In re Sinaltrainal Litigation, 01-3208CIV.

Decision Date29 September 2006
Docket NumberNo. 01-3208CIV.,01-3208CIV.
Citation474 F.Supp.2d 1273
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida

Daniel M. Kovalik, United Steel Workers of America, Pittsburgh, PA, Edward Fisher, Provost & Umphrey Law Firm LLP, Joe J. Fisher, II, Beaumont, TX, Mark Howard Richard, Osnat Kate Rind, Phillips Richard & Rind, Miami, FL, Natacha H. Thys, Terry Collingsworth, International Labor Rights Fund, Washington, DC, William J. Wichmann, Conrad & Scherer, Fort Lauderdale, FL, for Sinaltrainal Litigation.


MARTINEZ, District Judge.


In 1980 the Second Circuit's Filartiga v. Pena-Irala decision held that official torture is prohibited under the law of nations, which ushered in a new era of litigation under the Alien Tort Claims Act1 ("ATCA"). 630 F.2d 876 (2d. Cir.1980). Since then, a number of individuals who directly engaged in violent human rights abuses, especially torture and extrajudicial killing, have been found liable. Within the last decade, a significant number of cases have been filed that allege that major United States corporate entities are vicariously liable for human rights abuses abroad under the ATCA or the Torture Victim Protections Act ("TVPA").2 Due to the more abstract and diffuse nature of the corporate entities involved, this task is necessarily more difficult. In order to prove his or her case, a plaintiff must connect actions and actors on the ground to subsidiary corporate entities, and in turn show the vicarious liability of the United States corporations. Furthermore, it is difficult to demonstrate a relationship between corporate entities and the state actions that are a requirement for most ATCA torts. As a result, it has been noted in oral argument before the Supreme Court that "in the corporate realm, there has not been a judgment yet against a corporation in an alien tort statute case."3

Although the Eleventh Circuit has recently considered a case that involved violence against trade unionists in Guatemala, the facts alleged in the four consolidated cases before this Court are unprecedented. The instant cases allege that paramilitary actors, whose actions should be imputed to the Republic of Colombia through "color of law" analysis, have used violence and threats of violence to systematically intimidate members of Colombia's largest food and beverage trade union, Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria de Alimentos ("Sinaltrainal"). Furthermore, the cases allege that the acts of violence and intimidation by the paramilitaries were done at the direction of, or with the cooperation of, managers that worked at soft drink bottling plants in Colombia. The complaints further allege that these plant managers were working within the scope of their duties at their respective bottling plants, which are foreign affiliates of United States corporations. In other words, Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants hired or conspired with paramilitaries (or local officials in one of the cases) to "rid" four Colombian bottling plants of the Sinaltrainal union, and that the Colombian government endorses or tacitly condones this activity. These four cases present difficult legal questions that have not been squarely addressed by the Eleventh Circuit about how to properly evaluate subject matter jurisdiction in the ATCA context. Furthermore, these cases rely on legal theories which are untested in any federal court.4 While the general requirements of notice pleading are well established, some of the seminal decisions involving the Alien Tort Claim Act indicate that federal courts must engage in "a more searching preliminary review of the merits," and that pleading "merely a colorable violation of the law of nations" is not a sufficient basis for jurisdiction. However, federal appellate courts have not squarely defined the proper task of a district court in evaluating subject matter jurisdiction under the ATCA, particularly in the context of cases involving theories of indirect liability that rely on attenuated connections between the individuals who physically committed torts, state entities, and multiple layers of corporate entities. Thus, this Court faces a difficult task in determining whether the instant complaints' harrowing allegations of violence and abuse, coupled with murky allegations regarding the relationships between the violent' actors, state entities, and corporate entities, sufficiently plead a violation of the of the law of nations to afford this Court subject matter jurisdiction. Indeed, if the complaints merely allege torts and crimes of a local nature, as opposed to torts in violation of the law of nations, then this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.

A number of district courts have struggled with this dilemma, and some, with great reluctance, have acquiesced to a finding that subject, matter jurisdiction exists and that the case should proceed.5 Although the principles of notice pleading are enshrined in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and a body of interpretive case law, it is equally well established that federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Furthermore, language in the Supreme Court's recent ATCA decision suggests a need for "judicial caution" in implementing the jurisdiction of the ATCA. See Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692, 725, 124 S.Ct. 2739, 159 L.Ed.2d 718 (2004). Demonstrating indirect liability for human rights abuses on the part of corporate entities is an inherently difficult task, and there is a risk that too high a pleading standard will prevent the discovery necessary to unearth involvement in the misdeeds that Congress hoped to remedy through the ATCA and the TVPA. However, there is also a risk that vague, conclusory, and attenuated allegations will allow individuals (and often the interest groups that finance or otherwise support their litigation) to engage in unwarranted international "fishing expeditions" against corporate entities and to abuse the judicial process in order to pursue political agendas.6

The district court's proper role in balancing these competing concerns has not been well defined. However, a number of cases suggest that a district court's task of recognizing violations of customary international law must be informed by the nature of the factual allegations before it. This Court does not purport to articulate a precise standard of pleading that is necessary to survive the "searching review of the merits" to ensure that a sufficiently colorable violation of the law of nations has been pled. After wrestling with the allegations of the instant cases, this Court concludes that the Plaintiffs' allegations in the instant cases are too conclusory, too vague, and too attenuated to adequately plead a violation of the law of nations to support subject matter jurisdiction.

This Court first provides a brief overview of the basic facts and procedural history of the cases before it. Next, it discusses the body of case law discussing the level of appropriate review for determining whether a violation of the law of nations has been plead. It then evaluates the adequacy of the pleadings in the instant cases and finds that Plaintiffs have not sufficiently alleged a colorable violation of the law of nations for this Court to properly exercise subject matter jurisdiction in these cases. Finally, it discusses other pending issues in the cases, including improper and futile attempts amend the complaints.


The four cases before this Court, which are factually related, have been administratively consolidated for pretrial purposes. (D.E. No. 151) in Case No. 01-CIV-3208 (consolidating case for pretrial purposes only and designating Case No. 01-CIV-3208 as the lead case). All of the cases involve violence and threats of violence against trade unionists in Colombia who have been employed in the soft drink beverage bottling industry and are members of Sinaltrainal ("Sinaltrainal" or "union").7 Defendants are corporate entities, as well as one individual, that are involved in the soft drink bottling industry, more specifically in the business of bottling and distributing Coca-Cola products. The general gravemen of the Complaints is that the defendant corporations and individuals are vicariously liable, through theories of conspiracy, aiding and abetting, or joint action, for the violent actions of paramilitary members — whose actions should be imputed to the Republic of Columbiain an attempt to intimidate union members and squelch union activity.

These cases were originally filed in a single action before the Honorable Paul C. Huck. After Defendants jointly filed a motion to dismiss on the basis of subject matter and personal jurisdiction (D.E. No. 35), which was fully briefed (D.E. Nos. 38 and 43), the Plaintiffs were given leave file an amended complaint in the original action (D.E. No. 48) and to file three new actions.8 Thus, the original suit became the four separate actions currently before the Court. In the instance of two of the resulting suits, the Gil and Leal actions, amended complaints were filed, which represented a third version of the allegations in those cases.9 The Defendants jointly filed a second consolidated Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction (D.E. No. 54 in Case No. 01-CIV-3208-MARTINEZ), which was filed in all four cases and is fully briefed.10 See (Case No. 01-CIV-3208-MARTINEZ D.E. Nos. 57 and 63). An extensive four-hour session of oral argument was held before then-presiding Judge Huck. Shortly thereafter, the Sinaltrainal actions were randomly reassigned to this Court by the Clerk of the Southern District of Florida for administrative reasons. (D.E. No. 91).

On March 28, 2003 this Court issued an order which inter alia, dismissed the claims against the Coca-Cola defendants in all...

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7 cases
1 books & journal articles
  • Jessica Priselac, the Requirement of State Action in Alien Tort Statute Claims: Does Sosa Matter?
    • United States
    • Emory University School of Law Emory International Law Reviews No. 21-2, December 2007
    • Invalid date
    ...1164, 1174 (C.D. Cal. 2005); Corrie v. Caterpillar, Inc., 403 F. Supp. 2d 1019, 1026 (W.D. Wash. 2005). 147 In re Sinaltrainal Litig., 474 F. Supp. 2d 1273, 1302 (S.D. Fla. 2006). 148 Id. at 1287, 1293-1301. 149 Id. at 1302. 150 See generally TAL BECKER, TERRORISM AND THE STATE 11 (2006). 1......

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