 2012. The other two were Chavez v. Dole Food Company, Inc. and Marquinez v. Dow Chemical Company , which were filed in the federal district court. The three suits alleged the same or substantially the same DBCP claims as were asserted in the Louisiana Action against the same or substantially the same defendants. Many of the plaintiffs in all three of these cases were also plaintiffs in the Louisiana Action.

On August 2, 2012 the Defendants filed a motion to dismiss this case on grounds of forum non conveniens because the complaint mirrored the one the Plaintiffs filed in the Louisiana Action. The Plaintiffs opposed the Defendants’ motion on the basis that the Louisiana Action might be time-barred. The Plaintiffs were correct. On September 17, 2012 the Louisiana district court dismissed the Louisiana Action with prejudice under the Louisiana prescription statute.12 While the motion to dismiss was still pending in Superior Court, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the Louisiana district court's dismissal of the Plaintiffs’ Louisiana Action.13

The Superior Court's dismissal of this

245 A.3d 931

case came on November 8, 2013.14 Relying upon this Court's decisions in McWane v. McDowell15 and Lisa v. Mayorga ,16 the court concluded that dismissal on forum non conveniens grounds was justified because "Plaintiffs' Louisiana Action was filed prior to the Delaware Action. The Louisiana Action was filed in Louisiana District Court, which is a court capable of prompt and complete justice. The two cases not only arise from the same nucleus of facts, but they have identical parties and allegations."17 The Superior Court rejected the Plaintiffs’ contention that McWane and Lisa did not apply because the Louisiana Action was no longer pending. The Plaintiffs appealed, and on October 20, 2014 this Court affirmed the Superior Court's judgment of dismissal "on the basis of and for the reasons assigned by the Superior Court."18

B.

On December 28, 2018 Plaintiffs filed a Rule 60(b)(6) motion to vacate the Dismissal Order. Plaintiffs argued that

Three groundbreaking rulings in Delaware—one by the Delaware Supreme Court and two by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals—reviewing decisions by the District Court of Delaware in similarly situated cases, have operated to make this Court's November 2013 [Dismissal] Order inconsistent with those rulings. In the interest of justice, the Court should vacate the judgment to provide Plaintiffs with the same opportunity for a trial on the merits as their similarly situated counterparts whose cases are pending in Delaware federal court.19

The three decisions referred to involve the above-mentioned Marquinez and Chavez cases.

In Chavez , the district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims under the federal first-filed rule.20 The district court explained "[t]he first-filed rule is that when two federal district courts have the same case, the court which has the first case is the one that should decide the case."21 The district court concluded that because the plaintiffs had filed the Louisiana Action first, the Delaware case should be dismissed with prejudice.

Initially, a Third Circuit panel affirmed the district court's decision in a split ruling.22 A rehearing en banc was granted, and the Third Circuit reversed the district

245 A.3d 932

court's dismissal.23 It described the question whether the district court's dismissal with prejudice was an abuse of discretion as a question of first impression in that circuit. It concluded "that, in the vast majority of cases, a court exercising its discretion under the first-filed rule should stay or transfer a second-filed suit ... [and] [a] dismissal with prejudice will almost always be an abuse of discretion."24 That Third Circuit decision is the first of the three Delaware decisions the Plaintiffs refer to in their motion.

In the Marquinez case, the district court issued two orders. The first order dismissed fourteen plaintiffs’ claims under the federal first-filed rule based on their identical claims in the Louisiana Action.25 In the second order, the court decided that tolling of the statute of limitations on the plaintiffs’ claims, which began when the Texas class action was filed in 1993, ended, and the statute resumed running in 1995 when the Texas Federal Action was dismissed on grounds of forum non conveniens .26 The court then granted the defendants’ motion...

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1 practice notes
  • Meso Scale Diagnostics, LLC. v. Roche Diagnostics GMBH, No. 200, 2020
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • February 8, 2021
    ...28, 2019.120 MCA, Inc. v. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. , 785 A.2d 625, 634 (Del. 2001) ; see also Chaverri v. Dole Food Co. , 245 A.3d 927, 935 (Del. 2021) ("Superior Court Rule 60 controls motions to vacate a judgment.").121 Del. Ct. Ch. R. 60(b)(6).122 Jewell v. Div. of Soc. Servs. ,......
1 cases
  • Meso Scale Diagnostics, LLC. v. Roche Diagnostics GMBH, No. 200, 2020
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • February 8, 2021
    ...28, 2019.120 MCA, Inc. v. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. , 785 A.2d 625, 634 (Del. 2001) ; see also Chaverri v. Dole Food Co. , 245 A.3d 927, 935 (Del. 2021) ("Superior Court Rule 60 controls motions to vacate a judgment.").121 Del. Ct. Ch. R. 60(b)(6).122 Jewell v. Div. of Soc. Servs. ,......

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