Dole Food Company, Inc. today announced that the Los Angeles Superior Court dismissed Tellez v. Dole, the last remaining lawsuit brought by Nicaraguan plaintiffs claiming to have been banana workers on Dole-contracted farms in Nicaragua during the 1970s. The dismissal came as a result of the Court’s finding that plaintiffs and their representatives engaged in “blatant fraud, witness tampering, and active manipulation.”
In dismissing this lawsuit, the Court vacated the earlier $1.58 million judgment against Dole in favor of four of the 12 plaintiffs claiming sterility from DBCP exposure while allegedly working on Dole-contracted farms.
This result was the culmination of hearings conducted by the Court in response to the July 7, 2009 order issued to plaintiffs by the California Second District Court of Appeal directing them to show cause why this $1.58 million judgment should not be vacated and judgment be entered in Dole’s favor on the grounds that the judgment was procured through fraud.
Issuing her ruling in court today, Justice Victoria Chaney stated that plaintiffs did not devise this fraud on their own. “It is not reasonable to conclude that 14,000” claimants were made sterile by DBCP. “Some or all of the claimants have brought fraudulent claims.” The Court explained that there had to be – and found that there was – a coordinated effort “to bring fraudulent claims to our courts” by plaintiffs’ attorneys. Los Angeles attorney Juan Dominguez “was and is actively involved in activating and perpetuating this fraud and scheme on the Court,” ruled Justice Chaney.
Justice Chaney also dismissed plaintiffs’ contention that Dole bribed several witnesses, adding that “this Court is not persuaded.”
“Today’s dismissal finally brings closure to these fraudulent Nicaraguan claims. They all lacked any semblance of credibility,” said C. Michael Carter, Dole's Executive Vice President and General Counsel. “These claims are a fraud on the California courts and never should have been brought in the first place,” Carter added.
Finding clear and convincing evidence of fraud, the Court not only found that plaintiffs' witnesses corroborated the fraud and witness tampering, but also quoted a plaintiff who testified that he was “coached to answer questions like a parrot” while at the Nicaraguan office of plaintiffs' attorneys.
Justice Chaney noted, however, that threats and intimidation by plaintiffs’ agents “significantly interfered” with Dole’s ability to uncover that fraud either before or during the Tellez trial. The testimony of several witnesses who were willing to eventually come forward, and whose testimony the Court cited as credible, helped uncover the fraud.
Throughout the hearing, Dole has asked the Los Angeles Superior Court to take actions to protect those brave Nicaraguan witnesses who came forward to expose the massive fraud on the Court perpetrated by Dominguez and his Nicaraguan associate, Antonio Hernandez Ordeñana. “The brave and courageous individuals who chose to step forward in this case to tell the truth and expose this blatant fraud on the court deserve continued protection from this outrageous harassment,” said Carter.
Previous attempts by plaintiffs to enforce Nicaragua judgments have also been dismissed. Most recently on October 20, 2009, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida denied recognition and enforcement of a $98.5 million Nicaragua judgment, finding that “the credible and unrefuted medical testimony in this case is that it is factually impossible for what is represented in the Judgment to have occurred,” and that due process “do[es] not permit awarding damages in the face of clear scientific evidence of the absence of causation… .”
In that case, Judge Paul C. Huck further found that “[t]he evidence before the Court is that the judgment … arose out of proceedings that the Nicaraguan trial court did not have jurisdiction to conduct… . During those proceedings, the court applied a law that unfairly discriminates against a handful of foreign defendants with extraordinary procedures and presumptions found nowhere else in Nicaraguan law. Both the substantive law under which this case was tried, Special Law 364, and the Judgment itself, purport to establish facts that do not, and cannot, exist in reality. As a result, the law under which this case was tried stripped Defendants of their basic right in any adversarial proceeding to produce evidence in their favor and rebut the plaintiffs’ claims.”
Justice Chaney found that Nicaragua’s judicial system “is, at best, fragile in its ability to present consistent rule of law and outcomes.” She further found that, while many Nicaraguans live in relative poverty and with limited economic opportunity, "[t]his lawsuit is not the appropriate vehicle to rectify this situation,” adding that “[c]ivil actions are sometimes brought to induce social change. This is neither the platform nor the time to discuss using the court system to bring about different policies that affect society in general.”
“While Dole believes there is no reliable scientific basis for alleged injuries from the agricultural field application of DBCP,” said Carter, “Dole continues to seek reasonable resolution of pending litigation and claims in the U.S. and Latin America.” As in Honduras, Dole is committed to finding a prompt resolution to the DBCP claims in Nicaragua, and is prepared to pursue a structured worker program in Nicaragua with science-based criteria.
Dole is the world’s largest producer and marketer of high-quality fresh fruit and fresh vegetables, and is the leading producer of organic bananas. Dole markets a growing line of packaged and frozen foods and is a produce industry leader in nutrition education and research.
This release contains "forward-looking statements," within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 that involve a number of risks and uncertainties. Forward-looking statements, which are based on management's current expectations, are generally identifiable by the use of terms such as "may," "will," "expects," "believes," "intends," "anticipates" and similar expressions. The potential risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied herein include weather-related phenomena; market responses to industry volume pressures; product and raw materials supplies and pricing; energy supply and pricing; changes in interest and currency exchange rates; economic crises and security risks in developing countries; international conflict; and quotas, tariffs and other governmental actions. Further information on the factors that could affect Dole's financial results is included in its SEC filings, including its Annual Report on Form 10-K.
Marty Ordman, 818-874-4834