Villeda Aldana v. Fresh Del Monte Produce, Inc.

Decision Date12 December 2003
Docket NumberNo. 01-3399-CIV-MORENO.,01-3399-CIV-MORENO.
Citation305 F.Supp.2d 1285
PartiesAngel Enrique VILLEDA ALDANA, et al., Plaintiffs, v. FRESH DEL MONTE PRODUCE, INC. d/b/a Del Monte Fresh Produce Company and Compania De Desarrollo De Guatemala, S.A. (Bandegua), Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida

Robert A. Sugarman, Marcus Braswell, Sugarman & Susskind, P.A., Coral Gables, FL, Terry Collingsworth, Natacha Thys, International Labor Rights Fund, Washington, D.C., Counsel for Plaintiff.

Brian J. Stack, Stack Fernandez Anderson Harris & Wallace, P.A., Miami, FL, Counsel for Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS FOR LACK OF SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION

MORENO, District Judge.

The claims asserted by Plaintiffs in this action arise out of a series of events that took place in a Guatemalan village during an otherwise peaceful October day in 1999. Plaintiffs, all Guatemalan citizens, claim that Defendants Fresh Del Monte Produce, Inc., Del Monte Fresh Produce Company, and Compania de Desarollo Bananero de Guatemala, S.A. were active participants in torture and other human rights violations designed to put an end to their leadership in trade union activities.

Plaintiffs seek to invoke federal court jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1350 ("ATCA"), the Torture Victims Protection Act of 1991 ("TVPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1350, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. § 1961, et seq., and 28 U.S.C. § 1332 and 28 U.S.C. § 1367 for their non-Federal claims. Before the Court is Defendants' Joint Motion to Dismiss the Third Amended Complaint for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction and Failure to State Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

On the evening of October 13 and into the morning of October 14, 1999 an armed group of Guatemalans kidnapped and detained Plaintiffs, who were officers of Sindicato de Trabajadores del Banano de Izabla ("SITRABI"), the labor union representing the workers at Del Monte's Bobos banana plantation in Guatemala. SITRABI was about to call a strike in response to alleged company violations of the collective bargaining agreement. Over the course of the rest of night and into the next morning, Plaintiffs claim that they were subject to a whole host of violations of international law perpetrated in part by Defendants' agents and employees, including kidnapping, torture, and unlawful detention.

The Plaintiffs, Angel Enrique Villeda Aldana ("Villeda"), Jorge Agustin Palma Romero ("Palma"), Oscar Leonel Guerra Evans, Lyionhel McIntosh Rodriguez, Marel Martinez ("Martinez"), Gumerzindo Loyo Martinez, and Rigoberto Alvayero Hernandez (collectively, "Plaintiffs") are all citizens of Guatemala that are currently residing in California and Nevada. They brought suit for equitable relief and for damages to remedy the injury to their persons caused by the alleged wrongful conduct of Defendants Fresh Del Monte Produce, Inc. ("Del Monte, Inc."), Del Monte Fresh Produce Company ("Del Monte Fresh"), and Compania De Desarollo Bananero De Guatemala, S.A. ("Bandegua"). Plaintiffs allege that Del Monte, Inc. is a for-profit company that controls, manages or supervises all aspects of production, distribution and marketing of its fresh produce on a worldwide basis from its office in Coral Gables, Florida. Defendants Del Monte Fresh, a Delaware corporation, and Bandegua, a Guatemalan corporation, are alleged to be wholly-owned subsidiaries of Del Monte, Inc.

The Third Amended Complaint ("TAC") alleges that through its wholly-owned subsidiaries Del Monte, Inc. owns, leases and/or operates banana plantations in Guatemala. TAC ¶ 22. Among the plantations it owns and operates in Guatemala is the Zaculeu Lanquin Arapahoe Plantation ("Bobos Plantation") in the Bobos District Municipality of Morales Izabal in Guatemala.

In September 1999, Bandegua was in negotiations with officers of SITRABI, the Guatemalan labor union for plantation workers. Plaintiffs allege that Del Monte, Inc. was involved in these negotiations. TAC ¶ 26. Bandegua had announced that it was terminating operation of the Bobos plantation and laying off 918 workers, all SITRABI members. Id. Defendant Del Monte, Inc. and Bandegua were engaged in negotiations with SITRABI for a new collective bargaining agreement covering the workers at the Bobos plantation prior to the events on that fateful day. Id. Plaintiffs were among the terminated workers, and they allege that Defendants decided to cripple the Union.

Beginning on the afternoon of October 13, 1999, the Third Amended Complaint alleges a harrowing series of events. Plaintiffs allege that leaders of a security force met with employees and/or agents of the Del Monte defendants at a local restaurant to plan violent action against the Plaintiffs and other SITRABI leaders. Id. ¶ 30. Believed to be present at this meeting was Bandegua's General Manager, Jorge Arturo Osborne Escalante, and two contractors for Del Monte, who had performed regular services for Defendants. Id. ¶ 31. Plaintiffs allege that the result of this meeting was a plan and agreement to kidnap and terrorize the Plaintiffs in order to break the SITRABI union by eliminating the leadership and gaining a bargaining advantage in the ongoing labor dispute. Id. ¶ 31.

In the early evening, the security force, now allegedly a large gang, came to the SITRABI headquarters in the Municipality of Morales, Izabal to carry out and implement the plan. Plaintiffs Palma and Evans were in the SITRABI office when the security force arrived. The Third Amended Complaint alleges that they were detained at gunpoint by the security force and threatened with death. Evans was taken to an adjoining room by the security force and kept there under heavy guard, while being confronted with threats of death and frequent jabbing with the weapons. Palma was ordered into a car, and forced to show where another Plaintiff, Marel Martinez, resided. Once the security force reached Martinez's house, they abducted him at gunpoint. The two Plaintiffs were then driven back to the SITRABI office. Martinez then was forced to telephone Plaintiff Aldana, another SITRABI leader, and tell him to come to the office right away. Martinez was warned that if he failed to deliver the message properly, he would be killed. Martinez was also forced to call other SITRABI leaders and summon them to the office.

Through interdiction by this security force and threats, the other Plaintiffs were rounded up and taken along with the already detained Plaintiffs, Aldana, Martinez, Palma, Evans and taken to the auditorium of the Union office. By now, they had been repeatedly threatened with death as multiple weapons were pointed at their heads. They were accused of being responsible for the declining business in the area, and their captors began debating the next course of action. Plaintiffs allege that they sustained injuries as they were pushed and shoved around. Id. ¶ 46.

At some point in the ensuing confusion, the current mayor, then a candidate, for the mayor of Morales, Manuel Sosa Castaneda arrived and with his intervention, a consensus was reached where the two main SITRABI leaders, Aldana and Martinez, would be taken to a radio station where they would be forced to denounce the union. Id. ¶ 47. Accompanied by the mayor at the time, Israel Farcia, the two Plaintiffs were transported to the radio station and forced at gunpoint to make an on-air announcement that the labor dispute with Del Monte was over, the workers should return to work, and that the leaders of SITRABI would resign their posts. Id. ¶ 50

After the completion of the announcement, the two Plaintiffs were taken at gunpoint back to the SITRABI office. They allege that they were forced at gunpoint to sign form resignation and release letters that were faxed to the office. Del Monte's Chief of Security at the plantation, Carlos Enrique Hernandez Diaz, was present and allegedly speaking to persons in the management staff of Del Monte by walkie talkie. Id. ¶ 51. Once the letters were signed, the Plaintiffs allege they were threatened with death if they did not leave the plantation area. Plaintiffs Aldana and Palma were pounded in the chest to drive the point home. Id. ¶ 54.

At 2:00 A.M. on the morning of October 14, 1999, Plaintiffs were released from their detention and, after hastily gathering their families, they fled to Guatemala City. Id. ¶ 55. They attempted to complain to the Ministry of Labor, but they had been pre-empted by the General Manager for Bandegua, who had claimed that all the Plaintiffs had signed voluntary letters of resignation.

Shortly after these events, in March 2001, after living in hiding, five of the Plaintiffs were relocated to the United States with the intervention of the U.S. embassy in Guatemala.1 They were all recently granted asylum status. The Plaintiffs filed this action in Federal Court on August 2, 2001. In response to court order, the Plaintiffs filed their Third Amended Complaint ("TAC") on February 5, 2003. Defendants filed their motions to dismiss on May 13, 2002.2 The Court denied Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Forum Non Conveniens on June 3, 2003 and also provisionally denied Bandegua's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction pending jurisdictional discovery which ended on July 30, 2003. Additionally, the Court solicited supplemental memoranda from the parties on the disputed issues of international law. Both Plaintiffs and Defendants have submitted declarations from experts on international law for the Court's inspection.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A court will not grant a motion to dismiss unless the plaintiff fails to allege any facts that would entitle the plaintiff to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957). When...

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